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Dynamically Shaped Bentwood Fixtures
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When cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Tokyo, dynamically shaped fixtures have been installed for a limited period by the windows and inside stores of “THE NORTH FACE Mountain” in Harajuku (located in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo). Hakuten Corporation (hereinafter referred to as Hakuten), which designs the space for events and exhibitions, was in charge of the design, inspired by the trail running shoes equipped with the latest technology and realizing “unleashed propulsion”. Hidakuma oversaw the entire production process and worked hard with Hida craftsmen to produce the fixtures made by molding hardwood using wood bending technology.
It is generally hard to handle small-diameter trees, and difficult to use them as a material for furniture. As they grow on the steep slopes of mountains, they have a thin and winding shape before processing. Hidakuma found potential in those trees full of wildness, and that’s why we tried to actively utilize them. After numerous experiments, while communicating its charm to the production partners, we challenged the thinness to the utmost. As a result, we have completed fixtures with a lively shape and eye-catching grains.

[Project Overview]

  • Support Details: Wood coordination / Production / Production direction
  • Period: September 2020 – January 2021
  • Team Organization:
    Client: Hakuten
    Product Management: Kohei Kumazaki (Hakuten)
    Design: Ryukei Aoyagi / Yuki Shiwa / Naoki Nishimura (Hakuten)
    Wood coordination / Production / Production direction: Chikako Kadoi (Hidakuma)
    Production: Hakuten, Chuosangyo Co, Ltd., Hidamukuya, Hida Shokunin Seikatsu (Furniture manufacturing & design)

Outputs

A New Side of Timbers Shown as A Result of Pursuing Scale And Thinness

Bentwood Fixtures

<Specifications – Standing type>
Material: Oak /  Horse chestnut conker, Cherry tree / Walnut
Number of units: 1 set of 5 waves
Size: W50 ~ 300mm / Approx. L6,000mm / T6mm
Finish: Oil

<Specifications – Suspended type>
Material: Oak /  Horse chestnut conker, Cherry tree / Walnut
Number of units: 2 sets of 3 waves
Size: W50 ~ 300mm / L2,500mm / T6mm
Finish: Oil

We mainly used oak from Hida to match the interior space of the store. We processed it so that the rough wood grain could be taken advantage of, while keeping the feel of dynamic movement. In order to keep the curvature stabe, we used two 3 mm thin plates. We thought that the thinness of the side edges would stand out by giving color contrast, so we came up with a way to combine different tree species. The oak with an astringent taste on the upper surface was combined with the white horse chestnut conker on the lower surface to give a lighter impression.
For the 50mm wide thin wave, which was placed as an accent for the standing type, we used soft pink cherry trees and reddish brown walnuts to serve as an accent to the whole.
No columns are used for both stands, but acrylic plates were attached to the floor to prevent them from moving instead, which gives the impression that the entire fixture is floating.
The suspended type was hung with fishing lines at three points at the two sides and in the middle, expressing suppleness and lightweight feeling.

Signboard

<Specifications>
Material: Oak
Number of units: 1 unit
Size: W2000mm x H600mm x D200mm
Finish: Oil finish

Against the backdrop of organic and wavy wood, the neon sign was created to show the name of the technology of a new product by the highly technical production team of Hakuten. Hidakuma was in charge of wood coordination only.

Process

Experiments in Making Organic Wood Look Extremely Thin And Light

“We would like to produce light and supple fixtures to display our new shoes.” The Hakuten design team received such a request from the client, so the team created a design by using wood as the material. After seeing this, Mr. Kumazaki, the product director, asked Ms. Kadoi from Hidakuma for production advice. At that time Mr. Kumazaki also happened to participate in the “Hida City / Hardwood Town Development” tour to visit forests and production sites, which led him to identify the characteristics and potential of hardwoods.
Hidakuma immediately started a one-month test production to aim at how thin and light they can make the wood. While many of the hardwood trees in Hida are thin and bent, we decided to find a construction method to suit them by identifying which tree species are suitable, as well as the limit of how far they can be bent.

At Hidakuma, we conducted an experiment using a primitive method of molding various tree species.

As a result of the test, we found different types of tree species bend at different degrees. The beech at the far back did not bend as expected.

Sketch depicting the test production process by Ms. Kadoi from Hidakuma.

