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Timothy Schreiber: DesignTide 2009

In a special feature, designer Timothy Schreiber shares what brought him to Tokyo for DesignTide 2009.

Recently I was lucky to spend 7 great days during Tokyo Design Week in Japan, the country that has fascinated me ever since my early childhood days.

I still remember my first encounter with Japan at the age of maybe 9 or 10. Back then in primary school in Germany in the 80s I was lucky one night to stay up late and watch James Bond You Only Live Twice with my parents. It's the one with the rocket base in the volcano located on a small Japanese island and the New Otani hotel in Tokyo is the headquarters of some of the bad guys. Although it is hard to describe what really happened inside of me during this very first encounter between my European childhood and Japanese far eastern culture, I was somehow very pleasantly touched and there was a mysterious eagerness growing in my head to learn more about this fascinating place and its people. Unfortunately I never made it there for a visit while I was a teenager nor during my (very busy) years at architectural school in Germany.

Finally, after I had finished my education, whilst working in Beijing for the Australian architectural practice which designed the aquatic centre (watercube) for the 2008 Olympics, I went to Tokyo for a 1 week holiday (my first holiday ever since university days actually). I very much liked what I saw, or actually I have to say, I fell in love with it. Everything exceeded my expectations and everything seemed to be custom tailored for me and my personal taste and preferences of how I think our lives and environments should be designed. As a forward thinking architect, designer and science fiction fan, I fell in love with the built environment, the urban density and it's resulting endless possibilities of working, the cultural offerings and the leisure opportunities. Needless to mention the quality of the food, service and the unparalleled friendliness of the people. After a very intense week in Tokyo and Kyoto, I returned to Beijing and....resigned the following day. I had been working in all sorts of different countries for over 5 years by then, but from this point on Japan was my goal. I started taking Japanese lessons whilst working in architecture in Sydney and London, and although I knew I would not be able reach a level of linguistic fluency in the near future, I was doing my best to be prepared as well as I possibly could for my planned future visits to Japan. Of course I also knew that it could be a little bit difficult to find employment with a local company in Japan without good language skills (apart from teaching English maybe), but I was confident that I would have something to offer to the 5-8 architectural companies in Tokyo which are known to hire younger foreign creatives.

About one year ago during Tokyo Design Week 2008, I resigned from my job with one of the leading architectural companies in London and got myself a ticket to Japan once again. The flight with JAL was fantastic, but by the time I touched japanese ground, Lehman brothers had gone bankrupt. Despite the now economically difficult climate, I had a fantastic time in my small apartment in Shibuya, where I stayed for about 2 months, sending out applications to architects, going for interviews, meeting many very interesting people in all sorts of different fields but mainly from architecture and design. Finally my childhood dream of living in Japan had come true. Unfortunately after 2 months it had become clear that, during the ongoing recession, I was very unlikely to find employment in the architectural sector any time in the not too distant future. I was very lucky to find emplyment with one of the (even more) leading companies in London again, so by Christmas last year I left Japan after a much too short stay, eager to come back as soon as possible.

As I was really impressed with Tokyo Design Week during my stay and all the associated side activities, exhibitions and galleries, I made the decision to come back in 2009 for this event. One of my designs, the e-volved table (above), had been picked up by a Dutch manufacturer at the beginning of this year and launched in Paris in London in August. The company is a very creative young high end furniture maker, but despite their immense success in Europe and America they don't sell their products in Japan yet. Neither has the owner of the company ever been there. When I told him about my plans to exhibit my table at DesignTide 2009, they suggested to team up with me for this event. As a result of this, I was lucky to get some support regarding funding and shipping from them and I think this joint venture was also beneficial for the visitors of DesignTide, who were able to meet and talk to the designer (me) and the manufacturer of the table at the same stand. In addition to that it was great for the owner of the company, to get an initial introduction and impression of the Japanese furniture market. I can say that he was also impressed with the generally very high standards of almost everything in Japan and especially the high level of the local furniture design and workmanship. Last but not least, I think that our designer-manufacturer joint appearance at the show was also beneficial for our fellow exhibitors, as there was a lively dialogue happening between my manufacturer and other japanese designers exhibiting at the show, regarding future collaborations.

It was great for me to spend a week with the owner of this company, as I had previously always just met him for a few hours or half a day maximum and we were able to strengthen our business relationship. Besides that, we sometimes just enjoyed going out for the most beautiful dinners and getting to know other designers. After one week and the end of the show, we were both very sad to leave, as we could have easily kept going with this wonderful lifestyle for much much longer. We were also immensely impressed by the DesignTide show itself and our fellow exhibitors. I personally think it was the best show I have ever taken part in with the highest level of design quality in regards to the exhibitors and also to  the design of the show itself. The 'out of this world' like atmoshpere of the cloud scape designed by Makoto Tanijiri lifted the show to a completely different level of experience and set it apart from anything else I have seen before.

During the show I got in touch with Richard from STFE and we agreed to meet up, but unfortunately it didn't work out after all, so I look very much forward to returning to Tokyo next year and finally getting to know him.

Timothy Schreiber is a designer based in London. To find out more about Timothy and to see more of his work, please visit his website:


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Interesting to get the designer's perspective on this, I've always been intrigued. I wonder how many designers gain new clients/customers from this kind of thing.

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