There is plenty of spiritual overlap between Japanese and Scandinavian design, and we were thrilled to hear that Oki Sato, principal of Nendo, designed a chair for Fritz Hansen.
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The resultant N01 is a wooden armchair that would serve as a fine example of the work of either culture. Here's a video of Sato introducing the chair and explaining the joinery goals, and a Q&A with him below:
What inspired you to design the N01 wooden armchair for Fritz Hansen?
"Fritz Hansen are known for their highly skilled moulding technique using plywood, and their wide experience with comfortable seating has contributed to their unique style. The plywood technique has been used in many of their chairs such as the AntTM and Series7TM. It was exciting to learn that Fritz Hansen has not made a solid wooden chair for many years, probably not since the Grand PrixTM chair by Arne Jacobsen in 1957, and that the N01 chair may be the next wooden chair after this. A wooden chair is not an easy product for a designer to make. It is one of the most difficult and one's personal mentality or philosophy can be expressed through it, but after working as a designer for 15 years it was a great pleasure to have been offered this opportunity from Fritz Hansen. At the same time I felt that this project was a kind of destiny and decided to take on the challenge."
How does the design match the brief from Fritz Hansen?
"The brief was to design a new wooden dining chair that would be comfortable and at the same time meet their aesthetic requirements. Our goal was to finalise a chair which is contemporary, yet maintains the traditional and historical feel of the brand."
How would you describe the creative process, from idea to the development of the chair?
"The whole experience was quite unique. Every time we visited the workshop in Alleroed outside of Copenhagen - almost every month at the final stage - a new prototype welcomed us. We have put into practice things we noticed, repeatedly reviewed, discussed, and reviewed again many times over. There was no compromise—especially in the final phase of development—with totally achieving the targeted strength and comfort levels of the chair.
This productive process of product development was one of the highlights of my 15-year long career as a designer, and one that I really enjoyed. It truly was a collaborative process between Fritz Hansen and us, one that was coordinated between Copenhagen and Tokyo. As a result I do not remember much about the first brief and I am not even sure if I have actually designed the chair; I feel that we (Nendo and Fritz Hansen) made this chair together as a team."
What were the main challenges in developing this chair?
"Normally the section where the frame and shell are joined is thickened to increase strength, which gives an impression of heaviness. However, to provide a lighter appearance, it was carefully designed to look as though the joining sections are touching as little as possible.
The difficulty with a wooden chair is that even a small change of size - for example even less than 1mm - can greatly change its appearance and level of seating comfort. By changing the shape of the legs or the arms from that of a column to an ellipse, or by narrowing down the edge, or by giving a slight roundness or curve to it, the chair can be given a totally different character."
In your opinion, what do you like the most about the design? Which feelings or emotions does it evoke?
"Both sides of the seat have a gradual incline, helping realise a comfortable seating experience, as if one's body is being embraced. In my opinion, this part of the design has this in common with the identity of the flagship chairs of Fritz Hansen, the SwanTM and the EggTM."
How does the chair combine Japanese and Danish Design?
"Both Japanese and Danish designs have a great respect for wood as a material, and also for the craftsmanship related to this. Having this in common, in spite of the distance or cultural difference, it was possible for us to immediately 'speak' the same language in the process of product development. Last but not least, it is not designed for the sake of design. Instead, the design follows the function and the practical requirements of the chair."