Scandinavia and Japan: combining simplicity and sustainability

Pamela Albanese - TosiLab

Within the complex world of trends, one movement that is particularly worthy of attention is emerging as a result of two distinct forces: minimal-functional on the one hand and eco-sustainable on the other.

The result is a trend that embraces all the various models of functional design – such as Northern European and Japanese – and theories that strive for harmony with nature and an environmentally responsible vision of the future.

We have coined the term Eco-Minimal to refer to the broad trend that brings together all these different influences and concepts.

To begin, we need to examine the curious parallels between the culture of Scandinavian countries and Japan. Although they are geographically very distant and have completely different histories, these two regions have some aspects in common: a love of rituals (such as saunas and baths), a passion for nature and peace, a humble attitude and a profound respect for objects.

An excellent way of getting a taste for the oriental vision is to visit the Palazzo Reale in Milan, which until 29 January is hosting an exhibition of the extraordinary woodcuts by the three Japanese artists Hokusai, Hiroshige and Utamaro. The exhibition explores the roots of this splendid culture through artworks that celebrate man’s unique relationship with the many facets of nature: landscapes, mountains, sea, meadows, forests, animals, trees, plants, flowers, as well as the wind, sun, rain and storms. It is astonishing how these disparate elements are brought together to create an ordered whole in a vision of the world that is never chaotic or disorganised. This helps us understand why the famous Oki Sato, founder of the practice Nendo, argues that one of the key roles of the designer is to place things in order and to present them to people in a way that is familiar and simple to comprehend. 

In oriental aesthetics, an object is different when illuminated to when it is in shade, as part of an alternation of “being” and of its opposite. In Japanese culture objects are animated by an ancestral energy known as ki, a nucleus that embodies essential meaning and expands to create form in the same way that the process of maturation swells a fruit, only to empty it again as soon as it ceases to exist.

Once again, light is the common element shared by the two cultures, albeit for two different reasons. Nordic design considers this element to be priceless because of its scarcity and consequently seeks to capture it as much as possible in its projects.

Just as for the Japanese, for Northern Europeans wood is the undisputed king of materials for construction and furnitureIn the Eco-Minimal world, frills are virtually non-existent and decorations barely hinted at. In this style, decorating means adding full and carefully measured colour accents, working in alternation with the surfaces of materials, for example making them rustic or creating distinctive finishes or relief motifs, original cuts or recompositions. In other cases we find hints of decorative lines, for example subtle crosshatching where the irregularity of the human hand emerges in all its authenticity.

Moreover, we find experiments such as the house designed by the practice Snøetta that produces energy rather than consuming it. “Architecture must be generous” to the environment from which it draws resources and to the society that uses them, said Craig Dykers, one of the partners in the practice. The mission of its more than a hundred and fifty architects is to seek a constant dialogue between architecture and nature, and consequently a perfect union between the house and the environment that surrounds it.

However, harmony with nature is not just visual. Many of the exhibitors at the last Stockholm design week were proposing ideas for sound-absorbing partitions. We saw sofas, armchairs, cocoon chairs and freestanding office pods surrounded by felt elements to insulate from noise, ideal for public buildings, offices, restaurants, shops and other spaces.


Read the full article on Ceramic World Review 119/2016