Open Source Heroes: Kenya Hara, Creative Director, Designer, Champion for Japanese Industry.

Architecture / Contributor / Culture / Design / Interview / Japan / Open Source

Design as an education in desire.

Kenya Hara is known to most as a graphic designer and the creative director behind MUJI, but he has for many years also been a champion of design as a philosophical medium. His work in the intellectual economy of design has been reckoned in projects that explore themes of design-think: textiles in Senseware, tactility in Haptic, crowd-share architecture in Architecture for Dogs and now, lifestyle literacy in House Vision. We asked him why it was important for him to develop architectural competence in Japan today.

Firstly, it’s important to raise the level of maturity around “housing literacy” among ordinary lifestyle proponents, or consumers. Housing literacy is the ability to envision a residence that meets your lifestyle, and to be able to accurately convey it to architects and technicians.

When the consumer doesn’t have a clear image of their “house” in their own mind, concrete building action cannot take place. To the ordinary consumer, a house is something either purchased or rented, and not something they can conceive of and build themselves. In order to change those circumstances, people need convincing examples. They need compelling “points of reference” that will allow them to think, “Oh, I want that!” Those references have to be plentiful, and demonstrated directly to them, because desire requires education. In fact, design is nothing more than an “education in desire” if you look at it the right way.

I’d independently prompted  “House Vision” as a core movement in Japan, but it is essentially a campaign to present such “references” that can bring people happiness; houses that are created through collaboration between foremost economic drivers and architects of Japan. Our goal is to present as many of these examples as possible.

Participating industries are not limited to the housing market but include carmakers, lifestyle product makers, multi-media service company with cafes that offer publishing, film and music products, lifestyle mechanics makers, and the like.

During the economic growth period of Japan, land prices went up too high, and houses became a sort of “financial instrument.” Now that the Japanese economy has entered a period of stable growth, the home has finally become an even-tempered lifestyle product, conceivable on one’s own. This is one of the very reasons I started this project now, and in Japan.

For some sixty odd years after the end of the Second World War, Japan had consistently built popular manufacturing products such as refrigerators and televisions, but we’ve now entered a new stage and have to think of the next big product. The home is at once a complex manufacturing unit, and an intersection of various industries. What’s more, the “home” is a most seductive theme whether it addresses movement, energy, senior marketing, or the manifestations of a Japanese aesthetic ethos cultivated over tens of thousands of years.

We’ve only just begun. The strength of design is to be able to bestow an “awakening” or “realization” of the average consumer, as well as of major industries. Something as overarching as “urban planning” alone cannot change the city or society. Society will only advance at the moment the ordinary citizen notices these design elements and says to him or herself, “Ah, I see!”

I also believe the concept of Open Source, in its ability to enhance the way citizens consume, has great potential.  I happen to have launched Architecture for Dogs–a web-based architecture project that publishes free downloadable blueprints and gives detailed CG demonstrations of the building process. It’s not architecture for dogs because I love animals, but because they represent a massive platform. There isn’t a person in the world who doesn’t know what a dog is, and who doesn’t have some small interest in them. If for example I decided to make this about hybrid cars, only a small number of people would actually be able to enjoy the project. Architecture for Dogs suggests spreading the skills and tools of open source on a global scale.

House Vision and Architecture for Dogs are developing with consideration of all these sundry issues. For anyone interested in seeing our progress I encourage you to visit us at our websites.