Emu Masuyama’s Visit to Hida
Emu Masuyama, who has experience with various scales of fabrication projects from furniture to pavilions to landscaping, visited Hida.
Mr. Masuyama, after graduating from the AA in England, spent time working in a London architecture office, and co-founded the digital fabrication workshop MESA Studio in 2009.
He became involved in university architecture education in 2011 using his knowledge of digital fabrication, and had his own design laboratory until June 2015 at the University of the Arts London Central Saint Martins and Oxford Brookes University.
The motto of the studio is “Design through making,” emphasizing the approach of thinking about the design while making something. The subject of research is a method for advancing architecture design, aiming for a new way to combine digital fabrication technology and existing craft in the way objects and buildings are made.
The fabricator of the fabrication workshop at Grymsdyke Farm, a digital fabrication research facility in the London suburbs, has supported architecture students at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University of Westminster, and University of East London. Currently, after returning to Japan in July 2015, at the same time as being involved as a researcher with projects at Keio University SFC Laboratory Social Fabrication Lab (Yokohama) for the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s Radical Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program since August, he was also active as an architecture team lecturer at Keio University’s Hiroya Tanaka Laboratory.
Mr. Masuyama visited Hida because, in keeping with MESA Studio’s motto of researching ways to combine digital fabrication and traditional craft, he was interested in Hida’s culture, history, architecture, “kumiki” framework (without nails) technique, and the use of the broadleaf tree.
Forest (Mt. Anbo)
The first place we visited was Mt. Anbo, where you can get an unobstructed view of Hida.
We heard from woodcutter Mr. Miyamoto, who runs forestry venture Valse Technology and loves the forest and music above all, about his relationship with the forest and his passionate vision for it.
We watched him cut down a tree. We were surprised at how unexpectedly easily it fell.
After this trees are cut into small pieces and transported to the bottom of the mountain.
Next we visited Nishino Sawmill, which boasts the largest amount of broadleaf trees handled domestically. Previously as well, various architects have purchased broadleaf trees through Hidakuma and used them for flooring in offices and cafes in the city center.
We heard from Mr. Nishino about the added value of broadleaf trees. Broadleaf trees take 20 years longer than conifers to mature, they curve, are heavy, and are not user-friendly; they are not suited for mass production, but can only be used for railroad ties, or fuel such as firewood or chips, and are left at the edge of the sawmill. Hidakuma wanted to try to give them some value. If you look closely, these broadleaf trees have great individuality. The color, grain, smell, and feel are all different from chestnut, walnut, magnolia, paulownia, beech, cherry, zelkova, oak, horse chestnut, etc. That makes sense, because they are living things! However, the world generally focuses on conifers such as cedar or Japanese cypress when doing forest thinning, so there is little data on the knowledge or technology of using broadleaf. That’s why Mr. Nishino’s knowledge is so important. The water content can only be reduced to 18% through natural drying, so artificial drying is used to lower it to 10%. (Furniture makers, etc., lower it to 8%.) However, before putting it into drying machines, it is left to dry naturally where it is for about a year. Artificial drying takes about a week to 10 days, so it is far more efficient, but using artificial drying also pulls out some of the resin in the tree itself. If the glossy natural resin of the tree is lost, the wood will look dry. Incidentally, it is not a problem if there is rain during the natural drying process. Mr. Nishino is often asked by visitors, “Is it alright if the drying trees are exposed to the weather?” He explains that, actually, if the surface of the wood dries out, the water in the center cannot evaporate. To a degree, it is easier for the water inside to evaporate if the surface is wet. If intense heat and light continues, they pour water over the trees.
Wood always has knots. Knots became unpopular during the standardization of the mass-production era, but now some furniture makers dare to include them in their designs as a means of expression. If you consider knots as individuality, you’ll come to appreciate the appearance of each one. However, sometimes cracks or splits can come from knots, so the proper countermeasures are essential.
If bent wood can be fit together like this to make flooring, it can live a long, happy life! Hidakuma wants to use technology to meet this kind of challenge.
The rice field in front of Tanaka Construction was covered with snow.
The wood-loving Tanaka family owns a lot of it. Of course, that includes broadleaf! The design, planning, and construction are all consistently done, and its reputation for high-quality work is such that orders come in from all over the country. On this day as well, several cars were parked outside.
Mr. Tanaka carefully explains about wood with cuts placed in advance so that it does not split.
This is the new building Mr. Tanaka is currently working on. The beautiful beams are stretched around the house. It is all natural wood, leaving a wonderful fragrance inside.
The table and chairs are all made of zelkova, and the broadleaf with its bent shape is skillfully incorporated into the finished design. The feel, color, grain, and touch are all wonderful!
A Woodworker's Workshop
The next place we visited was Calm’s Cafe, a cafe and workshop run by Mr. Katada, an all-purpose woodworker based in Hidafurukawa. He possesses the wisdom and technique for taking on even projects that are sudden, super-curveball orders, handling them with flexibility and skillfully expressed design.
He has various woodworking tools, and the interior design of both the cafe and workshop are all hand-made by the super-DIY craftsman.
Furukawa’s beautiful winter scenery
Takumikan Craft Museum
Next, we visited the Takumikan Craft Museum, a museum of Hida’s traditional craft of “kumiki” (wooden framework without nails)
Mr. Masuyama tried fitting the pieces together and admired their construction. He seems to be gathering information to inspire new ideas.
The last place we went was a furniture maker with strong brand power based in Hida-Takayama. It started from the history of “mageki,” or “bent wood” furniture, a traditional craft that has long flourished in the Hida region.
This is the boiler room. All of the energy used in the workshop is produced here.
This is the technique of bending wood. The steamed wood is taken out and immediately bent.
Isn’t it beautifully curved?
A lot of bent wood is stored here.
Many women are also active in the work.
This is the chair safety check area.
There was a history of struggles with this kind of production.
That was the end of Mr. Masuyama’s visit to see Hida and Hidakuma. We hope that this will be the first step for starting some interesting experiments with the fusion of Mr. Masuyama’s knowledge and his global viewpoint cultivated in London, using Hida’s broadleaf trees and kumiki framework technique to connect with the future.
Finally, please check out this video about Mr. Masuyama’s day. https://vimeo.com/158884011