Toshiki Hirano of Kuma Lab presents the London Design Biennale installation

Traditional handcrafted materials can be reinvented with digital technologies according to Kuma Lab co-director Toshiki Hirano, who created a London Design Biennale installation exploring a new use of Japanese paper.

As Japan’s contribution to the London Design Biennale, the installation Reinventing Textures combines traditional washi paper with photogrammetry and digital mapping to explore objects, sounds and surfaces on the streets of London and Tokyo.

Reinventing Textures combines traditional washi paper with photogrammetry and digital projection mapping

Hirano presents this project as an example of how architectural materials can be used in new ways when combined with digital scanning and manufacturing tools.

“I see huge potential in combining traditional and digital, to offer new types of aesthetics and design in architecture,” the Japanese architect told Dezeen.

Toshiki Hirano
Toshiki Hirano believes this approach can lead to new possibilities in architecture

Although Hirano worked on this project solo, rather than as part of the Kuma Lab, it offers some insight into the type of work that he and co-director Seng Kuan have explored since taking over his lab. Founding Director, Kengo Kuma, when he retired last year.

Officially known as Sekisui House Kuma Lab, this experimental installation from the University of Tokyo aims to push the boundaries of architecture and materials.

“We are setting up new manufacturing facilities inside the university, which allows us to study this research topic in greater depth and on a larger scale,” said Hirano.

Toshiki Hirano with model
The installation was made using 3D scans of objects and textures found on the streets of Tokyo and London

Reinventing textures, Hirano roamed the streets of Tokyo with a 3D scanner, capturing the objects and textures he found – from public transport to take-out – while a group of students from the Royal College of Art did the same in London.

Hirano then combined this 3D information into a papier-mâché wall relief and layered the digital information on top using digital projection mapping, as a way to combine the “urban textures” of these two cities.

This installation is completed by a “sound collage” produced by MSCTY Studio in Tokyo, from various field recordings.

Reinventing textures by Toshiki Hirano at the London Design Biennale
These 3D data were glued together to generate a papier-mâché wall relief

Hirano doesn’t see this facility as something that would be directly recreated in architecture, but he said it could offer a starting point for using complex data in building design.

“I like this idea of ​​an aesthetic of a large amount of information,” he said.

“For this installation, I had to deal with a 3D scan model with thousands of meshes, which you typically wouldn’t deal with in the conventional architectural design process. Maybe it could push the boundaries of architecture. in one way or another. “

Reinventing textures by Toshiki Hirano at the London Design Biennale
Digital imagery is mapped to paper to bring the installation to life

In the past, the Kuma Lab has worked with a range of both new and traditional materials.

In 2019 – while Kuma was still in charge and Hirano was the lab’s assistant professor – they produced Bamboo Ring for the London Design Festival, which showed how bamboo and carbon fiber can be woven together to create strong structures and self-supporting.

Hirano has also worked on various material explorations, for example, his installation Ontology of Holes performed with man-made materials, including faux fur and man-made rocks painted in metallic silver.

The architect believes washi paper is a material he would like to experiment with more in the future.

Kuma Lab with bamboo ring
The Kuma Lab, which previously produced the Bamboo Ring for the London Design Festival, explores new ways to combine traditional materials with new technologies

“What I find really interesting about working with Japanese paper is that, when used to recreate the very complex shape of a 3D scanned model, the complex shape actually adds structural strength,” he explained.

“A papier-mâché surface with complex shapes is much more rigid than a flat papier-mâché surface,” he said. “This is something that might be interesting to investigate further.”

Reinventing Textures is on display at Somerset House as part of the London Design Biennale, which runs from June 1 to 27, 2021. Check out the Dezeen Events Guide for all the latest information you need to know to attend the event, as well as a list of other architecture and design events taking place around the world.

Project credits

Designate: Toshiki Hirano
Conservative: Studio Clare Farrow
The partners: MA Interior Design at the Royal College of Art and MSCTY Studio
Sound collage: Nick Luscombe and James Greer
Interactive and sound design: Panos Tsagkarakis, KP Acoustics
Carrier body: Sekisui House Kuma Lab, University of Tokyo
Main sponsor: KP Acoustics
Other sponsors: National Lottery via Arts Council England, Arts Council Tokyo, Japan Foundation

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