KENYA HARA
CHAMP MAGAZINE - ISSUE #7
INTERVIEW

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INTRODUCTION

The name Kenya hara profoundly resonates with design and architecture communities worldwide, as one of this generation's forefront thinkers and innovators. Known as a leading designer and creative instigator unlike no other, he is truly transforming the way we view possibilities in todays landscape of product and surrounding lifestyle. To compress his capabilities into one description would be an understatement; he is a designer, professor, author and curator, amongst many - making him one of the most influential people today.

We are well aware that design is all around us. Even if the object, structure or communicative piece saw minimal or maximum research and consideration, it has still been constructed in a way for our functional use as it's primary purpose. But what is good design, how is it measured, and by whom? Is it a visually pleasing aesthetic or intelligence in reference to history for function and material, as an advancement for our future?

The universal question remains: What is good design, and how important is it in our daily lives?
This is one thing that Kenya Hara is at the forefront to explore and educate.

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Leading the Hara Design Institute in the Nippon Design Centre, Hara has held position as Art Director of lifestyle & product powerhouse MUJI since 2002, whilst also designed superior brand and communication materials, such as the Nagano Winter Olympic Games Programs. He is vigilant to inspire and aggregate fellow leading minds, and has instigated various projects and exhibitions with Japan's emerging and leading designers and architects.

Subtly challenging current design and more impressively, offering solutions of new ideas and concepts- Hara has an exceptional imagination and vision for what is possible beyond the horizon. Garnering a strong influence for the Japanese aesthetic of simplicity in form, Hara has remained true to it in modern form. There is no consideration for trend in his designs, they seem effortless and ever-relevant for generations to come.

"Working in Japan, I once thought it was important to make a fresh product, or something cool. As a designer, this was the most significant thing back in the day. Now, I think it is more important to make a new industry in which we can visualise the possibility of things. The role of designer is not only to create a fantastic shape and form, but to provide an idea to visualise identification for branding."

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

In a world where we are dependent on products and their functionality to assist the ease of our lives, technology and innovation can be a good or bad thing. Where do we draw the line for a perfectly-designed cup or chair, or a product that has been constantly re-imagined from changing trends to updates in technology and exploration of available materials?

In 2001, Hara was asked by Ikko Tanaka, the renowned designer and founder of MUJI to join the company with visions of emphasise on quality, retaining simplicity and to introduce a global vision. Bringing in fellow designer Naoto Fukusawa, another leading figure in Japan's design landscape, they propelled the brand into an everyday lifestyle. A clear and clean aesthetic, a poetic emphasis on functionality and form, fascinatingly all achieved with a vision of quality and longevity. Working as MUJI's Art Director and holding position on MUJI's Advisory Board, his design and vision has been consistent to also provide a platform for new ideas. "MUJI as a company is still small, MUJI is very famous, but the power of the company isn't so big. If we create a new field of active industry, we should merge this with another company for a leading combination. In today's context of Japanese industry, we are always distributing the mono-products like TV players, refrigerators, but I feel this kind of industry is just concluding. We should discover a new industry, in the futuristic context of Japan. For the role of a designer is to visualise the possibility of new industries. Not only to show the data or logic, but to provide some instruction and also to visualise it's possibility. For me, that is a very important role in today's design. Especially, in a Japanese context."

There is an ease and sense of in-complexity in his 'pursuit of nothingness', perhaps a perfect reflection on the frequently used focus on the minimalism of white in his designs. Hara also uses the sense of nature too, his vision displayed poetically in MUJI's 'Horizon's' campaign and photo series. Not only in visual and communication design, he retains a consistent and unique vision for Haptic design, those palpable to the sense of touch. Is it possible for good design to resonate universally, to be unspoken and visually understand in the various countries, cultures and communities that occupy this world? Perhaps this is in the physically connected form of communication, haptic communication that he explores.

