Left Water Logo by Hara Design Institute, NDC and Atelier Omoya
Right Kengo Kuma

Left Smash mask by Mint Design
Right Printed polyester non-woven by Mint Design

Left Mouldable non-woven lamps by Nendo
Right Blown lamp by Nendo

Left Felibendy dress by Kosuke Tsumura
Right Felibendy fabric piece

Yasuhiro Suzuki's breathable mannequins


Left Finex material
Right Moshi Moshi sofa by Antonio Citterio

Left Terramac
Right Time of Moss by Makoto Azuma

Left Roica
Right Smiling Vehicle from Nissan

Fukitorimushi wiping cleaner by Panasonic

Left Carbon fibre chair by Shigeru Ban
Right Thin beam by Jun Aoki

Robot title by Hiroo Iwata

Left Happietst tablecloth by Theartre Products
Right Uts-ultrafino fibre by Toray

Mist Bench by Gwenael Nicolas and Reiko Sudo

Seed of Love by Ross Lovegrove


30th April 2009

A firm favourite of the offerings at Milan Furniture Fair, the WGSN Materials team highlight the pleasure of the stimulating of the senses from an aesthetic and a technological level at the Tokyo Fiber 2009 Senseware exhibition.

Embracing the beauty to be found in the new generation of artificial or synthetic materials, Kenya Hara, exhibition director and poetic thinker/designer, once again inspires with his latest Senseware exhibition.Highlighting the shift in perceptions from a more natural world to an artificial one, we are taken on ajourney of surprise and delight with the visualisation of the uses of these new materials.

With the imagination to "visualise the possibility of a new field of creation and to showcase strange materials," Hara highlights how newly developed technological fabrics will become the "intelligent membrane of future design" on all surfaces we encounter, from furniture to walls to cars to grass. Drawing parallels with the Stone Age, when the use of tools stimulated human creativity, Hara sees these new materials as the trigger for a new sense and level of design for the future, taking into consideration issues of sustainability as well as technology and the revered Japanese aesthetic. "The Japanese aesthetic can be a filter to create more delicate and beautiful artificials that are nearer to human beings and skin - a second skin," Hara told WGSN.

Highlighting the beauty and delicacy of these new synthetics and collaborating with a cross-section of designers, manufacturers and architects, the resulting exhibition inspires and suggests that our synthetic future offers up endless possibilities.

Tokyo Fiber 2009 Senseware

To Be Someone, a collaboration between Asahi Kasei Fibers and Mint Designs resulted in a playful yet serious product made all the more poignant with the latest pandemic scare. Popular in Asia, protective face masks are common to protect from pollen and general cold and flu germs yet are surgical in their appearance.

When shown Smash, a non-woven polyester fabric with exceptional thermoplastic qualities, Mint Design came up with an air filter mask that would not only protect but would encourage a smile. A paper-like fabric is transformed through press forming into a 3D form , either that of a perfectly formed face or even a chimpanzee's mouth. As Smash it has a perfectly flat surface, Mint Design also experimented with a series of printed patterns.

Also inspired by the properties of Smash, product design group Nendo were delighted by the delicacy yet strength of the material and its appearance when light is shone through it. Nendo designed a series of lighting fixtures using a glass blowing technique by heating the material up and then blowing air into it to create the form. The resulting seamless one-piece lanterns are all one-offs and offer a variety of shapes and forms reminiscent of fungi.

Felibendy is a high-performance non-woven fabric that in its raw state is like a ball of cotton wool. Mouldable, it hardens when heated and it is ultra-lightweight and conformable as well as being somehow soft and hard at the same time. In the hands of fashion designer Kosuke Tsumura the material was transformed to offer protection in the form of a dress as well as crafted into a baby's cradle, highlighting the strength yet softness of the material. Inspired by the shared DNA between a mother and a baby, Tsumura created the dress from round pieces of fabrics that were linked together.

Breathtakingly beautiful, Breathair epitomises the principle of textiles as a second skin or living membrane. A cushioning material formed from highly elastic monofilaments, the fabric is 95% air and is formed into breathing mannequins. Inspired to create 3D human forms when first introduced to the material, artist Yasuhiro Suzuki experimented with welding and heat to form the humble cushioning material. The resulting beautiful mannequins are a far cry from the material's usual place as a filter, but highlights the beauty in these new "artificials".

Art director Kashiwa Sato took a very different approach to Breathair. Inspired by fact that it is essentially "visible air" he designed modular play equipment from laser-cut blocks of Breathair for children, allowing them to bounce, play and build.

The Moshi Moshi sofa, by designer architect Antonio Citterio, offers up new thoughts on how to sit. Starting as an oval, the sofa "morphs" its shape through hidden mechanics inside. The process is seamless due to the enhanced stretch offered up by the three-layer structure of the Finex fabric from Asahi Kasei Fibres. The triple-layered fabric uses a polyurethane elastic fibre (Roica) in the centre cloth to give a previously unobtainable stretchability in a fabric of this structure. Due to its unique properties the fabric is perfect for moulding as it doesn't fray or curl at the edges or show stretch or mould marks during or after the mechanical movement of the chair.

