LEGENDARY INTERVIEW

Design Legends ("DL") had the distinct honour to interview legendary designer Tetsuo Shibata ("TS") for their original perspective and innovative approach to design as well as their creative lifestyle, we are very pleased to share our interview with our distinguished readers.

DL: What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?

TS : I design more as a passion rather than as a full time occupation now. And even though, I no longer work for an architectural design company, I am interested in designing everything from household items and furniture to small scale residential houses – paying special attention to designing things that help people lead healthier life and using materials that help conserve energy and minimize adverse impact to the environment. Being exposed to diverse group of people unfamiliar with design process and industries other than design is also a good way to be motivated to design in areas that I would not normally be asked to design nor would ever occur to me to design on my own volition. And I think this is important, especially during a period of health and economic crisis we are in now and since “design” for most people is not a high priority, that in order to be motivated to design, one needs to go outside of a comfort zone and to feel empathy for problems that exist. As more people are working from home since movement and gathering by people have been restricted greatly by this crisis, it challenges our preconceived ideas about design in general and asks us to fundamentally rethink the way we design our built environment we used to take for granted. It is both an opportunity and a trial for us since it is a path we have never tread before. Areas of great demands for improvement, in my opinion, are the contactless objects, interior layout of homes and offices to reflect reduced workforce and more efficient interior ventilation system in public space that circulates clean and fresh air. Design for me is an empirical means to expand my horizon, to learn and appreciate other cultures and to improve the conditions and lives of ordinary people. Another good way for me to be motivated is to simply be observant of everything I see whether through walking in woods or viewing paintings and sculptures in museums. Sometimes, ideas seem to come flowing through my head when I let my mind wonder rather aimlessly and absorb all the variations, subtleties and colors of cloud patterns for example.

DL: What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?

TS : After leaving architectural office and going on my own, I have designed many things, though mostly small, that I was not aware that I was capable of designing. Furniture is still my bread-and-butter project only because I have been doing this for a very long time and exhibiting and publishing some of them. But I take great pride in knowing that I can also design other things such as an experimental car and a mobile shelter that I had recently designed to be used by outdoor scientific research personnel, airport ramp workers and natural disaster volunteers. An experimental vehicle is actually a combination of an ambulance and Covid-19 testing vehicle to be used in underserved rural areas and third world countries where many people do not have easy access to local clinics and hospitals so that the vehicle itself becomes a mobile testing clinic. An idea for the mobile shelter came about after I did volunteer work in earthquake and tsunami disaster zone in northern Japan 9 years ago. I designed it to be used by rescue workers and volunteers like myself since there was no break room or supply room that existed while we were working at the site with much destruction all around us. On a smaller scale, I am designing a backpack that can turn into a mini outdoor office space complete with folding table, chair, laptop compartment and Wi-Fi access, and magnetic door lock system with a kick bar at the bottom that eliminates the use of hand and they would be installed in public buildings such as schools, hospitals and offices. This project will be done in consultation with mechanical engineers. Having experience in putting buildings together in architects’ offices, I designed a small scale modular multi-family residences out of abandoned shipping containers that can be configured in multiple different shapes and sizes depending on family needs. I entered this into a competition several years ago and would like to expand on this idea further.

DL: What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?

TS : I do not know many so called “good designers” even though their work may be more widely available to many of us because of their reasonable price and clean modern design such as IKEA’s furniture. And when I think of great designers such as Aalto, Eames, Knoll, Breuer and Wright who left us with their iconic and elegant furniture and buildings that are, sadly, placed on such high pedestal that they are only accessible through museums (historic preservation site) and upscale suites and offices. I myself have never sat in one of their chairs, much less own one. The former is considered furniture for the masses that are factory mass-produced and the latter is fabricated in limited quantity with the highest craftsmanship that are more for elite modern furniture collectors and aficionados who can afford them. Neither are good nor bad, in my opinion. It is a difference between Toyota and Mercedes- Benz and is just a matter of taste and appreciation for good art and design. I do worry that conspicuous consumption tendency of modern era gives mass-produced items such as cell phones, appliances and even automobiles short life span and are discarded in great quantity – wasting resources and polluting the environment. And even though, we glorify Starchitects and great designers of today, I hope we will move more towards collaboration not just among designers but among many different professionals and expertise in order to arrive at best possible design solution that everyone can take a credit for having contributed. I myself work closely with master craftsmen in my studio and a professional 3ds Max renderer on certain projects in order to further refine and to incorporate new ideas I discover through both of our work and, I am sure, something like this can be done on much more complex and large scale design projects where multiple designers, artists, engineers and scientists can take part remotely even after the health crisis is over.

