Inventory // Just Add Air


photo credit: Satomi Tomita


photo credit: Satomi Tomita

Described on the website as a paper bowl that “enfolds air”, the airwaves, designed by Japan’s TORAFU ARCHITECTS tows the line between many things. A receptacle holding both negative and positive space in balance, which plays tricks with the viewer’s perception of opacity and translucency, and of matter and space; a thing of art and also a purposefully designed functional product, it is mesmerising to see and fascinating to unravel, to decipher. Made of paper, the airvase is delicate in its fragility yet finds strength and structure in space with its three-dimensional structure. It has a shape so simple and familiar, yet the wide variety of prints and patterns thoughtfully imprinted onto the airvases’ template lets it come alive in various ways. It is a truly versatile object, given perhaps even to being pedestaled by some as collectibles.

The first time I set my eyes on the airvase was at the 2010 Milan Fair where I stood transfixed, as did all the other fair-goers around me. In the pitch darkness of the gallery’s setting, the original airvase—many more versions have since been birthed—danced across the air and floated on mirrored surfaces, their neon multi colours magnifying their enigmatic presence all the more to conjure whimsical, and also almost galactic encounter. Another time, I spied the airvase at Tokyu Hands, and could not resist buying a few. Yet I could not bring myself to open them up for use as they already look so pretty in their flat, two-dimensional packaging.

And so I decided to ask Koichi Suzuno, a founder and director of TORAFU ARCHITECTS to share more about the creation of this wonderful, now recognisable product. Of course, I am a fan of their architectural works as well.

photo credit: Fuminari Yoshitsugu

photo credit: Fuminari Yoshitsugu

photo credit: Satomi Tomita

photo credit: Satomi Tomita

photo credit: Satomi Tomita

photo credit: Satomi Tomita

Tell us the story behind the airvase. How did the idea and design come about?

The impetus for creating airvase was the staging of an exhibition held in Tokyo as part of a project to explore the potentials of processed paper, initiated by Japanese paper manufacturer Kami No Kousakujo (‘Paper Workshop’ in Japanese). Participating designers to this exhibition were each designated a theme color to use. Torafu was given green, and we thought we might be able to express the colour by somehow combining yellow and blue. When this original airvase is held up against the light, the two colors mix and a green color can be seen. We adopted an architectural approach, by trying to make incisions into a flat piece of paper to create a three-dimensional mesh form. With narrow spacing, the overall weight of the paper could be decreased. While the paper remains flexible, the mesh gained strength and we were able to make a form that could stand up by itself. The spacing of the cuts was also specially designed so that the vase can easily attain the elegant shape of a typical vase. Though numerous patterns have been studied, produced and used for exhibitions, displays and for the retail market since the release of the ‘blue x yellow’ version, the fundamental airvase template itself remained unchanged, making it a highly adaptable design.

This adaptability of the airvase lends itself to many interpretations in terms of application. What are some of the interesting ways you have seen the Air Vase being used?

In 2011, for a window display [for Istetan Shinjuku shopping mall], we collaborated with a hairstylist where they used the airvase as a hair arrangement, etc. (more on the project here).

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photo credit: Funimari Yoshitsugu

photo credit: Funimari Yoshitsugu

You have worked with many designers/artists on designs for the airvase. What are some of your favourite collaborations?

We like the one created by mangaka (a Manga artist most known for his ‘Slam Dunk’ basketball comic series) Takehiko Inoue. We didn’t reuse any of his work; he drew a new illustration just for the airvase.

We especially like his Moyamoya series. It is very beautiful. Iinspired by airvase, Takehiko Inoue tried [combining] Moyamoya clouding [pattern] with colours.

08_Fuminari Yoshitsugu

airvase ‘Moyamoya'; photo credit: Fuminari Yoshitsugu

02_Fuminari Yoshitsugu

airvase ‘Moyamoya'; photo credit: Fuminari Yoshitsugu

What are the kind of thoughts the designers/artists have to consider when putting their design onto the airvases to showcase both their designs and at the same time make the most of the product’s three-dimensionality?

Firstly, when it is flat, the two-dimensional  image itself should attract people, because we sell [each pice] in a flat package. And when it becomes three-dimensional, it should give a “WOW” [effect] to people. For example, the image [appears to] pop out. So, the designer needs to think about the impact of the design in both 2D and 3D.


airvse ‘Chansankun’


airvase ‘Chansankun’


airvase ‘Mt. Fuji’


airvase ‘Mt. Fuji’


airvase ‘Mt. Fuji’

What are some of the latest collaborations/ designs for the airvases? 

Recently we asked some famous designers to design for the airvase. These are:

1. airvase Chansankun

Experience the bizarre and adorable imagery of graphic designer Sin Sobue. [There is] a new trick allowing you to enjoy the vase in 3D even when it is laid down.

2.  airvase Mt. Fuji

Multifaceted design studio groovisions offers a new take on Mt. Fuji in 3D. The airvase becomes a Japanese souvenir. The idea of setting the airvase upside-down to appear like the mountain is very interesting.

TORAFU ARCHITECTS is a multidisciplinary design studio whose works range from product to space. Throughout there is a very strong sense of engagement and playfulness in your designs. Can you highlight some projects that you feel are important in showcasing the firm’s philosophy and methodology best?

We try not to change the way we work on different type of projects. Each project has its own specific aspects to be considered, such as existing conditions and usage situations. So, we proceed with each project carefully, setting questions for each aspect and solving them one by one.

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For example, the ‘gold wedding ring’ is a very small product, however we wanted to [consider its usage] in a long time span, like architecture. This ring gradually changes its appearance as it is worn. Coated on the surface of the gold ring is a thin layer of silver, and as time passes the silver rubs off to reveal the gold inside. The time shared between two people can thus be felt with the wearing of this ring.


photo credit: Fuminari Yoshitsugu


photo credit: Fuminari Yoshitsugu


photo credit: Fuminari Yoshitsugu


photo credit: Fuminari Yoshitsugu


photo credit: Fuminari Yoshitsugu

The AA stool is made in collaboration with Ishinomaki Laboratory (more information here), which is ‘a place of creating something new’ for the community, established by designers and others in Ishinomaki City of Miyagi Prefecture after the big earthquake in 2011 in Tohoku.

This stool is not just a small piece of furniture but also [contributes to] society and to changing the city. This kind of project we would say is “Torafu’s small city planning”.

TORAFU ARCHITECTS will be having an exhibition in Tokyo’s Gallery MA in October 2016. Check out the gallery’s website for more updates. 

The airvase is available at Supermama and Red Dot Design Museum.

+ photo credits: all images courtesy of TORAFU ARCHITECTS

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