K-Net Design

Kuni HASEGAWA’s Story

My origins and U.S.A.

My family has been a barrel(Oke) maker in Fukui since the Edo period. The business name is “Okekyu”, and the character “Kyu(means forever, other pronunciation is Hisa)” has been used in the name for generations. That is why my name is Kunihisa.
However, it wasn’t until my grandfather’s generation that we actually made sake barrels, and my father ran a woodworking and ironworking factory. I was the third son, so I was never asked to take over the family business. As a benefit, I may have been a little more dexterous than others.

Perhaps it was because I grew up watching craftsmanship, or perhaps it was the influence of my older brother who went into design, but by the time I was in the sixth grade of elementary school, I had clearly stated my future dream: “I will become an architect”.

This is a bit off topic, but when I was in junior high school, I imported LP records from the U.S. At the time, when one dollar was 360 yen, vinyl records were quite expensive and not something a junior high school student could afford. Then I learned that old records could be bought cheaply in the U.S., so I borrowed my brother’s typewriter and sent a letter to a record company in Seattle or somewhere. I need to collect a certain number to benefit from it, so I took orders for about 20-30 pieces from my friends, collected the money, bought international checks at the post office, and sent them off. I think those things must have been quite a hurdle. It took me almost one year to finally get the records in our hands after several rounds of correspondence in English. I was just happy that I could buy a record from the U.S. I don’t really know why I did it, but it often happens in my life that I try new things out of a sudden curiosity.

Looking back, this may have been my first experience with a foreign country (the U.S.).

3,000 km road trip in the U.S.A.

“Let’s go to the U.S.A.”
In the summer of my junior year of college, I traveled to the United States for the first time with two friends. To be more precise, I had taken a leave of absence to work part-time that summer to earn money for the trip to the U.S., so I could arrive in San Francisco alone earlier than my friends.
Why San Francisco? This was because there lived an American exchange student who had visited my friend’s house in my hometown of Fukui a few years earlier. She became good friends with us and casually invited us to come visit her in America. Perhaps I admired such a light and free spirit.

At the time, however, no one around me had been to the U.S., and there was no Internet or smartphones, so I had no prior information about the trip. The transfer in Los Angeles was also very difficult, and although I could not speak English well, I desperately asked a lot of people and when I finally arrived in San Francisco, I was exhausted. I was so happy when my friend came to pick me up at the airport with her friend.

After spending two weeks alone in San Francisco, I met up with two friends who arrived late, the three of us bought a car, and took off. The car was a Pontiac, 8-cylinder, 2-door (which were huge). I think it run about 3 kilometers per liter. Gas was cheap, though.
Starting from San Francisco, we went to Reno, Yosemite, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon…. We visited a old Japanese lady who happened to be sitting next to me on the plane. Then another Japanese lady we met at a laundromat who let us stay at her house because “it’s late tonight,” and we went to her husband’s parents’ house in Arizona…. we continued our journey, while meeting people wherever we went, sometimes staying in the wild.

The scale in the U.S. was far larger than anything I had ever experienced before. One night, I think it was around Yosemite, we parked our car in a national park and were sleeping inside. We reluctantly got out of the car when a park ranger shined a searchlight on us and warned us, “Don’t sleep in the car, sleep outside”. There was the most magnificent and beautiful star-filled sky I had ever seen.

In the end, we drove almost the length of Japan in a little over a month, returned to San Francisco, sold the car, and returned to Japan. It was very poor trip with only instant noodles and hot dogs, but it was a great experience.

At that time, I had no idea that a few years later I would be working in the United States.

Go to the U.S. and get master’s degree in architecture.

Eventually, after the summer was over, I took a leave of absence to travel, and I had to do my junior year of college twice.

It was there that I met my former professor, Mr. Tamaki, and was halfway forced to join his seminar. We had a grueling “morning seminar” in which we had to translate and present a book written in English on urban planning and housing issues at 8:00 every morning, and it always took me four hours to prepare for it. It was really hard work, but it helped me a lot when I wrote my dissertation later on.