DL: What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?

TS : Good design should meet four criteria in my opinion. It must first and foremost serve the needs of users both from practical and emotional standpoint. Practical side meets immediate and short term desire of a user to fulfill his specific needs such as buying toys for kids that are safe and educational to use. Emotional side meets his long term needs as a designed object such as a sports car his parents used to drive him around as a kid becomes an heirloom to be passed down. Second, it must meet the market demand to ensure sufficient sale of a product when it is finally manufactured and third, it must use the most up-to-date digital technology. I always encourage people to use analog methods (hand sketches, manual drafting, physical models, color pencil and watercolor rendering, etc.) at the beginning of any project but to also possess an ability to convert those initial design ideas into three-dimensional software programs such as Rhino, Sketchup, Maya, 3Ds Max and Revit in order to be investigated, shared, critiqued, viewed and ultimately sold to as many people in different locations as possible. I also strongly advocate the use of 3d printer in medicine and biotechnology that saves and improves the lives of people. Zoom meeting people use a lot these days is a good way to communicate with people from other side of the world. Fourth, it should be elegant in form, use quality materials that are durable, long lasting and low maintenance, be ergonomically correct if it serves people such as a chair and a desk and have universal appeal by wider audience in different professions, income levels and genders. We are in the middle of paradigm shift both socially and technologically as I write this, and good design, regardless of the medium and tools being used, should be the result of collaborative and team effort and not just a visionary work of a lone designer working in isolation in his studio.

DL: Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?

TS : Charles and Ray Eames, Antonio Gaudi, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gio Ponti, Buckminster Fuller, Eero Saarinen, Sverre Fehn, Steven Hall, Kengo Kuma, Shigeru Ban, Toyoo Ito, Isamu Noguchi, Taro Okamoto, Yayoi Kusama, Issey Miyake, Ikko Tanaka, David Hockney (his set design for theater), Dale Chilhuly, Sam Maloof (I met him at his studio in California), Lawrence Halprin, Maya Lin, Wang Shu, Ai Weiwei and countless master craftsmen from around the world working in traditional and vernacular forms.

DL: Which books you read had the most effect on your design?

TS : Writings and essays by John Ruskin and William Morris. Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach. Less is More by Goldian VandenBroeck. Diffusion of Innovations by Everett M. Rogers.In Praise of Shadow by Junichiro Tanizaki. Wabi-Sabi (age-old Japanese aesthetic concept) for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren. Green Metropolis by David Owen. The Nature and Art of Workmanship by David Pye. The Craftsman by Richard Sennett

LEGENDARY DESIGNER

TETSUO SHIBATA RECEIVED BA IN INDUSTRIAL DESIGN AND M.ARCH. IN ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN FROM UCLA AND HAS BEEN WORKING AS AN ARCHITECT SINCE MID 1990’S IN CALIFORNIA, MINNESOTA, WASHINGTON DC AND MARYLAND. HE IS ALSO AN AVID WOODWORKER AND FURNITURE DESIGNER AND HIS FURNITURE PIECES WERE INCLUDED IN GROUP SHOWS IN SANTA MONICA, CA, MINNEAPOLIS, MN AND MINNESOTA YOUNG ARCHITECTS FORUM WHERE HIS FOLDING PLYWOOD CHAIR WON BEST DESIGN IN FURNITURE CATEGORY. HE HAS BEEN INVOLVED IN NUMEROUS COMMUNITY WORK PROJECTS AS A VOLUNTEER CARPENTER FOR HABITAT FOR HUMANITY, IN TORNADO DISASTER AREA IN NORTHWESTERN WISCONSIN AND RECENTLY IN EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI DISASTER AREA IN NORTHEASTERN JAPAN WHERE HE SPENT TWO WEEKS WORKING WITH OTHER VOLUNTEERS FROM AROUND THE GLOBE TO CLEAN UP DEBRIS AND SLUDGE IN A TOWN HARDEST HIT BY THIS NATURAL DISASTER. HE ALSO LED A MODEL-MAKING WORKSHOP SPONSORED BY WASHINGTON ARCHITECTURAL FOUNDATION FOR GRADE SCHOOL AND MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS AND SHOWED THEM VARIOUS METHODS AND TECHNIQUES USED IN MAKING ARCHITECTURAL FOAM MODELS.


Alcyone Standing Chair

Alcyone Standing Chair by Tetsuo Shibata

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