Friday, June 18, 2010

Designer of the Month: George Nakashima

Week 3

The Office Showroom, built in 1954. Courtesy of George Nakashima Woodworker, S.A.

George Nakashima's philosophy of production is based on creating objects with a firm design, based on principles as universal as possible, to create works that are both beautiful and utilitarian.[1] He explains that:
In a world where manual skills are shunned we believe in them, not only in the act of producing a better product, but in the sheer joy of doing or becoming. We feel that pride in craftsmanship, of doing as perfect a job as possible, of producing something of beauty even out of nature's discards, are all homely attributes that can be reconsidered.[2]

Of course, to be able to create these works, Nakashima first needed a studio. A few years after moving to New Hope, PA, a landowner in the area offered Nakashima three acres to be worked off on barter, exchanging construction work for the deed.[3] "Like the farmer who first builds his barn, we built our workshop first."[4] Nakashima began commuting to his workshop from a rented house down the road, but soon began work on a house for his family on the property.[5] With no more than $50 in cash at any one time, the entire structure was built built by scrounging for materials, especially through gathering the many stones off the property, and by digging the foundation by hand.[6]

Arts Building. Courtesy of George Nakashima Woodworker, S.A.

While Nakashima's close connection to his materials is evident in the furniture that he designed and created, it is apparent that he had a similar relationship to the land that he lived and worked on:
For over thirty years we have worked the land, clearing large sections of heavy undergrowth, at first by hand and later with machines. There were times when my small family and I dug out matted foots by hand, fifty square feet at a time, to prepare a lawn. As our affairs improved, we added buildings when needed. We even built, by whimsy, an arts building inspired by a biomorphic stone, nestled in the woods, so alive-looking that we dug around it, making a pond. The building was roofed with plywood, a 'warped shell' for an experimental nature, in the form of a hyperbolic paraboloid.[7]

Nakashima was, after all, trained as an architect, and while he gave up on architecture to become a woodworker, he was still able to satisfy this interest in his designs for the buildings on his New Hope property. Nakashima built a total of 14 building on the property during his lifetime, including a showroom, finishing department, chair shop, pool house, and multiple structures for wood storage.[8] One of the most interesting and innovative of Nakashima's structures is the Conoid Studio, named for the shape of its arching roof - a double reverse conoid - a highly experimental design made of reinforced concrete.[9] Engineered by Mario Salvadori in 1957, the span of the roof is forty-by-forty feet, but no beans or poles support it, with the entire weight resting on the arch itself and the back wall.[10] This incredible design took ten yards of concrete to create, with each yard weighing about 3 tons, resulting in a shell that is only 2.5" thick.[11]

Conoid Studio. Courtesy of George Nakashima Woodworker, S.A.

In addition to the structures designed specifically around his furniture business, Nakashima also created the Minguren Museum, a place to display unique specimens of wood from the around the world, many of his original designs, and other artifacts and objects of inspiration.[12] Luckily for all of us, the Minguren Museum, along with the rest of the property and showrooms, is open on Saturdays. Click here for more information.

[1] George Nakashima Woodworker, S.A. online, "Our Philosophy,", (accessed June 16, 2010).

[2] Ibid.

[3] George Nakashima, "The Making of a Woodworker: New Hope," The Soul of a Tree: A Woodworker's Reflections (New York: Kodansha International, 1981), 70-1.

[4] Ibid., 71.

[5] Ibid., 71.

[6] Ibid., 71.

[7] Ibid., 72.

[8] George Nakashima Woodworker, S.A. online, "Visit: Property,", (accessed June 16, 2010).

[9] George Nakashima, "The Soul of A Tree," The Soul of a Tree: A Woodworker's Reflections (New York: Kodansha International, 1981), 35.

[10] Ibid., 35.

[11] Ibid., 35.

[12] Ibid., 32.

1 comment:

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