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Biomorphic design source list:

Da driade Aoyama:
3-16-3 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5770-1511. Open 11am-7:30pm. Nearest stn: Omotesando. www.driade.co.jp

Sempre Aoyama
1F FIK Minami-Aoyama Bldg, 5-13-3, Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5464-5655. Open 11am-8pm. Nearest stn: Omotesando, exit B1. www.sempre.jp

Time and Style
4-27-15 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5464-3205. Open 11am-8pm. Nearest stn: Omotesando. www.timeandstyle.com

Mid-Century Modern
2F Ei Building, 5-12-6 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3797-3700. Open 11am-8pm. Nearest stn: Omotesando, exit B1.

Beams Modern Living Shibuya
2F, 1-14-7 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-5728-6651. Open 11am-8pm. Nearest stn: Shibuya. www.beams.co.jp

Sound of the Sun Store
13-6 Daikanyama-cho, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-5458-8550. Open 11am-8.30pm. Nearest stn: Daikanyama. www.kiwa-group.co.jp (see furniture section)

Demode Q
Used electric, furniture and more
20-4 Shinsen-cho, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3463-3225. Open 11am-8pm. Nearest stn: Inokashira line, Shinsen stn.

Collex
B1F Speak for Bldg, 28-2 Sarugaku-cho, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-5459-6378. Open 11am-8pm. Nearest stn: Daikanyama.

Idée
6-1-16 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3409-7080. Open 11am-7pm. Nearest stn: Omotesando. www.idee.co.jp

BoConcept
2-31-8 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5770-6565. Open 11am-8pm. Nearest stn: Gaienmae. Email: bo-aoyama@club8japan.com

Cibone Aoyama
B1F Aoyama Bell Commons, 2-14-6 Aoyama, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3475-8017. Open 11am-9pm. Nearest stn: Gaienmae. www.cibone.com

 

bar news and views
 PAST ISSUES

INTERIORS ARCHIVE:
529: Trend spotting
Trina O'Hara takes us on a tour of international furniture fairs to find the top Japanese designers at work today.
521: Child's play
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517: Personal Effects
In celebration of the centennial of his birth, Trina O'Hara looks at the life and enduring legacy of Japanese-American designer Isamu Noguchi.
513: Seeing the light
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505: Lights of fancy
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501: Natural causes
493: Living rooms
Inspired by the diverse lifestyles of this teeming metropolis, design experts Kyoko Asakura and Jaume J. Nasple-Baulenas have compiled an intriguing look inside the city's private homes. Tama Miyake Lung talks to the authors of Tokyo Houses.
489: Living in the past
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485: Monochrome marvels
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481: Cut and paste
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477: Moss cause
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469: Ikebana for idiots
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466: A dyeing breed
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449: Thought out
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395: Interiors
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391: Interiors
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387: Inner sanctum
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383: Life in style
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367: Wealthy workplaces
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364: Healthy homes
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Natural causes


From ants to artichokes and spiders to swans, nature is an inspiring force for interior designers. Trina O'Hara digs into biomorphism.
Newcomers to Tokyo often struggle to maintain a connection to nature. They leave behind a garden brimming with flowers and insects, only to replace it with vases of fake flowers from the ¥100 store. But there's a better solution to the barren living-room landscape.

The "shell" chair by BoConcept (above) and the "branch" mobile

Biomorphism, otherwise known as Biomorphic Design, is not a new concept but it's perfect for Tokyo today. First embraced by Western designers during the '20s and '30s to replace hard-edged, machine-like furniture and objects, biomorphism is design resembling or suggesting the forms of living organisms. Biomorphism can appear as an ant-, swan- or egg-shaped chair, a butterfly-shaped stool, or a spider-shaped lamp. Biomorphism can be a mobile that looks like a tree branch, or fabric with pod-shaped motifs. Put simply, it is pure, stylized, organic form: the living room equivalent to a walk in the park.

 

Local color
Tokyo is a great place for looking into biomorphism because it's a major center for the collection and sale of international design. A quick flick through one of several guidebooks on Tokyo interior design stores indicates there are more than 650, many of them clustered around Minami-Aoyama, Daikanyama and Meguro.