Hara can be described as an art director or designer, but most importantly he is an influential connector and instigator of original thinking. Through his self-inititiated exhibitions and projects, he invites the participation of fellow creators with distinct visions. And we completely admire this: inspiring (or 'awakening' as Hara puts it) remarkable thinking. This is where his talent thrives, seeing the opportunities in others to edit ideas and visualise them in actual forms. His project 're-design: daily products of the 21st century' involved curating Japanese creators to take everyday commodities such as toilet paper and a matchbox, and design them anew. Architecture for Dogs re-imaged the possibilities for our canine counterparts with playful yet impressive structures, involving Atelier Bow-Bow or Konstantin Grcic to name a few.

DESIGN AS AWAKENING
HOUSE VISION

Now, Hara's current House Vision is a project that completely re-imagines the potential of our living quarters, particularly of those in their 40's and 50's, and one that could transform the household and societal structure of our current environment. First in Japan, with a potential internationally. Curating leading Japanese architects such as Sou Fujimoto, or Toyo Ito to work together with renowned companies such as Honda and Lixil, is what propels House Vision as a truly forward-thinking concept. Creating 'propositions' for new ideas, Hara creates a bridge for these two groups to begin new communication, additionally involving creatives such as Hiroshi Sugimoto, Makoto Azuma and Akira Ichikawa too.

"A house is a very fantastic place, where we can use our traditional heritage. But if a designer and architects together can collaborate together to visualise the possibility of a new style of living. Nowadays, we are not inspired by seeing a futuristic car, no. So the motor companies now realise to join another kind of technician to create.

House Vision is to create a new industry in Japan. Space is very compact and the value of a house is always changing. The mind of buying a house is very conservative and so the Japanese lifestyle is varied. This is a very great thing for me, to create the next step, and he role to visualise possibility of industry is very important in this day.

"House Vision is not only dealing with the housing industry, but I think it's an important crossing point of every industry. The energy industry, the mobile industry, and futuristic electronic devices and new marketing for a more mature-aged group. These people have very huge money in Japan, how can we make a new style of marketing for them? The future resource of future japanese industry, is not only in high technology but also the historical or traditional aesthetic. After WW2, Japanese people don't use this heritage as futuristic resources. Companies should make in a sense, eye contact together, those that can make a very huge impact, so we can imagine a new style of housing. Electronic companies like Panasonic, Sony or SHARP that are just producing the TV player, cd player, or refrigerator, should combine together. But I feel the condition is just changing, and the house is being realised as a very important crossing point. Through this, we visualise the possibility to awaken or introduce to the mature population to be more active to create their own lifestyle by themselves. If the older people awaken a little bit, the rest of society has the possibility to change rapidly. I don't feel that society can change by a very strong-controlled power. The most important thing is to 'awaken'.

House Vision is inspiring us to curate the space for our personality, our lifestyle - interpreted or envisioned by his select group of fellow creatives. "For example, Fujimoto is a very young and very talented architect who understands the housing system, and is able to work further together with Honda. Or Hiroshi Sugimoto - he is not only a photographer, but also an artist. Fujimoto says that, 'Futuristic material is the old material'.

This is just the first trial for me. House Vision is the first edition I've produced by myself. I have shared this House Vision in other Asian countries, so when I go to Indonesia or Jakarta, I give a lecture on House Vision to many of the leaders in Asia - who agree with my idea. Leaders of the Asian industry, don't think of a futuristic house in Western-style."

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VISUALISE THE FUTURE

Hara has created such an influence on the current domestic culture through MUJI and his self-initiative projects, that it's intriguing to know how he himself has curated his own living environment and surrounding space. "I restored everything. I have my study there, and built it in Japanese-style. The living space is Western-style. I like my living space, but it's not perfect yet! So if I have another chance, I try to make housing myself."

With communication and information, ideas are spawned and slowly but steadily, with inspiration like this, change will come.
"This is only the beginning. The most important point of design today, is to visualise the future directly. Not only talking about the future, but to visualise the it directly and it's possibilities. To make it very real."