Methodology
Sensory Washi
Conductive tradition

As Artists in Residence in Shimane (Japan), designer Jonas Althaus tied in with the 1500 year old UNESCO cultural heritage of sekishu washi paper making. How to deal with such craft heritage today – conserve or update? In Japanese architecture, handmade paper was once widely used (to build paper walls shoji, famous for their interplay with natural light), but lost its popularity in modern homes.

In close collaboration with local craftsmen Jonas Althaus worked on a crucial addition to the original recipe: The fact that sekishu-washi is crafted by hand allowed for alterations and experiments with conductive supplements like carbon strands. Enriched with such ingredients, the sheets can turn into sensors receptive to touch, proximity and air-humidity.Like this the Sensory Washi paper connects old tradition to futuristic applications. Can this seemingly outdated production processes bring back material richness, sensuality and hand crafted products to our future homes? The design of the final prototype is a touch-interactive glowing room divider, integrating the developed Washi material and japanese woodcraft technique. This spatial element once again draws on the interplay of washi and light – and it makes the potential of washi experienceable in a new way.

This project was supported by by MONO Japan AIR program.
In collaboration with Sekishu Washi Center Misumi Hamda, sekishu washi workshops Kubota and Nishida

Sensory Washi

In 1933, the Japanese writer Junichiro Tanizaki pondered over the painful loss of traditional aesthetics, of century-old living concepts which were replaced because technological progress seemingly called for modernist (=Western) shapes, materials and design paradigms (In Praise of Shadows, Tanizaki 1933).
It would be interesting to hear Tanizaki’s evaluation of “high-tech” living environments today: Seemingly smart or connected homes which perform an impressive amount of digital tasks – yet fail to enrich their inhabitants on a sensual level close to that of bygone times: “No words can describe that sensation as one sits in the dim light, basking in the faint glow reflected from the shoji, lost in meditation or gazing out at the garden”, writes Tanizaki recalling the Washi paper screens often used in traditional housing.

May such quality dimensions eventually be reintroduced into a new post-modern Japanese
interior? Regarding contemporary architecture with Tanizaki’s eyes, it becomes clear that the profound knowledge in craftsmanship about the interplay of light, textures and colors once present in Japanese interiors deserves a revaluation.

By dipping paper with new layers, the designer researched possible intersections of high-tech and tradition. Like this, Sensory Washi connects century old craftsmanship to futuristic applications. Can this seemingly outdated production processes bring back material richness, sensuality and hand crafted products to our future homes?

The touch-interactive glowing room divider once again draws on the interplay of washi and light – and it makes the potential of washi experienceable in a new way. To craftsmen as well as to architects and technological industries this example promotes the progressive use and implementation of traditional crafts.