Stool Making in Japan

A stool making workshop with architecture students in Nara, Japan

During his Winton Churchill Memorial Fellowship in Japan in 2015, Hugh interviewed Professor Yukimasa Miyagishi, an expert in Japanese design, and vice president at Osaka Institute of Technology, in order to learn more about Japanese traditional design motifs and how they influence contemporary Japanese designers. Professor Miyagishi invited Hugh to give a lecture on these subjects in 2016, and again in 2017, and in 2019, Hugh was invited to become a Visiting Professor at Osaka Institute of Technology, and deliver a workshop for architecture students on designing and making their stools in wood.

Exchanging ideas between the UK and Japan

Hugh has been fascinated by the confluence of architecture and furniture since his time at university. He sees a huge benefit in teaching architecture students about wood and how to work it, as a means of understanding materials and revealing the opportunities that materials present when their properties are explored.

The workshop took place over 5 days in June 2019, with the first 2 days being a crash-course in learning how to use tools, ways to marking out accurately, and how to cut and fit joints. On day 3, the students used their new-found skills to design a stool, and 5 of these stools were then selected by the students, to be made in groups, over the following 2 days.

The design day, in particular was a fascinating experience for all involved. The student’s designs demonstrated the mix of western and Japanese woodworking technique they had learned, as well as an eclectic mix of design styles developed in their university course. Each student presented their ideas, in English, and discussed improvements and alterations with Hugh and the class.

Making as a means of design

A set of very different stool designs started to emerge from the workshop, including some incredibly complex pieces of construction - a spiral stool with 12 slim spindles; a chidori stool using no glue that relied only on this most traditional of Japanese joints to stay upright; an incredible octo-joint with 4 pieces of timber intricately spliced together, and a beautiful curved seat made with facetted pieces of cedar.

At the end of the week, the students were invited to reflect on their experience and suggest ways of improving the workshop for future classes. Their honesty, enthusiasm, and hard work made the workshop a huge success, and an exhibition of their stools was created in the lobby of the university’s main building in Osaka that summer.

Th workshop was made possible by the Josho Gakuen Foundation and the Osaka Institute of Technology

Project credits:

Workshop lead: Hugh Miller
Professor overseeing: Prof yukimasa Miyagishi, Osaka Institute of Technology
Professor assisting: Prof Seiichi Shiraga Osaka Institute of Technology
University: Osaka Institute of Technology, Japan
Funding: Josho Gakuen Educational Foundation
Date: June 2019
Location: Kawakami Village, Nara Prefecture, Japan
Photography: Hugh Miller

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