MEET: Oki Sato of Nendo & Philippe Grohe of Axor

Oki Sato & Philippe Grohe
Designer of the Lamp Shower, Oki Sato with Head of Axor, Philippe Grohe.

The Axor Water Dream project by Hansgrohe has spawned the part-lamp, part-shower hybrid the LampShower, designed by Oki Sato of Nendo. It would seem unlikely that the two (electricity and water) would be combined, but the dream has finally been realised after three years of development. We speak to its designer, and the head of Axor, Philippe Grohe, who were here for Maison & Objet Asia 2014, about the product and the collaboration.

The Axor LampShower

It isn’t common for water and electricity to be put together. What made you want to combine the elements of water and light for this project?
Oki Sato (O): Philippe has to answer this; it was the specific brief given to me actually (smiles and gestures to Philippe).

Philippe Grohe (P): We wanted to reinvent showering; to incorporate light, as it really is the main element of life. While it may seem possible to have life without light as long as there is water, light is what makes us function as well.

In your personal opinion, why does the shower space have to be more than just purely functional?
O: Objects should be emotional, affect people’s emotions in a way. When objects get too functional, it gets boring. I think every single object should not necessarily be perfect, but should have a character (smiles).

What is special about the Axor Water Dream projects, which started off as conceptual ideas?
P: It is important that a lot of freedom is given from the beginning. This allows the Axor designer to articulate the vision in a much clearer way. The Axor designer knows exactly what he’s doing, but while some can explain clearly, others work in more intuitive ways and can’t put it in words. So even if it’s not for an actual product, it helps us understand what the designer really thinks. Though of course, it is incredible when the dream becomes a product.

Was it easy keeping the design of the Lamp Shower as close as possible to the original dream?
P: It was a very strong vision and it was very precisely formulated from the beginning. A product is a result of a dialogue, which keeps changing during the process. But with Nendo, it was one of those projects which had very slight changes, only because of technical reasons. We don’t get a lot of that these days. In the 21st century it’s getting increasingly difficult to get this kind of project where the designer comes with an idea and… voila! (laughs)

O: But I didn’t think it would be easy! (laughs) What was interesting was that the most important part is the space in between the light bulb and the “shade”. It wasn’t the bulb or the lines (the structure), but the air. If we didn’t have the feel of space in here, we wouldn’t have the magic of water coming out from the air. It’s like making the darkness even darker so that it emphasises the glittering of the stars. I don’t know if I’m making sense or not... (laughs)

P: But there is something astronomical about it...

What was it like working with Nendo, in comparison to the other Axor designers?
P: The question is, who do you prefer to work with? My answer is always I love to work with different people for different reasons. There are more rational types of people like Antonio Citterio or more intuitive-driven types like Philippe Starck, but if I work for years with somebody, I would want it to be a great relationship. It’s a privilege to be in this position, as it’s fascinating to see what kind of answers the designers come up with, for the same question.

O: It applies to the designer as well, because Axor is the dream team of designers. There’s the director, always a perfect script and the amazing crew. Then you have all these actors, with different characters. But it forces you to be yourself. I have to be Nendo – even more Nendo then Nendo. Because when you work with some clients, they want you to be (Philippe) Starck sometimes, or Patricia (Urquiola) a little bit, or (Ronan and Erwan) Bouroullec. You cannot act like that. You have to be yourself, and then you end up with the perfect movie.

Do you feel a difference between working on sanitaryware or bathroom design, and other projects, for example in architecture, furniture and products?
O: I don’t think of the bathroom as independent from the rest of the house. The rooms are getting closer and closer, blending into each other, walls getting thinner and thinner. I don’t know where the boundary between the kitchen and the living room is, and that of the bedroom and the bathroom. Lifestyle and ways of living are really changing and getting more complex, so it’s really important to open new doors, and the Lamp Shower is one of the products that does that. It doesn’t really make sense to think within a fixed market; we need to make new markets and that’s one of the reasons I’m working with Axor and working on something like this.

P: Segmentation of space closely related to one function is associated with architects of the early 20th century. However, increasingly we understand that we don’t live like this: having a room for washing, a room for eating, a room for dressing and so on. For some spaces, it’s easier to mix. For the bathroom there’s the question of intimacy so it’s difficult to open it, which is very different from the kitchen for example. The technical planning of the water supply presents some limitations as well. We are in a phase where many things have been tried, and we have to understand that yesterday is yesterday. So now when people ask me what is the perfect bathroom, my answer is that there is no perfect bathroom — there is only your perfect bathroom and my perfect bathroom.

What inspires you?
O: I get inspired by observing things. Ideas are everywhere; it’s even under the table. It’s very small but when you look closely you’ll see it. My work is about dreaming — that’s kind of too romantic isn’t it? (laughs) It’s something that I do for fun. When I was a small child, and when I was drawing and dreaming during school, my teacher would be so angry. Now everyone is so happy and they even pay me for this. I’m such a lucky guy now (laughs).

What about future collaborations?
P: We will continue our collaboration, but we will see what is to come. It’s too early, because if we would already know so much, we would be limited. A collaboration is about an exchange — we talk about projects, we talk about how we live, and cultivate a relationship.

O: And now in such a short time, we understand each other even more than before we came to Singapore (smiles)!

Tell me about the campaign, which interestingly features Oki himself.
(both laugh)
P: With Oki, it was one of the first times we included the designer in the campaign. It actually started as a joke. I was with the team and we were deciding how we can portray as much as possible, the designer’s story.

O: Everyone was laughing so much. They were really cracking up when I was having the shower in my suit.

P: We didn’t know each other as well as we do now, but I was very surprised when you said yes to do it.

O: But I thought that it was the most practical way of communicating, even if it wasn’t the easiest way (laughs). The shower is not only for standing up in naked. I was wearing a suit, I had a book. It was a message to say that the shower has to change. The water was very cold, though.

P: We had technical problems, I was feeling so bad. (laughs)

See the behind-the-scenes video of the campaign (and Philippe Grohe and Oki Sato getting soaked), and browse more products by Hansgrohe here.