Q&A with Jo Nagasaka
1. Please tell us a bit about Komae-yu and what kind of place it is.
Komae-yu is a public bathhouse founded in 1955 in Komae, a place rich in nature despite its location within the Tokyo metropolitan area. Through my discussions with the owner Nishikawa-san, I thought that if bathhouses, which are no longer part of the infrastructure of daily life, are to survive in today’s world, they need to meet a wide range of needs. In addition to the bathhouse renovation, the design included the addition of a beer bar and laundry. Since its reopening, Komae-yu has hosted regular markets and events that bring together different people from different generations. I feel that it is slowly returning to its role as a bathhouse at the core of the community.
2. In which part of the space did you use tiles, and why?
One of Nishikawa-san’s requests was that Komae-yu be open to the community, so I planned a design that would connect the inside of the bathhouse with the outside. Tiles have been used not only for the bathing area, but all kinds of places including the change room wash basins, toilets, engawa and image of Mt. Fuji at the entrance. Tiles allow you to take a flexible approach to colour and form, and through the use of mud glazes their anti-slip properties can be improved. These factors make them an ideal choice for communal places like this bathhouse.
3. When designing the tiles, what were you most particular about?
The first thing was colour. We had numerous samples made to study the tile colours that would make people’s skin, plus the water and plants, look beautiful. The second thing was the tile pattern. There are various theories, but public baths commonly feature tile patterns and images of Mt. Fuji, providing something to look at so that the naked bathers don’t feel uncomfortable in each other’s presence, while also entertaining children so that the adults can relax.
At Komae-yu we used tile units with ratios of 1:1, 1:2 and 2:2. Providing a contrast to the uneven finish of the bathing spaces, the tiles were used to create a natural pattern that would be pleasing to the eyes of bathers.
4. What was it like to produce your own original tiles in Tajimi? Please share your thoughts on the benefits of this process and any other observations you made.
These days most houses have a bath, so the focus of the design was a neighbourhood bathhouse that is no longer part of the infrastructure of daily life. At a time when upcycling has become an essential consideration, I think that Tajimi’s strength lies in its approach to production, updating existing perceptions and making tiles in a creative way.
As the world pursues increasingly efficient ways of doing things, Tajimi is rare in having maintained the production of custom tiles and I think the global demand for them is likely to grow.
5. What are your thoughts regarding tiles as materials? If you have any personal memories or thoughts about tiles, please share them with us.
Even though it’s now unfortunately closed, I can still remember my visit to Nishiki-yu bathhouse in Kyoto. Over the course of many years, tiles had been broken, fixed and replaced, and as I bathed I could see how the repairs had created a patchwork of sorts. Before I knew it, I was tracing the pattern with my eyes. It was this relaxing experience that provided the inspiration for the Komae-yu tiles.
Jo Nagasaka / Schemata Architects
Jo Nagasaka established Schemata Architects in 1998 and is currently based in
Sendagaya, Tokyo. The scale of his work ranges from furniture and architecture to
urban development, while also spanning multiple genres. Working in Japan and abroad,
his design approach is always based on a 1:1 scale and starts with the exploration of
materials. He discovers new perspectives from within existing environments, while
establishing his own vision through unique ideas such as subtraction, the update of
knowledge and invisible development. Selected works include Blue Bottle Coffee,
Kuwabara Shouten and Hay Tokyo.
edit. Nao Takegata / dairy press
Ju Yeon Lee