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The Interior Space of Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc. – Born Through an Unconventional Production Process
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Outline

Space design with non-functional elements, suitable for experimental space

You see a futuristic office space made of sober concrete. Also there are desks and workbenches that are made of eye-catching huge logs with organic shape, standing just like an object. Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc. (Sony CSL) has opened the first branch office, Kyoto Laboratory (Sony CSL Kyoto) in the old and new town of Kyoto, Japan. The new office, which will be the third base after Tokyo and Paris, was opened in April 2020 as an experimental space to gradually expand its functions, aiming to speculate about new ways of the laboratory. Loftwork Kyoto produced the space, and an architect and artist, Mr. Fumihiko Sano (FUMIHIKO SANO studio) led the interior and furniture design. Hidakuma was in charge of wood coordination, furniture design & production, and furniture production direction.


Mr. Sano and Hidakuma proposed to produce furniture to make the best use of logs with a strong presence, which are natural material of Hida. I thought that it would be suitable for Sony CSL Kyoto’s activities to incorporate non-functional elements into the design and create furniture using a new level of construction methods. Mr. Sano, who is an expert of wood with experience as a traditional tea house carpenter, as well as Hida craftsmen and Hidakuma who took on the challenge, created furniture to give off an overwhelming presence.

[Project Overview]

  • Support details:
    Timber coordination, furniture design and production, furniture production direction
  • Duration: January-July 2020
  • Team Organization
    Client: Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc.
    Produced by: Shoma Terai (Loftwork Kyoto)
    Interior design / furniture design: Fumihiko Sano (FUMIHIKO SANO studio)
    Timber coordination / Furniture design and production / Furniture production direction: Kotaro Iwaoka / Hideaki Asaoka (Hidakuma)
    Production / Cooperation: Kamioka Forestry Cooperative, Nishino Seizaisho (Lumber manufacturing), Hida Shokunin Seikatsu (Furniture manufacturing & design) and KITOKURASHI CO., LTD

Outputs

A Space Where Materials with Strong Individuality Face with Each Other

Movable desk

Three “brother” logs support the plate together

Top plate made of chestnut and stumps on the top plate are to be used as monitor stands

Top plate is made of jointed chestnut and castor aralia

<Specifications>
Material: chestnut, castor aralia, and mountain cherry (top plate) /  beech log and oak log (leg)
Number of units: 2
Size: 3,000mm x 1,400mm x H730mm
Finish: Permeable urethane coating

A bold design which logs support a large top plate. The casters are attached with the outstanding skill of Hida woodworkers to withstand the weight, making the table movable. The stump on the top plate can be used as a monitor stand. The timbers being used to attach the casters are made of the same material as the logs, looking like it is penetrating the top plate.

Standing Desk

<Specifications>
Material: beech, horse chestnut (log)
Number of units: 3
Size: 700mm x 700mm x Height 1,000mm
Finish: Permeable urethane coating

The three pieces of furniture have made use of character of each wood, whose log each was nicknamed as “Goshinboku (sacred tree, horse chestnut conker)”, “Kyoboku (giant tree, horse chestnut conker)”, and “Kobu (knotty, beech)” at the site. You can hold a meeting or one-person work on this desk while standing. When we sawed the horse chestnut conker, a very unique grain appeared on the surface. We laid it sideways so that the grain can be seen on the top plate. We also attached casters to these logs so that the desk would be movable. We have made a piece of furniture with a very heavy weight appearance, letting the logs stand up.

Sofa Table

<Specifications>
Material: Walnut (log)
Number of units: 1
Size: 700mm x 700mm x H400mm
Finish: Permeable urethane coating
Other specifications: Casters attached

We used the logs that were left in the lumberyard for the longest period of time and badly rotten. We used a grinder and wire brush to shape the log and remove the rotten part. As a result, a unique form like a mountain range appeared. It features its unique polygonal shape as well as details accented with square timber legs. It is movable with casters.

