Goods: New Use for An Old Material

By Regina Connell.

In some parts of the world, like the US, craft is very much about art or perhaps domestic tradition. But in other more ancient cultures, it’s often about the ingenuity of people working over centuries to create or refine materials to be useful and beautiful, durable, and appropriate to place and people.

Tsuki by Satoshi Umeno for Yasuda Kawara

Tsuki by Satoshi Umeno for Yasuda Kawara. Image via DesignBoom.

But so often these materials are being forgotten, perhaps being bypassed for cheaper, more widely available substitutes. It’s progress, I suppose, but what’s being lost?

Some manufacturers aren’t willing to give up so quickly.

One example I came across recently was this gorgeous series of plates, bowls, and utensil tableware by Yasuda Kawara and a project called Tsuki, designed by Satoshi Umeno, crafted in Agano, Niigata and shown off most recently at Maison and Objet. The color of iron, it’s refined but earthy and elemental, lively and delicately hued, with a surface like that of the moon. (Tsuki is the Japanese word for moon.) It glows.

Yasuda Kawara Tile is a traditional tile that’s been in production for just shy of 200 years. Made by  “reductional firing,” which burns tiles at high temperature of 1200 °C or higher, it’s a hard and heavy-duty tile with low water absorption, superb insulation and cold resistance—qualities perfect for its use in the northern part of Japan where the snows are heavy, wet, and frequent.

Another example is this gorgeous material, Koyo Ibushi, which we found at ICFF in 2012. It’s a kind of a ceramic smoked tile, based on Japanese traditional ibushi, a fired clay roofing tile used on castles and temples. Japanese company Koyo Seiga has been manufacturing Ibushikawara for centuries and is now adapting this historic building material for the interior design market. Made of carbon and soil, the silver color has depth and variability and lovely warmth, suitable not just for exteriors, but for vessels, flooring and more.

Koyo Ibushi tile

Koyo Ibushi tile

What’s interesting are its material properties: a stiff, microporous, inorganic material, Koyo Ibushi is made by carbonising mineral rich soil at a temperature of more than 1000 °C. The material  has a carbon film coating on the surface giving it a silver sheen.

Koyo Ibushi Vessels

Koyo Ibushi Vessels

The material is weather resistant and it actually has humidity-regulating properties, absorbing moisture when it’s humid and releasing it when the humidity drops.

It also absorbs smells in the same way that active carbon does and is even a good insulator. The manufacturers also claim that it releases far-infrared rays, which are known to keep air clean, encourage relaxation, and sanitize, among other things.

Keeping craft and material knowledge alive, but evolving it to the present day: that just feels like the right kind of progress.

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