During the two years of my third and fourth year in university, I worked firmly on housing issues. In addition to the morning seminar, we traveled to Kagoshima City, Amami Oshima Island, Niigata City, and other places in Japan to conduct surveys and research on housing in Japan, sitting down for about two weeks to conduct interviews and take photographs. It was interesting and very educational, as I was kindly welcomed by the old ladies of the houses I visited, who said, “Have a cup of tea,” and I was allowed to draw the layout of Japanese houses, which differed from region to region.

Graduation was approaching, and while my friends around me were deciding where to work one after another, I was not looking for a job. I was thinking “I’m going to study English in the US for now,” but my teacher threatened me with a warning: “There are a lot of students who want to be designers, but only about 5% of them can actually make a living at it. Besides, there are plenty of people who can speak English nowadays. If you are going to the US, get a master’s degree in architecture.”

His words struck a chord with me.

The hurdle was raised, but I was determined, and with a one-way ticket in my hand, I went to the United States.

Sai-ko (the best) experience in SCI-Arc (the worst)

After studying English for one year in the U.S., I enrolled in the “Southern California Institute of Architecture” which is unique in the United States in that it specializes in architecture. The short name “SCI-Arc.” sounds like “the worst”(sai-aku) in Japanese (laughs), but my experience at this school was “the best (sai-ko).” It was an invaluable asset to be able to learn from active instructors in a cutting-edge environment known as an “architectural laboratory.”

I will never forget the “Summer Studio in Europe” where I visited many buildings in England, France, Holland, Finland, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Austria, and Germany in just over three months starting in May 1980. I think that the impression I got of the architectural splendor of Le Corbusier’s and Alvar Aalto’s work has helped me a lot in my later work.

The instructors for this studio were Michael Rotondi and Thom Mayne, who preside over Morphosis, architecture office. Thom is a world-renowned architect who later won the Pritzker Prize, like the Nobel Prize in architecture.

As a side note, in order to pay for this participation, as a poor student, I had to move out of my apartment to save on rent and lived in the school for about 3-4 months. I had a sleeping bag under my desk in the classroom and slept there after everyone else left. The desk they gave me for drawing was very large and plenty of room to sleep. Everyone in the class knew I was sleeping there, so my friends built a simple kitchen in one corner of the classroom. I now have fond memories of making fried rice and fried udon noodles there and having dinner with my friends who stayed late to draw the drawings.

Design is the process of creating something new from nothing, but I always have the feeling in my mind that I am walking inside the building. For example, when I walk down a dark and narrow passageway, suddenly it opens wide and bright light comes in. Such dramatic scenes come to mind vividly because I have actually visited churches and other places in Europe and experienced such sensations. My experience of traveling around the world, placing myself in various spaces, and imprinting these sensations on my mind, has broadened the scope of my imagination and is the basis for giving form to these images.

Attitude toward design

After graduation I started working for an American design firm.
I was lucky to be able to join “Arthur Erickson Architects” through a friend I met during my thesis presentation.

The timing was right for Arthur, a world-renowned architect, to open his Los Angeles office for the construction of California Plaza in the Bunker Hill area of downtown Los Angeles. The Plaza was a massive project that included three high-rise office buildings, the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (MoCA), a hotel, and residential space.

As a junior designer, my role was to create models of the iconic high-rise tower. Since a junior designer is, in essence, the lowest-ranking person in the company, I was always thinking about what I could learn from this project.
Based on Arthur’s rough sketches, I made drawings and models, but he was not satisfied with the design, so we made models of the tower over and over again. Usually, one or two models are enough, but at that time, I think I made 12 to 13 models.
The tower was thus thoroughly designed, and the result was that it was named BOMA Building of the Year in 1997.

In the U.S., design is a very important process, and it was here that I was taught to pursue design to its limits.

Even now, I try to make models as much as possible. This is to verify the space from multiple angles. By actually creating a model, rather than just thinking about it in my head, I can see how it will look from inside the building, how it will look from the other side, and other details that I did not notice in the drawings and perspectives.

Small differences can develop into major discrepancies later on. That is why I believe it is best to take the time to verify the design from the initial stage, without compromising the values of the design.