Long Desk

<Specifications>
Material: Chestnut
Number of units: 1
Size: 7,760mm x 800mm x H720mm
Finish: Permeable urethane coating

A long counter of over 7 m was installed by the window. The luxuriously long chestnut timbers were used for the table, which are hard to obtain. The table is made of dynamic plain swan with expressive grain. A depth of 800 mm has been secured for enough room to work on.

Others

We used hardwoods of different characters; the fitting frame (chestnut), alcove (contracted wood grain pattern, horse chestnut conker), and cupboard (sawa walnut).

Process

Decide How to Work with The Wood after Picking One. The Sawmill Process is The Same - Just Like Improvised Music.

In this project of making furniture, Hidakuma suggested that we could use hardwood logs as they were, instead of using beautifully sawn wood. In this way, the prototype of the space was initiated, which led Mr. Sano to begin to create an interior image of boldly arranged raw materials such as logs, stones, steel, and glass.
Once the direction of the materials was set, Hidakuma visited Kamioka Forestry to start hunting logs with a unique presence.

Original interior perspective drawing created by Mr. Sano

At sawmills you usually cut logs into plates, but this time it was a totally different story. The logs set aside for some time were very heavy as the water inside was not completely dried out. For that reason, it was hard to move them for even a few meters. We hired the entire facility of Nishino Seizaisho, who gave us a hand this time, and took two days to carefully cut the wood out in the presence of Mr. Sano and Hidakuma. Mr. Sano created a complex polygonal shape with the sense of improvisation, as if having a conversation with the wood in front of him.

The Processing Work with The Amazing Skills of The Woodworker as Well as Jigs

Image: Hidakuma

Hidakuma turned to Mr. Katada, a woodworker from Hida, for advice, regarding the log processing work.
First, Mr. Katada set out to create a workshop for processing work by placing nearly 500 kg of wood and jigs. It was such hard work just creating a horizontal plane to work on.

He determined the reference point by aligning the top plate horizontally against the level. For the three types of legs shown in the figure above, the more right side you go, the more challenging it gets to manufacture. (Source: Hisatoshi Katada / Hida Shokunin Seikatsu)

Next, unlike the flat top surface, the surface of the log to which casters are to be attached is uneven. Since the positions of mortise holes on the wooden leg were to be made above the ground, we made a jig to determine the x-axis, y-axis, and z-axis against the level of the reference horizontal plane. We assembled structural materials and fixed casters to the mortise holes with screws.

This was a manufacturing process of a mass of logs created by nature to suit people’s everyday movement such as standing, sitting, and using a PC. Mr. Katada remodeled a machine to make mortise holes as well as a machine to suck up dust at the delivery spot to prevent it from flowing around. This goes to show that it was such hard work that had never been done before.

“The hard part was that we hadn’t had the right tools. We wouldn’t have been able to carry out this work without modifying the tools to start with. “says Mr. Katada. This process would not have been completed in a month by manual work with chisels. He also said, “It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but at the same time it was the most rewarding job.” We sensed the genuine craftsmanship from his words.

The day the log flew up in the sky

The log was safely lifted while avoiding electric wires with a skilled crane operation.

It was successfully delivered to the office on the 3rd floor. By placing the wood in the concrete space, the new space plans of Sony CSL Kyoto were set in motion.

Members

Jun Rekimoto
Professor, Graduate School of Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, The University of Tokyo
Deputy Director, Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc.
Completed the master’s course at the Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Science, Tokyo Institute of Technology in 1986. After working at NEC and the University of Alberta, he has been working at Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc. (Sony CSL) since 1994. Since 2007, he has been a professor of Graduate School of Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, The University of Tokyo (also the deputy director of Sony CSL). He pursues research and social implementation of Human Augmentation, which extends human capabilities with technology, as well as his network development, the Internet of Abilities.
https://www.sonycsl.co.jp/

Kojiro Kashiwa
Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc.
Site Activation Project Leader
After joining Sony Corporation in 2011, he was involved in accounting and business management in the divisions dealing with computers and cameras. In 2014, he became the secretary general of the public viewing project of the FIFA World Cup, which created the opportunity for him to be seconded to Sony Computer Science Laboratories (Sony CSL). As a research business, he contributed to the social implementation of Sony CSL’s research results, and has been involved in the launch of the Kyoto laboratory since 2020.
https://www.sonycsl.co.jp/

