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Keiji Ashizawa on the beauty of harmonised simplicity

It all starts with context and materiality for Japanese architect and designer Keiji Ashizawa of Keiji Ashizawa Design, whose work can be defined by harmonised details through an emphasis on simplicity and curated collaboration.

Keiji Ashizawa on the beauty of harmonised simplicity

Keiji Ashizawa

“I believe that first of all a space should be functional and beautiful.” Tokyo-based architect Keiji Ashizawa gets straight to the point. The epitomising statement reduces any unnecessary distractions, just like his work itself. He continues, “To achieve this, we are considerate in not mixing unnecessary lines and designs. Often this results in light and minimalist spaces.”

As one of Japan’s leading architects, Keiji Ashizawa can be best described as a ‘maker’. At his Tokyo-based architectural and design studio Keiji Ashizawa Design established in 2005, he leads a team of 18 with projects across architecture, furniture, product and landscape design. From luxury residences to DIY furniture design, it all starts with context and material. Akin to a chef, he looks towards choosing the right ingredients — and often, collaborators — utilising their qualities to create all-encompassing spaces that allow the element of reduction to shine. The designs hold a figurative lightness and simplicity led by an emphasis on harmonised details.

Growing up with an architect father greatly influenced his entry into design. Ashizawa’s studies in art and time working at a steel company in his early twenties further shaped his greater understanding of truly ‘making things’. “I wanted to create and draw things rather than studying academics,” he muses. Ashizawa’s ‘Garden House’ situated in the rear of a residential design ‘House S’, is a compact, pavilion-like structure that examples his custom all-encompassing approach across furniture, architecture, and landscape – “all of which I like,” he adds.

Ashizawa’s ‘House In Saiko’, a private residence located in Japan’s Yamanashi prefecture located alongside a cliff was designed within the context of its surrounding environment. Ashizawa created a pillar-less nine-metre-wide opening for the house that enhanced the site’s landscape views whilst providing natural ventilation. The houses’ central feature involves a large custom table crafted from the clients own camphor timber. This holistic approach to design pairs the harmony of nature with human values. He explains, “Design is the most important essence in creating an environment, and I believe that design is necessary for living a better life.”

House in Seiko by Keiji Ashizawa
House in Saiko, photography by Daici Ano.

Yet Ashizawa’s projects are equally as diverse and extensive as the other. From an early architectural project with Australian architect Peter Stutchbury to lighting design for Australian creative agency Broached Commissions, to more recent interiors for coffee company Blue Bottle in Japan and China. Ashizawa notes that establishing the Karimoku Case Study furniture brand with Danish architecture firm Norm Architects and co-founding Ishinomaki Laboratory as two cornerstones in his career.

Ishinomaki Laboratory is an unprecedented community-born furniture brand established in the wake of the devastation of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011. During a visit to the region for recovery efforts, Ashizawa identified an opportunity for local businesses to rebuild with basic materials and a simple DIY method which soon found international, commercial appeal.

Ishinomaki Laboratory
Ishinomaki Laboratory

Open, unbounded, observational and globally-connective, Ashizawa’s character reflects his collaborative design ethos. “I believe that my job is to create a good space and environment, not to express myself. Whoever’s idea or design it is, if it’s good, there is great importance in having it realised. And to do that, collaboration is a key in creating a better environment. It’s a method that allows to improve the quality of the accumulated discoveries. And above all, we can share happiness with many people when collaborating, making things better.”

With no signs of slowing down, upcoming projects to look out for include designing the second Trunk Hotel in Tokyo, another Blue Bottle Coffee in Shanghai and the luxury hotel in Shinjuku area, Tokyo.

Blue Bottle Shibuya by Keiji Ashizawa
Blue Bottle Shibuya, photography by Ben Richards.
Kinuta Terrace by by Keiji Ashizawa
Kinuta Terrace, photography by Jonas Bjerre Poulsen.
Sushi Mizukami by Keiji Ashizawa
Sushi Mizukami, photography by Daichi Ano.

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