The Akari Light Sculptures by Isamu Noguchi
Every morning I wake up to the view of a beautiful, weightless cloud of white paper. At a flick of a switch, the sculpture becomes illuminated, it’s soft glow reaching out to the far corners of the room. It can only be, the iconic paper lampshade seen in so many of our homes. This morning however, I woke up to the same view, but wondering ‘who the hell created this design I love so much?!’ All I knew was Ikea definitely weren’t the originators of this functional paper bubble floating above my head.
So with that, I decided this year, once a week on a Wednesday, I would post a ’Design Spotlight’. I will look into the history of an iconic design that I really love; be it a lamp, a chair, a vase, and share with you on my instagram @hollycorsiestylist and here on the blog. An education not only for myself, but for many of us who love interiors and see these designs everyday, but might not know where they originated. So for my first week I look at the Akari light sculptures and their maker, Isamu Noguchi.
At a festival in Gifu in the spring of 1951, the Mayor of Gifu appealed to the American-Japanese artist Isamu Noguchi to help revitalise the tradition Chochin Lantern. Once Japan’s dominant producer, Gifu’s high quality decorative design’s had been diluted by mass production of cheaper versions. He wanted Noguchi to reincarnate the icon of Japanese culture.
He adopted the term Akari for his new designs, a Japanese word meaning ‘Light’, referring to both weightlessness and illumination. With the new designs conceptualised, Noguchi took advantage of the design elements previous fabricators had taken for granted: the collapsible nature of these lanterns, which meant that his sculptures could be stored and shipped flat, packaged in a shallow box until unpacked and installed at home. Noguchi was using ‘flat pack’, a staple of the modern home, before Ikea had even coined the term.
Akari moved away from the traditional designs by distinguishing themselves with simple metal armatures along with the variety of designs, moving away from hanging formats. In the early 1960s, Noguchi created metal, single stem stands. By the 1980s, when the designs could be bought across America and Europe, the ‘UF’ stands appeared, with longer, splayed legs to elevate large shades higher from the floor. Noguchi continued to create designs throughout his career. By the 1990s there were over 100 variations in the catalogue, until his death in 1988.
What I am most fond of with the history of his creations are, to this day the Akari lights are still hand crafted in the traditional, family-run Ozeki workshop, still based in Gifu. The design process still uses traditional methods: First Bamboo rods are stretched across the original wooden forms designed by Noguchi. This determines the shade’s shape. Then, Japanese paper made from the bark of a Mulberry tree, is cut into strips and glued onto the bamboo rods. Once dry and the frame is removed, the shade can be manipulated into place. Due to the nature that they are made, it means that every lamp produced is unique.
So iconic and omnipresent are the Akari designs, we’ve seen them reproduced and copied across the design industries, and forever a staple amongst Ikea market halls. So the next time I open my eyes to be greeted by my massed produced copy, i’ll remind myself of the journey, history and tradition behind this beautifully simple design that we see in so many homes. That of course, until I can buy myself and actual Akari Lamp!
Akari in our homes
Some of my fav interior images featuring the beautiful original Light Sculptures
You may also know Iasmu Nogchui for the Iconic Noguchi Coffee Table and Freeform Sofa and Ottoman
So there you have it! I hope you enjoyed this mini education as much as I did! So watch out for my design spotlight, once a week on the blog and instagram.