Fumihiko Sano
Architect / Artist
Born on 1981 in Nara Prefecture. Sano began his career as an apprentice as a Sukiya carpenter at Nakamura Souji Komuten in Kyoto. After working at a design office, he created an independent studio in 2011.
Utilizing the construction methods, materials, and sense of space gained from the onsite experience, Sano utilizes the Japanese culture of today as a basis for concepts and designs.
In 2016, he visited 16 countries around the world and carried out a project to create a tea room as a place of hospitality in each location.
Aiming to create new value for the culture of various regions, he continues to carry out cross-disciplinary works in architecture, interior design, product design, and artwork.
http://fumihikosano.jp/

Shoma Terai
Loftwork Director / Kyoto Branch Business Manager
In 2008, graduated from the Faculty of Economics at Ritsumeikan University and joined Loftwork as a new graduate. He has been in charge of project management and creative direction in a wide range of fields, including “USIO Design Project / ISHIGAKI NOW” to rediscover the charm of Ishigaki Island with creators around the world, renewal of Rikkyo University’s official website to re-question the d’etre of the university website, and the launch of the experimental zone “100 BANCH” to produce 100 projects for 100 years ahead.
Since 2017, he has been appointed as the business manager of “Loftwork Kyoto Branch”. His work involves “MTRL KYOTO” to create new businesses where materials meet creativity, and “FabCafe Kyoto” where technology and creatives intersect. Became a Loftwork board member in 2021.
https://loftwork.com/jp/

Masanori Nishino
Representative Director of Nishino Seizaisho
The second president of Nishino Seizaisho who specializes in hardwoods, which is now rare in Japan. He procures hardwoods that he personally selected with his expertise, as well as saws and sells them according to the needs of furniture manufacturers and woodworkers mainly in the Hida area. His business serves as a hub for the hardwood distribution in the Hida area.

Hisatoshi Katada
Hida Shokunin Seikatsu
Worked at a furniture manufacturer in Hida for 9 years in charge of planning and designing. Subsequently he became independent and founded “calm’s” in 2002. He sells his original works at the online shop “Hida Shokunin Seikatsu”. He also produces a large number of bespoke furniture from individuals, architects and designers.
http://hida-cafe.com/

Kotaro Iwaoka
President and CEO of Hidakuma Inc.
Born in 1984. After graduating from Chiba University, Iwaoka engaged in designing private houses and apartment complexes at an architectural company. Then he went back for a graduate study at Keio University, researching and producing digital design products.
In 2011, Iwaoka started working at Hidakuma, wishing to create a cafe “Fab Cafe” that offers a creative designing environment. By 2012, as  the planning and operating director, he successfully opened FabCafe in Shibuya, Tokyo, where digital design products are being created. He also joined in 2015 to start up half-governmental and half private company, Hidakuma Inc., (official name: Hida no Mori de Kuma wa Odoru) in cooperation with Hida city of Gifu prefecture. 2016 saw a FabCafe opened in the same city. He has been taking up new projects based around the forest resources. In April 2018, Iwaoka became vice president and CEO of the company, then in March 2019, he became the president and CEO of the company.

Hideaki Asaoka
Works at Hidakuma Co., Ltd.
Born in Hida City, Gifu. After graduating from Nagoya University of the Arts, he experienced furniture making and design at furniture makers and interior design offices. He participated in Hidakuma in 2016, being in charge of a wide range of projects including product development, design, production, and construction. With a wide range of knowledge on wood and deep respect for craftsmanship, he continues to make great efforts every day to add new value to the wood.

