Kitsungi – the art of repair

 

Celebrating the beauty of a naturally imperfect world is a tenet of our work here at RISE Design Studio. By embracing impermanence and accepting that we are always in a state of flux, it becomes easier to appreciate what we have, rather than compare ourselves to others. It is this mindfulness and ‘living in the now’ – with all its imperfections – that we try to capture in our work. An important influence on our approach is the Japanese art of kitsungi – ‘golden repair’ – which respects the unique history of an object.

Reclaimed bricks RISE Design Studio

An accidental art form

It is thought that kitsungi was developed in the 15th century when a Japanese shogun broke his favourite tea bowl. He was disappointed that the repair involved stapling the pieces together, which left the bowl looking unattractive. Instead, local craftsmen filled the crack with a golden laquer. This made the bowl more unique and valuable, and prompted a new style of repair. As the style developed, the lacquer was likened to natural features like waterfalls, rivers, or landscapes.

The need to accept change

We often feel regret when something breaks or is wasted. For the Japanese, this is ‘mottainai’, a feeling that dates back to the original era of kitsungi and remains present in contemporary Japanese environmentalism.

In London, we are tackling the challenge of developing a circular economy to support net zero targets – mottainai and kitsungi can provide us with the inspiration we need. In our ‘throwaway culture’, we often miss opportunities to transform broken or used objects into something new, perhaps even making those objects more rare and beautiful than the originals.

This is the essence of resourcefulness – making the most of what we already have (or what already is) and highlighting beauty alongside any flaws. The perfections and imperfections are what gives our surroundings a story and meaning.

Embracing the past in the home

What does this mean at home? It can include choosing authentic furnishings that create a lived, harmonious space. It might also mean sourcing used furniture and allowing each scratch to add to the narrative of an item’s history. It might mean repairing walls, floors and external materials to reflect the history of the building and the changes it has seen through the years. Sourcing local or reclaimed materials might also help to root the home in its local environment and landscape.

Imperfections are gifts

The art of kitsungi is not only about objects – it is also about how we live our lives. It helps us to realise that we, like the tea bowl, are all fallible. We heal and grow, and we often survive emotional blows and live to tell the story. However, it can be hard to admit our failures and accept that bad things can happen. If we are to learn something personal from the local craftsmen who repaired broken items with gold, it is that imperfections are gifts to be worked with.

We take pride in working with imperfections in our projects, whether those be in buildings with a story to tell, with materials that reflect the local landscape, or with furniture and other fittings that have existed for several generations.

The future of shared domestic spaces

 

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought how we use our homes into sharp focus. As we spend more time than before working, socialising, exercising and resting at home, our shared spaces have taken on new functions. No longer is the kitchen only a place to cook or eat – it may now be where at least one member of the family conducts their daily online meetings. This means that many of us have had to think about how our shared, domestic spaces can accommodate more aspects of our daily lives.

RISE Design Studio casa plywood London

Reinventing the workspace

Working from home has been a journey of discovery for many of us and it looks to be here to stay, at least in the short to medium term. Although time is saved on the non-existent commute, the experiences of remote working in 2020 have been psychologically and socially challenging. Online meetings enable regular contact with colleagues, yet this method of communication has been found to lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety and disconnection from others.

As many of us continue to work from home, it may help to think about how to adapt our domestic working spaces to address some of these issues. Like in the office, sitting in one place all day can cause health issues (bad posture, etc.), and too much clutter can create a ‘fuzzy’ mind when focussing on difficult tasks. A good chair that gives an optimal sitting position is crucial, as is a desk at the correct height, in a well-lit, clear space.

Bringing the outdoors indoors

With the outside world ‘off limits’ or presenting a threat to those most vulnerable, it has become crucial to incorporate more nature into our homes. With a boom in gardening among those with access to a garden or other outdoor space, integrating living plants into our homes has become more popular. Although hygiene is key, our personal living spaces still need to be physically enriching and remind us that the natural world still exists ‘out there’.