First, soak a 6mm solid board in water, steam it once, and then put it onto the wood bending machine. The shape is fixed by applying high-frequency heat, but the heat does not get evenly distributed during the steaming process.
Then we took a new method. We made two 3 mm plates into two layers which can be put onto the machine as they are without steaming, and an adhesive was inserted between them and pressed. We began to have a hope that any tree species was likely to be bent in this method, because it removes water from the tree like a microwave oven, and moreover it has an adhesive effect.
In this step, a few other questions were raised, such as what length we can make them, as well as how to make a notch.

Checking The Test Productions And Making Original Wood Bending Molds

The Hakuten team was willing to accept the unique grain, cracks, and knot holes of trees as its character.

It turned out that the four board strips do not remain perpendicular to the ground when they are solid-laminated horizontally.

We thought that the thinness as well as lightness similar to the product image would be obtained by alternating shades of color.

We were able to have smooth communication by sharing the mold specifications as well as the production process with Hakuten with sketches and photographs from time to time.

The final check of the test production was conducted at Chuosangyo in Hida Takayama. The test was carried out at the strongest curvature in the presence of staff members of Hidakuma and Hakuten.

Hakuten made 5 types of wood bending molds in total.

Hidakuma made a test production jig to fix plywood, which tends to return to the original shape after bending, until it is completely cooled down. Large quantity production was required for the actual production, so more jigs were made by Hakuten.

In this way, the iron plate was attached to the original mold and transported to Chuosangyo to produce curved plywood. While struggling to find a plywood production partner, partly due to the influence of the corona crisis, we were told from Mr. Nagase from Chuosangyo; “Who knows if it works or not unless we try.” His words became a trigger for us to ask them for production. In the test work using the mold brought in, the temperature of the high frequency was adjusted appropriately, and the two-layer board was neatly bent with the highly skilled technique.

In the end, the joints are finished without using bolts, and the two plates are placed off by approximately 50 mm apart from each other.

By spending a good month on the test production, we were able to share with the Hakuten in advance the image of the ordered item, how to store it, expansion and shrinking nature of the living tree, and the difference from the drawing, etc.

Connecting Plywoods to Create Huge Waves

In this way we finished the test production. Subsequently we entered into the actual production with a tight schedule of one and half months. We took the completed bentwood plywoods into Hida Shokunin Seikatsu to ask Mr. Katada, a woodwork craftsman, for processing work by joining them into a piece of 6 m long. The production was preceded by sharing the drawings to make sure the two layers of the tree species on the top and bottom are specified, as well as the bonding points could be identified.

Mr. Katada also made a mold for applying tension, as well as a support for carrying overly thin plywood.

It was necessary to cut off the wide type of standing fixtures neatly because the bond would stick out when joining sideways. Furthermore, we processed the fixtures to the final width, and adhesive was sandwiched between the edges to fix with a clamp. Then finally polishing work was performed to integrate the four boards. In this way, the production was completed safely and sound at a rapid pace.

New Hardwood Materials and Their Future Potential Gathered from Experimental Projects

Huge fixtures loaded onto a truck arrive at the store in Tokyo.

Installation of suspended fixture. The construction was conducted by Hakuten.

Hidakuma took the Bentwood production project as their first challenge. It usually requires a detailed check by human eyes, and Chuosangyo brought in a mold and tried various types of wood that were rarely used. In the meantime, Hidamukuya took charge of producing thin plates, and the craftsman Mr. Katada was responsible for finishing the huge fixtures. Also, everyone at Hakuten not only understood the characteristics of each hardwood, but also designed and conducted the product promptly. This collaboration of the production team has led Hidakuma’s new challenge to success.

Members

Kohhei Kumazaki
Hakuten Corporation.
Serves in the Product Management Department, Production Headquarters.
Product Director in the Cultural Development Unit .
Born in 1981. Mr. Kumazaki is a graduate of School of Social Sciences, Waseda University. After joining Hakuten Corporation, he was engaged in the production department, and then moved onto the product management department. Has been involved in projects such as event construction, installation production, and store fixture production. Mr. Kumazaki has been engaged in a wide range of manufacturing work, from digital work to product manufacturing using natural materials.
https://www.hakuten.co.jp/