  Two takes on Sori Yanagi' "butterfly" stool



The large number and wide range of interior stores reflects the enormous Japanese interest in design. And given the Japanese love for nature, many ideas incorporate natural themes or references to the living world. As one becomes acquainted with biomorphism, it quickly becomes evident that biomorphism is everywhere: the "lip" couch in a Harajuku clothing store, "coconut "chairs in Hugo Boss, tree-like DVD monitors in the J-Pop Café, and an "artichoke" light in Tsutaya bookshop.

More importantly, Japanese designers have always used nature as a source of inspiration. As a result, they have made some of the most recognizable and enduring biomorphic designs in the modern period. Take for example Sori Yanagi's "butterfly stool."

Paul Henningsen's "artichoke" lamp (above) and the "shell" lamp

Yanagi is one of Japan's most celebrated industrial designers and his renowned stool is a truly elegant example of biomorphism. Two delicate-looking pressed plywood 'wings' join in the middle to form a stool. The wings sit poised, waiting for a human landing.

Using the Western technique of bent plywood to create a Western form, the stool, Yanagi's design won the Gold Medal at the 11th Triennale in Milan in 1957. Since then, the "butterfly" has been selected for permanent collections in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Louvre in Paris. Available in light maple and dark rosewood, the stool can be found in many Tokyo stores, including Sempre Aoyama, Mid Century Modern, Collex, Cibone, and Beams Japan.

 

Sitting pretty
Chairs are a great place to start if you have an interest in biomorphic design, and many examples are found here in Tokyo. Besides Yanagi's "butterfly" stool, there are Swedish designer Arne Jacobsen's "ant", "swan" and "egg" chairs, the "shell" chair by BoConcept, and Australian designer Marc Newson's "embryo" couch at Idée.

Jacobsen's "ant" chair is pressed out of a single piece of molded plywood and mimics the outline of an ant's thorax and abdomen. Its legs look like thin ant legs, charged and ready to run. In production since 1952, the "ant" was one of the world's first stacking chairs and can be found in a variety of colors at stores such as Sempre Aoyama and Cibone.

Biomorphic design, by bringing nature inside, can create a personal oasis amid Tokyo's concrete jungle. Take for example the iconic "egg" and "swan" armchairs, both originally designed for the Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) Royal Hotel and Air Terminal in Copenhagen. The "swan" chair is curvaceous and elegant while the enveloping oval "egg" chair has an almost embryonic feel, especially the red fabric version. One could imagine being curled up like a child inside the "egg," which also swivels and tilts to increase the feeling of comfort. You can find the "egg" at Da driade Aoyama, a high-end extravaganza of interior products.

 

Creepy crawlers
Of course, biomorphism is not limited to chairs: it can hang from the ceiling, crawl up a wall, play on the table or crash on the bedside cabinet. Danish architect and designer Poul Henningsen's "artichoke" pendant lamp looks just like the vegetable. Henningsen has cleverly used tiers of overlapping shades to direct light in different directions without exposing the bulb. This tasty example of biomorphic design would be an excellent feature in any Modernist interior-visit Demode Q (a quirky, fun, second-hand store in Shibuya full of design classics), Collex, and Tsutaya bookshop near Azabu-Juban for examples.

Arne Jacobsen's "ant" chair

Another design to consider is Italian Giovanni Pellone's creepy take on biomorphic lighting, the "aracno-lamp". As the name suggests, it looks like a spider with legs splayed out across the wall and a shielded globe rising out of its abdomen. The Sound of the Sun Store displays this spidery solution.

Other examples of biomorphism include the shell-shaped table lamp found at Sempre Aoyama, the wave-shaped decorative sculpture in the innovative Idée store, the "storybirds" pitcher or jug, resembling a pure white penguin, displayed in Collex; and the tree-branch mobile to be discovered in the basement of Time and Style.

Biomorphism is defining a new modern style, and at the same time it encourages relaxation, provides comfort and is delightfully quirky. To connect with nature in Tokyo, and take full advantage of the city's design stores, fill your living rooms with ants, eggs, swans, butterflies, spiders, shells and artichokes. Bring biomorphism into your home-it's only natural.

Photo credit: Trina O'Hara