Shiro Kuramata (倉俣史朗) is a Japanese designer who plays with rules. He brings Japanese design to an intellectual abstraction. Born in Tokyo, he is part of a new generation of brilliant designers who reinvents post-war design. Branded as minimal, his design is much more complex and plays on opposite parts.
His first love was illustration but he was not encouraged. So Shiro Kuramata finally began woodworking studies at the Tokyo High School of Industrial Art between 1950 and 1953 before working at the Teikoku Kizai Furniture Factory (Arakawa-ku). It was during this last experience that he discovered design and never came back. In 1955, he started to study in the interior design department of the Kuwasawa Design School. In 1965, he opened his own agency, the “Kuramata Design Office”, at only 31 years old.
He has tried to intellectualize both the process and the finish of design during his prolix and eclectic career. Focusing on furniture and space planning, he made a few achievements in architecture field, but only few remains. At his climax, in the 1980s, he worked with the famous fashion designer Issey Miyake (1938-2022) to design the interior of his stores: he created more than a hundred of them around the world, each one with a stunning radicalness.
Alongside his friend and a new wave of Japanese designers in all fields, from film director Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) to architects Arata Isozaki (born in 1931) and Tadao Ando (born in 1941), he played a leading role to forge a new Japanese identity and make it shine: they reshaped the world’s idea of Japan.
His design mixes minimalism, poetry and post-modernism. They are exported everywhere: he works with many international editors as his collaborations with the Italian companies Cappellini and Memphis prove it.
Shiro Kuramata’s design is a good temperature of the innovation atmosphere living in Japan after the Second World War. Described, widely, as minimal, his work deserves further observation. He plays on visible and invisible: Shiro Kuramata designs complex pieces based on the attraction of opposites. He creates according to antithetical concepts.
He plays with materials ingeniously in unconventional ways. He did some researches in both shapes and colors fields since the 1970s. He proves his deep knowledge of materials through surface combinations and incredible assemblies. He was fascinated by transparency and light: his design is based on subtle balances and a dynamic use of technological advances as his use of Photobond 100 proves. From the steel mesh of his “How Hight The Moon” (1986) to the acrylic of his “Glass Chair” (1976), he plays with fullness and emptiness. Thus, he delivers a design full of oxymorons and succeeds to confuse the users.
His thoughts about gravity and immateriality are crucial in his work: all his life, he has tried to escape from weightlessness. It is through his design that he has tried to extract himself from this essential physical component. Inspired by conceptual art of a Donal Judd (1928-1994), his creations are visually fascinating. In a spiritual quest for immateriality, his work is at the border between art and design: he proposes an interesting synthesis between Western art and Japanese culture, as Issey Miyake likes to recall.
He delivers a referenced work based on his history and his philosophy, that even today fascinates by its audacity: his “Glass Chair”, tribute to the film “2001: A Space Odyssey” by Stanley Kubrick (1968) or his iconic seat “Miss Blanche” (1988), with flowers floated in acrylic, ode to Blanche Dubois in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (Elia Kazan, 1951), are only symptoms of Shiro Kuramata’s playful mind.
From his dancing cabinets to his seats on the edge of materiality, Shiro Kuramata is a limits designer. Conceptual and poetic, he delivers a refined and playful design that questions both its form and its content. Settled in Paris in the 1980s, he received the title of “Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres” in 1990. His design is a permanent game: it is never what it seems to be, a perpetual discovery, questioning all rules.