Yuki Shiwa
Hakuten Corporation.
Designer in the Experience Marketing Business Unit 2.
Born in 1991. Completed the Department of Architecture, Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Tokyo University of Science. After joining Hakuten Corporation, Mr. Shiwa has been working as a designer. Has been involved in space design, window display, installation, etc., focusing on parametric design using Rhinoceros, Grasshopper, etc., as well as interactive design using Cinema 4D, etc. whicht he studied at school.
https://www.hakuten.co.jp/

Hakuten Corporation

Hakuten is an “Experience Marketing Company” that supports the marketing and branding activities of companies and organizations, mainly in the area of events and showrooms.
In order to make the “place” where people meet as well as the “experience” to be created there more valuable, the company “designs” various ‘expressions’, ‘means’ and ‘environments’ related to “communication”. Our mission at Hakuten is to contribute to creating a prosperous society full of sensibility, through better “Communication Design®”.
https://www.hakuten.co.jp/

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/

Chikako Kadoi
Hidakuma Inc.
Forest Creative Director
Completed the Department of Inter-media Art, Graduate School of Fine Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts. Ms. Kadoi has multiple experiences in event decoration, store interior space design and communication design at a space design company. She joined Hidakuma, whose wish is to create a  “forest rich enough for bears to dance happily”. She is fascinated by the long-term communication of the relationship between people and the forest, as well as the community and value development that the company aims at. She dreams of dancing with a bear.

Member’s Voice

When I first visited FabCafe Hida on a private visit and experienced making chopsticks, I felt that “hardwood is so beautiful”. Since then, I had been thinking that one day I would like to make something with hardwood. This time, I’m glad that we were able to make the product by taking advantage of lightness, softness, and thinness of the wood, conveying the characteristics of the displayed product in a straightforward manner. I feel that the goodness of wood was fully utilized, such as distortion as well as expansion and contraction. They cannot be expressed by human processing technology alone.
I will keep thinking about new ways of utilising timbers to come up with ideas in making the best use of them.
Also, it will be nice to be able to make connections with people through timbers.
I hope to see you all again in Hida one day!

Kohhei Kumazaki
Hakuten Corporation.
Serves in the Product Management Department, Production Headquarters.
Product Director in the Cultural Development Unit .

This time, I had a valuable opportunity to be engaged in the designing work, while feeling the characteristics and interesting side of hardwood, such as fragrance, texture, and suppleness with all five senses. Even though the curved surface this time was produced by human hands, it is a shape created by the power of the material, which is the wood itself.
I am convinced that that is why it turned out light, supple, yet powerful, with a mysterious beauty.
We often use timbers as materials in our daily lives. However, thanks to the cooperation of Hidakuma and the craftsmen of Hida this time, we have been able to investigate the characteristics of the material itself and select tree species to our satisfaction, which was a luxurious experience for us. I am grateful to the Hida trees as well as the people of Hida.
With this experience, I would like to shift my focus on things that can be contributed to the conservation of trees and nature, instead of human-centered design.

Yuki Shiwa
Hakuten Corporation.
Designer in the Experience Marketing Business Unit 2.

We use hardwood from Hida which is a natural material. Since we use the nurtured life, we would like to utilise them not only for production but also for considering how to make the best use of the life and expression of the wood.
Sometimes we told Hidakuma people, “We can’t get this, it’s not big enough!”, but their answer was “That’s fine. You can use it as it is “. Most of the Hida trees are small-diameter, so they thought we had no choice and had better bear with little dimensional differences……..
However, It was finished with a perfection that didn’t not lose an organic beauty. It was such a surprise!
We craftsmen give full attention to the trees every day, but we still don’t understand everything. We always learn new things while working on them.

Hisatoshi Katada
Hida Shokunin Seikatsu

I believe that all the timbers around us show us different looks because they are everywhere in our living spaces.
We were making the product, hoping that it would bring an opportunity to people to imagine the appearance of a tree as a living thing that grew in the forest, instead of a still life that was made as a product.
Mr. Shiwa and Mr. Kumazaki visited Hida, and recognized the characteristics of trees such as cracks and knots (which are often the least popular ones for some reason) as “cool and interesting” things, therefore we were enabled to utilise them as materials. Because of this, the product has a lively feeling like a living thing, making it possible to bring out expressions that only wood can bring out, yet it does not look like one

Chikako Kadoi
Hidakuma Inc.
Forest Creative Director

Written by Rina Ishizuka
Photo: © 2021 Nacasa & Partners Inc.

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