Testing architectural and design assumptions

The recent situation has also challenged how we use public spaces. As government requirements mean more ventilation and regular cleaning regimes, those places that are more modern, with transparent architecture and interior design, may have an easier road ahead. This is not dissimilar to the reasons behind the development of modernist hospital architecture in the early 1900s to combat widespread tuberculosis.

It has been predicted that the way in which we design our homes is likely to change. Instead of browsing showrooms, most purchases are now made online. The development of online consultation services and the use of simple digital planning tools is becoming more widespread, and some companies are even bringing materials to people’s homes for them to test, rather than requiring them to come to a showroom.

At the end of the day, spending endless time in our homes may have brought us down to earth somewhat. We have had to focus on what works and what doesn’t, as well as what our priorities and design choices really are. Perhaps we have also discovered some simple pleasures about our home that we hadn’t noticed before. What we learned about our homes during 2020 will be crucial for planning ahead to the ‘new normal’ and how to maximise our enjoyment of time at home in the future.

How will architecture adapt to Covid-19 and beyond?

 

The global Covid-19 pandemic has created a new world for all of us. While the fight against the virus continues, we are all learning to adjust to life in a socially-distanced society. How we move through our cities, towns and villages has changed, and we have had to refamiliarise ourselves with adapted indoor and outdoor spaces. What will these changes mean for the design of housing, work spaces and placemaking in the future? We think there will be some key changes that architects will need to respond to.

RISE Design Studio architecture and Covid-19

Seeing our homes in new ways

Even those of us who have always loved spending time in our homes will feel, after many weeks of lockdown, overly familiar with our own living space. Bedrooms have become the office or the home gym, kitchen tables have become the home school, and the quiet space that was once a reading nook may now be overrun by all members of the family seeking that rare moment of solitude.

As we contemplate the reality of more time in our home in the weeks and months to come, we are valuing our homes more than ever before and thinking about how to maximise the space. Storage has become more important as we appreciate the simplicity and order of life at home while the world outside seems increasingly complex. What was originally a temporary workspace may become a permanent feature and this presents an opportunity to create a soulful space that inspires creativity and productivity.

Even the tiniest bit of outdoor space has provided a huge boost for those lucky enough to have some. For those without, sunrooms or spaces with good quality natural light for urban farming provide a welcome alternative.

Perhaps the most important question is about how we delineate the spaces in our home that we use to rest, eat and play from those in which we now work. How can smaller spaces be used to perform these multiple roles but still allow a separation of home and work life? The creative solutions need to flow.

The importance of our local surroundings and supply chains

The pandemic has made us all acutely more aware of our local surroundings and what effect these can have on our health and wellbeing. Encouraged to walk, run and cycle close to home, we have become very familiar with our local streets, paths and parks, perhaps much more than we could have ever imagined.

As many of us continue to spend more time at home during the working week, there is an opportunity to implement energy-efficient standards, and push for faster decarbonisation of heating systems to ensure the carbon footprint of the home is reduced and energy costs are manageable.

New developments will need to adopt strong placemaking principles likely walkability to local social infrastructure. This will be crucial to ensure that local businesses can be accessed quickly and safely, particularly as home workers are likely to make these sorts of trips more regularly than in the past.

The longer we spend without regular social contact, the more important our greenspaces become for our mental and physical wellbeing. There is a need to embed these spaces in our local communities and look after them for the years to come.

Adaptable and healthy cities

Perhaps most striking has been the decline of the use of cars in our cities. Streets have been left empty and air pollution levels have dropped significantly. As people are converted into ‘full-time pedestrians and cyclists’, the benefits of making streets safer for those of us not in vehicles couldn’t be more apparent.

There is likely to be a greater focus on health in city planning and development. For example, in Singapore, therapeutic gardens have been built into public parks, and in Tokyo citizens are working with urban designers to create more greenspace in their neighbourhoods to improve their health.

Across the world, architects have been working hard to identify and adapt buildings and other spaces into temporary health care facilities. The pandemic has highlighted the need for fast design and build projects, which has made the use of modular construction – buildings assembled using prefabricated modules – more common.

Perhaps most exciting is the growth in the adaptive reuse approach to design. Using existing structures to serve new purposes, this is a real opportunity to use a sustainable and efficient approach to upgrading our living environments in this new world.

