Bringing Dutch Design Lessons to Tokyo

We recently published an article on PingMag in which Taku Satoh and Yugo Nakamura discussed their approaches to designing for kids. The things that children understand can be interesting for adults, and likewise the things that grown-ups think can interest kids too.

With this in mind, PingMag went along to a recent event in Tokyo organized by the children’s art freepaper tonton.

Tonton is a freepaper helping families with children interact with art. It previously worked with musician Shuta Hasunuma, as well as introducing ways for families to enjoy the Yokohama Triennale. For the event in Tokyo, it invited Holland-based architect and designer Noa Haim to do a workshop with her Collective Paper Aesthetics product, and then give a talk along with architect Mikiko Endo.

Haim was born in Jerusalem but studied architecture in the Netherlands. Experienced in collaborating with architecture studios from all over the world, she currently works in Rotterdam.

So, let’s take a look at the workshop.

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Front row, from right: Noa Haim, Mikiko Endo. Back row, from right: editor Naomi Shibata, tonton producer Mariko Hayama, writer Kinuyo Mukaibo, interpreter Naoko Washio

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The materials used for the workshop were this Collective Paper Aesthetics. On the bottom left there is a picture of Buckminster Fuller.

Collective Paper Aesthetics

Collective Paper Aesthetics was first created by Noa Haim for the London Festival of Architecture 2008 with the concept of “design that anyone can experience”, re-making Buckminster Fuller’s Octet Truss so that anyone can build three-dimensional sculptures by assembling things like a puzzle. It starts as in the photo above, just as paper. This is then cut out and folded to make shapes. In the series there are paper balls with which you can construct a stool or table, and paper blocks to build toys, and so on. For the workshop in Tokyo, the paper was a textured Japanese paper that was easy to fold.

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Parents and kids, creating with triangle shapes

The venue for the workshop was the Shibaura House in Tamachi, where Noa Haim was joined by Mariko Hayama, and of course, the participants. To start with, everyone got a sheet of Collective Paper Aesthetics and drew on it as they liked using colored pencils.

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After the drawing was done, the participants folded the paper along the lines. Cutting it out, you got a shape like the one above. Can you tell what it is? It’s Ultraman 7.

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After cutting out the triangles, it’s time to start assembling!

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This bit’s trickier so the smaller kids got some help.

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Now Ultraman 7 has changed shape a bit.

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You can make all kinds of shapes.

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At the end, each child presented their work. Some of the budding designers were pretty nervous and could hardly get any words out, but no one minded!

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We were really surprised by how well the kids concentrated during the workshop, from the start right to the end. The participants were limited to twenty persons, so it was a nice small group and this might be one reason for its success. The parents were watching and chatting among themselves, but then the children might invite them to help out. They seemed to have more fun making things together with their parents.

Art, Design and Architecture for Kids in Holland and Japan

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After the kids’ workshop there was then something for the grown-ups, a talk with Noa Haim, architect Mikiko Endo — who has designed many spaces for children — and editor Naomi Shibata. The topics for discussion were design and architecture for children in Holland and Japan.

Haim introduced some examples of playground equipment, like a slide by the famous Dutch designer Richard Hutten that glows in the dark, as well as the ideas of Aldo van Eyck. The design below is for Haim’s current work-in-progress, Trigo Fun. It allows you to make a shape through putting rubber hinges and tubes together.

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Design sketch for Trigo Fun

Trigo Fun is based on geometrical tiling called tessellation, a way for kids to experience mathematics while playing a game. Haim is currently on the lookout for partners to collaborate with in this project.

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Model for Trigo Fun

Mikiko Endo went to Holland to study after getting married, and gave birth and brought up her child there. She gave a talk on the differences between Holland and Japan, including how the understanding of design is not the same. These were some of the main points.

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This temporary police station building in Holland is a real mystery, but at any rate, the design feels very accessible.

Endo: I gave birth and raised my child in Amsterdam, and was surprised at the strength of awareness towards design in Holland and the depth of the understanding. For example, a maternity center was as chic as a Daikanyama cafe. Dutch public design is highly advanced. The traffic signals, street trash cans and so on are universal design so anyone can understand.

Shibata: I worked for a graphic design office in Holland in 2006. The country has many immigrants, so of course there are language problems. This is why it’s necessary for the design of public things to be understandable to anyone. Design there is not something that’s “stylish”, it’s not something “added”. It’s something essential, rooted in lifestyle as something necessary.

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Playground in a park (Holland)

Endo: Parks are thematic in their design. A non-profit is involved with making the park, supported in the design and the ideas for operating it by residents, land-owners, and neighboring kindergartens. This really impressed me, how there was this kind of good social framework, a system where people in different positions can connect together. And the design is also really good. A park with a cute playground is fun. Poeple living nearby come to see the cute things in the park. Good design isn’t suspicious. Holland has a very strong awareness of this kind of design.

As Shibata said, when we hear the word “design” we often think of something with additional values, perhaps even something high-class, sophisticated. But in Holland it’s more something that anyone can use, something close to lifestyle. It’s not something trying to look cool. At its heart it’s simple. This was very interesting to me, as well as hearing about the relationship between clients and designers in Holland.

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Model for nursery playground

Endo: When I was studing in Holland I designed some playground equipment for a nursery in Amsterdam. A producer who liked my submission to a design contest introduced me to someone running the nursery. I spoke with them about things like what kind of slides and so on they wanted, or the budget or location. But they just responded, “Anything. Show me your idea.” [Laughs] In Japan you first listen to the client’s requests and about the size and budget. But with this project I had to create everything from scratch and I found it quite tough. In the end, I thought of this design where you can you can feel a sense of unity, where kids jump and it’s like the whole playground is dancing. Unfortunately, due to visa issues I had to return to Japan and couldn’t actually make the design for the playground a reality, though.

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Design sketch for nursery playground equipment

The budget started to balloon for the project. Even so, the owner didn’t abandon it but got more funds together to make it hapen. For me, design meant making something in accordance with the budget and the wishes of the client, but in Holland it’s more like design adapts reality to the scale of what you’ve created.

After returning to Japan, Endo looked at the design of public places and noted how it was always safe design that avoided taking risks. She then worked on designing a range of sites for “play”, including a project for a park in Shibuya ward, the Fuwa-Fuwa sculptures at the Hakone Open-Air Museum, and a “cheering mountain” blackboard for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. Her current project is a maternity house in Africa, where many women still die in childbirth. Her dynamism and tireless imagination never cease to impress.

All in all, the event featured some rather unusual ideas about design and architecture. And in spite of the profundity of it all, the kids also seemed to have a whale of a time. I will now be keeping an eye out for other examples of similar projects.

Bringing up kids is stressful but a good environment solves a lot of the problems. Noa Haim, Mikiko Endo and the team at tonton all have plenty of ideas for how to make fun environments for parenting, and let’s hope more people hear about them.