Member’s Voice

Last year in 2019, we came up with the possibility of Kyoto having to offer to be the next research base of Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc. Of course, we never expected the outbreak of this new coronavirus then. At that point, I was wondering what was the most important value in the society and lifestyle where digital technology was advancing to its limit. What would be the ultimate value of the material that remains after you pursue the digital capability bone deep? What would be the true affluence brought about by the high level of compatibility between digital and materials? What kind of environment would we need to pursue as a research institution? Those were my contemplations.
We decided to launch the Kyoto Laboratory around February 2020, aiming to obtain “Yutakasa (affluence)” in the future. Unfortunately, the new coronavirus spread completely at the same timing with our preparation of the laboratory launch. The operation with two bases both in Kyoto and Tokyo has become a practice ground for telepresence and teleworking. In the traditional Japanese-style conference room, which is a symbol of Kyoto, an immersive telepresence environment has been created by joining multiple large organic EL monitors. Also the cloth material that looks like a curtain in the lab is actually made from a special liquid crystal material to control the level of transparency. While “living” in such an experimental environment, I would like to seek to establish a truly affluent future society.

Jun Rekimoto
Professor, Graduate School of Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, The University of Tokyo
Deputy Director, Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc.

In this coronavirus crisis, I believe that the opportunity of “chatting” in the office has been lost, which is significant to us. For researchers whose job is to produce 1 out of 0, it is very important not only to figure things out, but also to have a proper refreshment and chat with other people. Therefore, we were hoping to have the kitchen and Japanese-style room made properly to attract researchers to the office, aiming for space to create more communication. We believe that having a place to provide snacks and meals as well as to relax will create chats, which might trigger a creation of research ideas as well as collaborations such as joint research.
Instead of just an office space with a desk and a conference room to emphasize the importance of “being focused”, they created a highly expandable space that can be used in various ways, making you feel more comfortable to communicate with researchers and visitors.

Kojiro Kashiwa
Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc.
Site Activation Project Leader

What do you really need for a place where the creative mind ignites? I pictured the space with that in mind. I figured it may be freedom or stimulation that we need for it. I heard that people do not come to the lab any more because now you can get information on the Internet. Therefore, in this project, the theme was to create reasons for people to come back to the lab. There are desks and chairs you can use, large tables can be moved to use,  you can hold events, you can use the kitchen, and there is a meeting room to hold one. However, those are nothing but functions. I thought that this place needed something extraordinary beyond them. You can see that in this room, there are logs of various types, colors and textures. Some have skin left, while others have no sapwood. Each one has a different hump and grain, and the appearance of the table changes as you use it. In this room, the extraordinary exists in an ordinary room, which I believe we successfully made realize in this space.

Fumihiko Sano
Architect / Artist

We were asked for advice regarding the project after the off-site meeting with Sony CSL members that had been held at our space FabCafe Kyoto. When I heard that the theme “contributing to the well-being of humankind, ” “stones” and “wood” came across my mind. When there were objects in the office that you cannot tell what they were for, yet it has a strong presence beyond efficiency and functionality, I thought we can bring out the ingenuity and creativity from the staff of Sony CSL, who may lead to unexpected use of those items.
Now that remote work has become our new “normal” in such a short period of time due to the coronavirus, I believe that the reasons for gathering in the office should be found at “comfort” and “stimulating creativity.” It would be great if we could work together along with our space “FabCafe Kyoto”, which is only a 5-minute walk away, to take on the challenge of enriching both Kyoto and humankind.

Shoma Terai
Loftwork Director / Kyoto Branch Business Manager

Normally, we deal with “timber” that has been thoroughly dried and evenly sawn, but this time we started processing from the natural “log” to manufacture the furniture making the best use of its natural shape.
The few logs collected in the lumber yard were from completely different trees, such as beech with knots and bumps, water oak with heavy rotting and weeds, and a very large horse chestnut weighing over 400 kg. These logs are meant to be crushed into chips or fired materials due to their odd shapes and appearances, rather than used as “timber”.
However, thanks to Mr. Sano, a skilled architect of tea ceremony houses and skills of Nishino Seizaisyo, beautiful grain gradually appeared on the logs. It was impressive to see the muddy logs turning into jewels with a dazzling glow. Even after that, the logs continued to relive and constantly changed through cracking and contracting, and its size being changed every day. Again I realized how trees were alive and they were so beautiful.

Hideaki Asaoka
Works at Hidakuma Co., Ltd.

Text: Rina Ishizuka
Photo:Yosuke Tanaka

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