Our top tips to thrive working from home

 

Who knew that working from home could be quite pleasant? Here are our top tips to make it so.

RISE Design Studio working from home reduced

1. If you don’t have space… make space!

Re-arranging a room to fit a desk in the corner, or using that awkward recess in the corridor for setting up a little working space can make wonders to our wellbeing. Did you know that our minds stay calmer and more focused when we assign a specific task to each space?

In other words: eating in bed? Bad idea… Using the kitchen counter as your office? Turns out, not ideal either! Instead, we can get creative by separating the counter in two with a makeshift partition, or temporarily set up the dining table as an office desk while moving family meals to the kitchen.

2. Clean space, clear mind

We know… easier said than done, right? But tidying up is an effort worth making, as it has a huge influence on our mental health as explained by this article by UCLA professionals.

3. Stay connected

It is very important to stay in touch with others even if we are physically apart.
Pay attention to small interactions too. It is easy to make contact about big issues but, with the distance, we lose the little exchanges that are so crucial to our social brains. In order to avoid “losing touch” in this way, embrace communication regardless of the weight of the matter… even if it is to reach out to a colleague or loved one and ask “how’s it going?”.

4. Indulge a little

Cooking a new recipe or working while listening to Bossa Nova can transport us to places that are off-limits for the time being. Finding the energy to change things up a bit brings a lot of rewards, including a more positive attitude and a more productive state of mind!

5. Take advantage of the situation

Remember those days when you woke up wishing you could just stay at home all day and do nothing?

Oh well… now is the time to do all those things we wanted to do but never had the time to. Our best advice is to start a personal project to take your mind off things and have something exciting to look forward too. In our case, it is all about renovating homes! Spending so much time inside has led a lot of clients to finally tackle all those things they wanted to change about their homes.

Until the next time! And remember, stay safe, stay active, and stay positive.

Sketchbook Chronicles N.003

 

– Architecture with a social spin: an initiative for a school in Guatemala from Architecture Sans Frontieres.
– The ancient craft of hand-blown cylinder glass.
– Natural materials for the future: environmentally friendly engineered wood and hempcrete introducing hemp to traditional concrete techniques.
– Goldsmith Street: a new direction for social housing.

You can read the full version of the Sketchbook Chronicles issue N.003 here.

Embracing imperfection: wabi-sabi and Japanese aesthetics

 

Here at RISE Design Studio, you could say that wabi-sabi is “part of our DNA”. A world view that stems from Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi is the acceptance of transience and imperfection. It can include asymmetry and simplicity, as well as an appreciation of the integrity of natural objects and processes. Or, put simply, it is all about celebrating the beauty of a naturally imperfect world.

Wabi sabi RISE Design Studio architect west london

Natural and light

A wabi-sabi house is filled with air and light. Soft, natural lines allow us to find beauty in asymmetry, and a strong connection with nature is achieved through natural materials such as wood, stone and clay. Wabi-sabi also seeks to reduce the number of objects in the home that we don’t need, without making the home feel cold or sterile (a house is, after all, a place to be lived in). The spaces are warm and welcoming, thanks to the use of natural colours and materials, particularly wood and stone. Colours also tend to be inspired by nature, bringing balance and serenity to the home.

Embracing imperfection and authenticity

Wabi-sabi has cultural and historic links with the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. If you haven’t experienced this, the atmosphere is generally calm and relaxing with simple routines that centre on the tea. Often, the crockery used in the ceremony is faded or damaged, as a result of being passed down the generations. A fantastic example of wabi-sabi is the art of ‘kintsugi’, which is where cracked pottery is filled with a form of gold-dusted lacquer to showcase the beauty of its age, rather than hiding it.

In the home, choosing authentic furnishings creates a lived, harmonious space. Sourcing furniture that has been passed down through the generations allows each scratch to add to the narrative of that object’s history. It also alllows us to turn away from the ‘throwaway’ culture that we are learning is so damaging to our environment, to appreciate the ‘true and humble’ that wabi-sabi emulates.