Design from the other person’s point of view.

I studied English for the first year and architectural design for 3.5 years, and was with the design firm for 4 years. I then returned to Japan after living in the U.S. for eight and a half years. I decided to work for a Japanese company.

First, I was interested in planning and designing commercial facilities and stores, so I decided to work for Semba Corporation. It was significant that I was able to learn how to do work in Japanese way (design and construction in general) here, and even as a newcomer, I was allowed to go to work on site more, so I was able to gain practical experience. In Taiwan, I worked with buyers of the Seibu Department Store to design the sales zones of an old department store that was to be renovated and newly opened, and I was stationed in New York for about three months by myself for a new development project in New Jersey, USA, for Yaohan (a major Japanese retailer at that time ).

Two years later, I moved to the Seibu Department Store, this time to the operations side of the business. In the U.S., it was common practice for designers to move from one company to another in two-year increments, and I thought I would change jobs twice before setting up my own company. There, I was not in the position of designing, but rather in the role of managing the entire project. In Hong Kong, in particular, I was able to experience the entire process of planning and opening a new overseas store from the sales area planning stage to the store opening stage, which was a great learning experience.

After returning to Japan, I was often posted overseas, so I got to know many people wherever I went and absorbed different cultures and ways of thinking. Absorbing culture is similar to understanding the other person. By doing so, I believe we can now design from the other person’s point of view.

Rather than winning a competition and making a strong statement about my own design, I prefer to create a plan while having many conversations with the clients who choose my company. I make a model and show it to them, and if they are not satisfied, I make revisions. I prefer a style in which I carefully engage in dialogue with the client, and finish up with a better design. I always want to understand what they want.

Valuing relationships with people

In 1996, eight years after returning to Japan, I became independent and established K-Net Design Co., Ltd.
We have worked on a wide range of projects from planning to design, design supervision, signage, VMD-related work, and operations coordination, so we are particularly good at commercial facilities in general, which are completed with the involvement of many people. We also do a lot of work overseas, taking advantage of our network.
Although it is not possible in today’s world, I have traveled abroad. hundreds of times, so if someone says, “Go to the U.S. tomorrow,” I have the footwork to fly there immediately. I can utilize the global network I have cultivated over the years to facilitate my work. Even if I have never been to a place before, I am confident that I can find a solution somewhere, make a breakthrough, and make a connection.

Since I was a child, my father told me, “You are a merchant’s kid. Even if you get lost in Osaka, you should be able to make it home (Fukui) by yourself. My mentor at university also gave me his assurance, saying, “You will be fine no matter where you go.” Indeed, I think I have managed to find flexible ways to overcome difficult challenges.

However, it is impossible to do everything from 1 to 10 by oneself.
I am good at getting others involved, for example, by saying, “I will do 60% of the work and I need your help,” or conversely, “If you do this much, I will take care of the rest. I love such “lending and borrowing” and the connections between people. Thanks to that, I have been able to make it this far. I am truly grateful to everyone who has connected with me in this way.

We want to give shape to your dreams.

Another important aspect of my work is planning.
Compared to other art forms, architecture, which is large in scale, involves multiple people, takes a lot of time and money, and is difficult to redo. That is why planning is important to organize the various conditions and interrelationships of a project and incorporate them into the design. This is because efficient operations can be achieved by first determining the concept, zoning, and circulation plan. In this regard, I always try to work out the details until I am completely satisfied.

You all tend to be greedy, wanting this and wanting that. Some requests are contradictory. There are conditions that become obstacles. Perhaps you are actually asking for something that is contrary to your words.
Through careful dialogue, I try to take them into account and always try to find the best possible answer.
For commercial facilities, to make shopping enjoyable for customers and easy for store clerks to do their jobs. For residences, we want them to be places where family members can enjoy conversation and create memories.
We also hope to incorporate excitement and enjoyment.

With the skills and experience I have gained over the past 40 years working in architecture, the diverse cultures of the world I have experienced firsthand, and my network of specialists in the field, I would like to help you realize your dreams by adding new knowledge and information.

Interview : Hiroko Nishioka (P-HOUSE)

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