We, as the Designer Interviews ("DI") had the distinct pleasure and opportunity to interview award-winning, most creative and innovative Hajime Tsuruta ("HT").
Hajime Tsuruta is the founder of NRC Architecture and Design Firm. He has won over 10 design awards in Japan, Korea, and the USA. Hajime is deeply invested in addressing socioeconomic issues through his designs, which highlight his key values of sustainability and social responsibility.
Hajime Tsuruta Designs
We are pleased to share with you original and innovative design work by Hajime Tsuruta.
Designer Interview of Hajime Tsuruta:
DI: Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
HT : When I was in junior high school, I lived in Thailand for a while, and I went to college in the United States. Because I had the privilege of experiencing these diverse cultures, I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a designer. It felt like a very natural progression to me: Being exposed to different cultures has informed my sense of aesthetics, and now I try to combine these cultures with my own Japanese culture to inspire my designs.
DI: Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
HT : We want the company to inspire and be embraced by clients from all over the world through its unique architecture and design. We are looking for partnerships with both companies and individuals with which we can share creative and innovative ideas—small or large, residential or commercial projects, and everything in between.
DI: What is "design" for you?
HT : To me, "design" is combining influences from different cultures to create a sense of intrigue or delight in the viewer.
DI: What kinds of works do you like designing most?
HT : We mainly deal with commercial amusement facilities, where we can try to maximize entertainment for people using the facility.
DI: What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
HT : My favorite designs are those which express Asian cultures and atmospheres. For instance, traditional Japanese temples or shrines use particular wooden patterns, while in China similar patterns are utilized for entirely different purposes.
DI: What was the first thing you designed for a company?
HT : My first design was a residence for an executive.
DI: What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
HT : I like to use wood for both structural purposes and for finishes. I feel it's one of the most versatile materials, and different colors and patterns have a huge impact on the atmosphere of the finished space.
DI: When do you feel the most creative?
HT : The first time I visit the site is always the most inspirational to me. By the time I leave I'm full of ideas.
DI: Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
HT : I tend to focus on doing Initial research about the proposed site. It's important to me to fully understand the context of the project.
DI: What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
HT : When I'm working on a good design, I'm in a place of "Zen." I feel very calm, and the outside world seems to fall away while I focus.
DI: What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
HT : Because I work on a tight time schedule, I often have to move on to the next project without taking time to fully process the satisfaction of a finished design! But when I can stop to think about it, I feel very privileged to be able to engage in work I enjoy so much.
DI: What makes a design successful?
HT : It has to be simple and effective.
DI: When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
HT : The first thing I consider is whether I can easily recognize the underlying concept of the design. The best designs are those that only need a single look to understand what the designer had in mind.
DI: From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
HT : I think a designer's responsibility to society is to reinforce bonds and connections between people. Environmentally, I think it's important for designers to prioritize sustainability: how are they using existing resources, and how will their work age?
DI: How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
HT : The field of design changes constantly according to the state of the world. Currently, I predict that building designs in the near future will change to accommodate our anxieties regarding COVID-19.
DI: When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
HT : Last year our firm presented several projects in China. After the danger of the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, we would like to hold further exhibitions focused on sustainable development.
DI: Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
HT : I feed my creativity by exposing myself to as many different cultures as possible, but I take particular inspiration from Asian cultures. Every year I take several business trips, and I always try to meet and speak to strangers when I travel to learn about their cultures.
DI: How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
HT : My design style emphasizes the local culture and natural environment that the project site is rooted in. I want my designs to feel organic within their locations, so I emphasize clean lines and natural materials wherever possible; I think that's the signature of my style.
DI: Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
HT : I live in Tokyo, Japan. As you probably know, Tokyo is a huge, modern metropolis where I can draw inspiration from many different cultures. It's very beneficial to my work to live in such a diverse environment. However, when I want to get in touch with traditional Japanese design, I have to travel into more rural regions of the country to find it.
DI: How do you work with companies?
HT : Due to recent innovations in the IT field, we often use applications to keep an open line of communication with the companies we partner with. Modern technology has sped up the process of iterative design so that we can propose and implement changes to our designs more quickly.
DI: What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
HT : I think the most important thing is to respect each other’s experience. Rather than prioritizing things like graduating from prestigious colleges, I value the quality of someone's training, mentoring, and project history.
DI: Can you talk a little about your design process?
HT : We research the project site to learn about its particular history and context, and try to connect with people in the neighborhood. This allows us to develop a strong concept for the design.
DI: What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
HT : The five items most important to my process are paper, pen, eraser—for obvious reasons—and after that, YouTube and my cat. I like to listen to music in the background while I work, and when I'm stuck, sometimes I describe what I'm struggling with to my cat. He's a great listener.
DI: Can you describe a day in your life?
HT : After the morning scrum meeting with my team, I usually go out to the construction site to work. I find that I'm more creative when I'm onsite. I tend to check my emails throughout the day to make sure I'm accessible to the rest of my team.
DI: Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
HT : Rather than prioritizing fame, I want young designers to remember that if they work on a high-profile project for someone who doesn't respect them, they won't feel truly fulfilled. It's more important to work with a client who respects your opinion and design than a client who can make you famous quickly.
DI: From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
HT : I would say that the positive is that there is always a demand for architectural design. However, there are those who devalue thoughtful design in favor of what is quick or cheap, and from my position I consider this a negative.
DI: What is your "golden rule" in design?
HT : Never imitate others, but strive for originality.
DI: What skills are most important for a designer?
HT : I think the most important skills are to be able to think in 3D and transfer those ideas to paper.
DI: Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
HT : In addition to traditional paper and pen design, I use 3D CAD software as well as various Adobe applications.
DI: Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
HT : Meetings tend to be the most time-consuming part of my job, so I always go into meetings with an agenda. Arriving with a list of points to address helps me clarify what I need to do next.
DI: How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
HT : It depends entirely on how inspired I am! If I already have an idea, it feels like the process flies by. But if I'm struggling to come up with the concept, it feels like it takes forever.
DI: What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
HT : "How you can make money as a designer?"
DI: What was your most important job experience?
HT : My first official project was designing a residence, and I think I learned more from that job than any other.
DI: Who are some of your clients?
HT : I frequently work with large companies in the amusement and hospitality industry.
DI: What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
HT : I enjoy designing for the hospitality field most, because I like to imagine the end users of my designs. Who are the people who will come to this hotel or resort? What can I do to make their experience more pleasant?
DI: What are your future plans? What is next for you?
HT : We are planning to expand our firm with satellite offices in other countries in Asia.
DI: Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
HT : I work as a member of a team.
DI: Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
HT : We are currently planning a hotel facility in East Timor, a nation whose independence was only recognized in 2000.
DI: How can people contact you?
HT : I'm easiest to reach by email. https://www.nrcgroup.co.jp/profile/
DI: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
HT : We would like to introduce some of our works which feature Japanese Zen-style design.