Existing in the now

Wabi-sabi can also be applied to your daily life. It is a state of mindfulness which involves ‘living in the now’ and finding satisfaction even when it’s easy to think the opposite. If you trace wabi-sabi all the way back to its roots, the Buddhist teachings of the ‘Three Marks of Existence’ would guide you to embrace impermanence, acknowledge that suffering is a part of life that can ultimately lead to growth, and accept that we are always in a state of flux.

In times when we might constantly compare ourselves to others, there is no harm in taking the time to appreciate what we have. It is this mindfulness and appreciation of the ‘now’, with all its imperfections, that we try to capture in our work.

History of plywood and its present day use

 

We have recently completed several projects that have used plywood as a feature material. Plywood is made by gluing together thin sheets of wood (‘veneers’), with the grain of each sheet running in a different direction. The result is a material that is stronger and more flexible than solid wood. The history of plywood has been described as “a history of the modern world” – plywood started to be used on an industrial scale in the 1850s. In this post, we take a quick journey through that history and reflect on the uses of plywood in architecture and design today.

Plywood kitchen design self build london

The art of moulded plywood

In the mid to late 1800s, plywood was most commonly used in moulded form and was used mainly in furniture design. The ‘Belter Chair’ was most famous at this time, as the technique of moulding plywood to make this high-backed chair increased manufacturing speeds and reduced production costs.

The Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, was also one of the pioneers in curved plywood furniture, enabling large-scale manufacture of chairs and other furniture designs that were exported across the world in the early 1900s.

American designers Charles and Ray Eames also experimented with moulded plywood during the Second World War, developing a lightweight, stackable plywood leg splint for the armed forces. The Eames Chair, also in moulded plywood, was one of the most influential chairs of the mid to late 20th century and continues to be adapted and imitated by designers around the world.

Ray Eames - stackable plywood leg splint for the armed forces

Plywood transportation

Cars, trains, boats and planes are perhaps not the first things to spring to mind when thinking about plywood. However, during the 1800s, designers and engineers explored ways to deal with increasingly crowded streets. An elevated railway, made entirely as a moulded plywood tube was suggested in 1867 in New York, and in the early 1900s, a German company extolled the virtues of using moulded and flat plywood for the body of their affordable family cars.

Perhaps more familiar would be the use of moulded plywood in canoes. From 1917, the US firm Haskell manufactured moulded plywood canoes and sold them in large numbers across the world. The boats were very light and very strong.

The firm went on to design aeroplanes using plywood and this was perhaps the most technologically significant phase of the material’s history. Between 1910 and 1945, its strength and lightness allows innovative new planes that ‘revolutionised the nature of flight’. Moulded plywood shells (the ‘monocoque’) were strong enough to be self-supporting (they didn’t need any internal structure) and became standard in future aeroplane design.

Plywood at home

In the 1930s, plywood was perfectly suited in the construction of prefabricated houses for people on low incomes during the Great Depression. With the invention of synthetic glues at the same time, it was possible for plywood manufacturers to produce waterproof plywood for external use.

Plywood in the digital age

Today, plywood is one of the most common materials of the digital age. It is possible for designers to share plywood projects via digital cutting files, or videos and other images posted online. It continues to be widely used in residential and commercial architecture projects, and its ‘clean’ finish is appreciated by a growing market interested in using sustainable materials that are sourced responsibly.

Build your own home

 

Tens of thousands of people in the UK have built their own home. It can cost a lot of money, take a lot of time to plan and manage, and require a lot more attention to detail than when buying an existing property, but many find that it is worth it to ensure they live in a home that suits their requirements and tastes. In this post, we tell you a bit about what is involved in building your own home so that you can decide whether or not it is for you.

New build architect london

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Self-build properties now account for nearly ten per cent of all private new-build homes in the UK each year. While ‘self-build’ may conjure images of statement ‘Grand Designs’ properties, most tend to have relatively modest designs. This helps the design to receive planning permission and receive funding from mortgage lenders. Mortgages tend to be ‘interest only’, with the borrower paying interest when money is drawn down at the completion of each stage of the build.

