“My work is often complete before I actually start designing forms,” Yoshioka says. This all makes sense when you look at his portfolio of work.

This is the man who, in 2005, created a chair out of 120 pieces of glassine paper glued together and cut to form a 3D honeycomb structure that is moulded by the sitter (Honey Pop); who developed a seat made from a translucent spongy material (polyester elastomer) covered with a sheet, the shape of which is fixed through an oven-baking process (named Pane Chair, ie ‘bread chair’); and who last year surprised the design community with a seat made of encrusted home-grown natural crystals. 

Freedom in the creation process and in materials research are his mantra, driven – it seems – by almost casual, accidental forms, the value of which rely less on function than on the capacity to conjure up dream-like images that shake the senses by reminding us of the amazing qualities that natural (and synthetic) materials have.

But his relentless efforts to create ‘the new’ is not motivated by the wish to surprise – like so much stunt-like design of today – but to share emotions, discoveries and appreciations of the world that surrounds us and its beauty with as many people as possible. “My success criteria is if children understand a project or not,” Yoshioka famously said.

Thus, amongst the countless breathtaking installations (always featuring the most unexpected materials, from paper to technological fibres and even drinking straws!) and ethereal looking products (like Moroso’s Paper Sofa), Yoshioka’s plastic furniture collection for Kartell (now finally in stores worldwide) somehow surprises for its apparent normality.

Apparent, yes, as once one comes within close contact with the table and chairs that form this collection it becomes clear that the workmanship that went into the making of these products is all but standard.

Poetic as usual, Yoshioka’s name for the collection says it all – Ami Ami, the Japanese verb for weave. Fascinated by materials culture and by craftsmanship-fuelled traditions, Yoshioka has endeavoured with this project to bring his two worlds together: that of ancient man made artwork and the industrial.

His vision in the development of this collection was clear: to apply the tradition of the interlaced pattern onto a product conceived for mass manufacture that could still retain the visual qualities of handmade work. The material of choice was plastics – cheap and universally known, yet also able (when worked appropriately) to provide amazing effects and textures.

With such premises, the coupling with Kartell was therefore almost a must, its know-how in the field being basically unsurpassed. It is, after all, the Italian company that discovered and exploited in design terms throughout the years plastic’s unprecedented qualities in terms of performance and aesthetics: satin finish, transparency, flexibility, resistance, softness, texturising and colour.

At a close look, the Ami Ami table and chair is surprising, with an optical effect that mimics the warp and weft threads of a fabric. This is obtained through interlocking bands of transparent polycarbonate, inextricably intertwined in an elegant pattern.

The feeling is that of looking and touching a surface that is mysteriously tactile, featuring all the imperfections that only manual work achieves and the optical effects offered by uneven surfaces (per se, a mark of non-industrial pieces). Yet the chair (and the table) are injection moulded using one single mould, originated from a labour intensively developed tool.

At the dawn of the project, Yoshioka came up with a drawing of a chair featuring the interwoven pattern. This particular optical effect was what he was to challenge the Kartell engineers and technologists with. For the development of the mould, he first hand-weaved hundreds of vinyl strips following the ancient Ami Ami tradition.

Many squared surfaces were created, all manually, until the desired consistency and unevenness of the pattern had been achieved. The main characteristic of this being the continuous change in thicknesses, depths and distance between the various squares.

Great care was to be put into the design of the renderings that were to be the basis of the mould-making process. This proved to be lengthy and full of challenges, even for such experienced experts as Kartell’s.

“It was hard to develop a mould that could be precise enough to re-create the patterns that Yoshioka had envisaged”, says Claudio Luti, president of Kartell.

“Many mould designs had to be made, and many mould simulations had to be developed before we reached the required level of perfection and we could move to making the final diamond-coated steel mould.

"The plastic was to be so thin in certain points and so much thicker in others – the rich and sophisticated decorative effect was conceived to be present both on the inner and outer surfaces of the structure: a unique situation for an industrial product, truly mirroring the results of manual craftwork in its very fine detailing.”

When, after the process of injection and solidification of the polycarbonate, the first prototype finally exited the diamond-coated steel mould, everyone was indeed very satisfied. Two full years of work had gone past, but the result seemed to be a really unique product.

Alongside the exquisite aesthetic qualities of the pattern, Ami Ami is also a durable and weather-resistant collection, its interlocking weave creating excellent tensile strength while also allowing for heat dissipation: characteristics that will make the lifespan of the product longer. 

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Mau – focus on teamwork

Since its inception in Toronto in 1985, Bruce Mau Design has gained international recognition for cross-disciplinary work.

The shipping container

The shipping container

The modular shipping container is one of the 20th century’s most revolutionary products. The design development and integration of a standardised shipping container into the global transport system continues to transform the world’s economy.