Also using a 3D knitted fabric, flower artist Makoto Azuma designed an internal garden of moss, highlighting the importance of living things being perceived as important whether perceived as beautiful, ugly, wonderful or ephemeral. Using Terramac from Unikika, Azuma has designed a circle of life for the moss in her installation. An eco-friendly 3D fabric made from polylactic acid, the material is biodegradable and in time returns to the earth. What is especially interesting about this material is that the carbon it contains has been captured from the air by the plants through photosynthesis and does not increase C02 emissions into the atmosphere as it biodegrades.

Taking the ideology that a car is an extension of the drivers personality Nissan and the Hara Design Institute designed a "car with a smile", the idea being that drivers could communicate with each other via a smile rather than the current negative horn. In order to make this possible they included a soft skin in the outer shell of Nissan's cube car. Roica, a second-skin fabric (also from Asahi Kasei Fibres), can stretch between 500% and 900% of its original size, offering it up for a wide range of uses beyond the conventional. It also has a balanced stretchability between the warp and weft directions making it a very stable fabric. Designed to bring some lighthearted design to the car industry, and is also a statement on the future of car design as the next generation of cars will not necessarily be designed solely by the car manufacturers of today.

Continuing with the playful theme, Panasonic have designed the Fukitorimushi, which literally means "wiping up creature". A small cleaning robot that wipes up the floor using its clever nanofibre second skin made from Nanofront, the world's first nano-level fibre. With a diameter of 700 nanometres it has unique properties such as slide resistance and a high fibre absorption and water retention rate. The resulting fabric, made from invisible nanofibres, has a superior surface area and therefore can clean up even the smallest of dust particles left behind by a vacuum cleaner. In addition the robot becomes a pet of the future with it's animal-like movement and friendly scrolling light interface.

With ultra-lightweight being a continuing theme within innovation and sustainabiltiy at the moment it is not surprising that two key materials showcased were carbon fibre-based. Inspired by the world's lightest and strongest structural material, architect Shigeru Ban set about designing a chair using Teijin's Tenax that would be so light that even a child would be able to pick it up with one finger. Jun Aoki played with gravity for his installation using Toray Industries' carbonised Torayca fibre. Both designs play with the unique properties of carbon fibre and embrace the unique aesthetic that it affords.

With any textile innovation, smart and responsive materials are not far away. Hiroo Iwata, a device artist, was inspired by the conductive fibre from Kuraray. Bringing the real and the virtual world together, he designed a series of robot tiles that enable you to really walk around in a virtual space. Using conductive fibres laid in different directions separated by an insulating fabric, a simple switch device is deployed by the user's bodyweight. Completing the circuit, the robots move in the opposite direction of the user, playing with our simple perceptions of where we think we are walking and where we are actually going. Using flower motifs representing Japan's seasons - primrose, pansy, wild chrysanthemem and peony, fashion brand Theatre Products designed a series of tablecloths that the viewers/users can inflate. The designs used a unique fabric from Toray which is an ultra-lightweight microfibre with a smooth handle and distinctive lustre, making it perfect for printing on. The unique construction of the fibre and resulting fabric mean that it is airtight without compromising on the delicate handle and drape of the fabric or requiring any coating to make it inflate.

Designers Gwenael Nicolas and Reiko Sudo's knitted bench takes to heart the thoughts of Kenya Hara: "It is the responsibility of designers to visualise the possibility of industry and for creative thinkers to imagine the next step of creation." Using fibre optics from Mitsubishi Rayon, the material exposes the object through movement. Sensors detect movement and results in a gradual glow of light along the length of the bench. A pairing of craftsmanship and technology, the knitted fibres produce a soft and sensorial light.

Industrial designer Ross Lovegrove brings the latest in weaving technology to the fore with his Seed of Love project. Using a triaxial woven fabric in which three yarn ends are woven at 60-degree angles rather than the traditional 90 degrees. The TWF loom uses very thin yarns in a 360-degree space with a resulting fabric that is lightweight, heavy duty and tear-resistant. Working with digital software the form is created by using a heat press process.

WGSN comment Not product, not fashion and not even not concepts per se, the exhibition offers up new aspects of creation with an emotional undercurrent that is very important. In the words of Kenya Hara: "senseware materials are those that the visualise the design of our generation."

Materials contacts
Smash Ashahi Kasei Fibres www.asahi-kasei.co.jp
Felibendy Kuraray www.kuraray.co.jp
Breathair Toyobo www.toyobo.co.jp
Finex Ashahi Kasei Fibers www.asahi-kasei.co.jp
TWF Sakase Adtech Tel: +81 776667121
Roica Ashahi Kasei Fibers www.asahi-kasei.co.jp
Terramac Unitika www.unitika.co.jp
Tenax Teijin Fibres www.teijin.co.jp
Torayca Soficar www.soficar-carbon.com
Nanofront Teijin Fibres www.teijin.co.jp
New conductive fibre Kuraray www.kuraray.co.jp
Eska Mitsubishi Rayon www.pofeska.com
Uts-Ultrafino Toray Industries www.toray.co.jp
Monert Unitika Sakai Ltd www.unitika.co.jp
Exhibition information
© WGSN 2009