A larger deposit than that for buying an existing home is usually required, and additional early costs include buying the building plot, funding planning applications, as well as employing an architect, project manager and a builder. It is ideal to source the architect and construction team via word of mouth, preferably from others who have gone through the self-build process.

Institutional support and finding a plot

As a rule of thumb, building your own home costs £1,500-£2,000 per square metre, although any changes to the original design and spefication during the construction phase can increase these values. Although initial costs are higher than for buying an existing home, there are tax advantages to building a new home rather than extending your current (or an existing) property: new self-builds qualify for rebates on VAT, for example, with the self-builder able to claim back most of the VAT paid on materials. Although VAT cannot be reclaimed on professionals’ fees, nor on household appliances, the average VAT reclaim for one-off schemes is about £13,200.

The Housing Strategy for England (2011) set out the expectation that the number of self-built properties in England would double, with 100,000 to be completed by 2021. In 2016, several legal measures have facilitated more self and custom builds by placing a duty on councils to allocate land for this purpose. Despite this legislation (the Housing and Planning Act), access to land in London remains an issue, as does gaining planning permission and accessing the required funding.

Demolish and redevelop

While there may be few plots with planning permission available, estate agents tend to know about properties that are suitable for demolition and redevelopment. This is likely to be more expensive than buying land with planning permission (i.e. the value of the building is included and there are also demolition costs), but it tends to be easier to get planning permission via this route.

The most important aspect of a self-build project is staying on budget. This requires a project team that estimates the cost of the build accurately and keeps to this quote. A good project manager is crucial in this regard. If you would like to discuss a new self-build project with us, please get in touch.

Spotlight on Jean Prouvé

 

French architect and designer, Jean Prouvé (1902-1984), has been described as one of the most influential designers of the early modern design movement. Once quoted as saying “never design anything that cannot be made”, he combined engineering and design to produce a wide range of furniture and prefabricated architecture. An influential force among modern designers and constructionally-minded architects, we also take inspiration from his work here at RISE Design Studio.

Jean Prouve RISE Design Studio

Modern metal furniture

A apprenticeship in his teenage years with a Parisian metalsmith led Prouvé to become a master of of various metals. Opening his own workshop, Atelier Prouvé in Nancy, he became adept at working with wrought iron and steel at scale, creating numerous furniture designs and then opening his own factory. He fabricated lamps, chandeliers, and handrails, as well as the famous ‘La Chaise Inclinable’, the first reclining chair to use the technique of flat steel tubes, which allowed the chairs to be stacked.

He collaborated with some of the best-known French modern designers of the time, such as Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand, and his early successes led to the mass-production of his furniture (tables, chairs, shelves, etc.) for universities, hospitals, offices and schools. Tables made via an innovative method of folding sheet material were described as having “the perceived lightness of bridges and the presence of architecture”.

Prefabricated architecture

During World War II, Prouvé was commissioned to design prefabricated barracks for the French army. This allowed him to develop the structural system that became central to his later architectural designs. The roof and walls were supported by large A-shaped columns that a ridge beam could be slotted into.

In the 1950s, Prouvé devoted more and more of his time to the challenges of prefabricated architecture. His own house, which he designed as a prototype, is now considered a major development in prefab housing and, even today, engineers can’t always grasp the complexity of the bracing and support system that he set up intuitively in the structures he created.

His ‘demountable houses’ combined easy assembly and structural integrity that were used in a range of scenarios in a number of countries: durable housing for homeless war victims, manufacturers’ offices, and rural schools, to name a few.

The poetics of the technical object

Many of Prouvé’s furniture pieces are still manufactured by a Swiss furniture retailer, and his prefabricated houses remain preserved and regularly displayed. In 2008, Prouvé’s ‘Maison Tropicale’ (developed in the 1950s to address housing shortages in French colonies) was assembled in front of the Tate Modern in London to coincide with an exhibition of his work at the London Design Museum.

Since 2010, there has been reinvigorated interest in Prouvé’s prefabricated architecture. Many have been sold to collectors as installation art and, at a time when architects, planners and governments are becoming increasingly interested in addressing the issues associated with mass affordable housing, his ideas are being developed, adapted and modernised to suit modern day needs and increase their original material and economic efficiencies.