Story | 01/31/2024 13:20:07 | 4 min Read time

Design fresh out of the oven

Vesa Brandt

Editor, Tulus

The effortlessly mouldable UPM Grada®, blending natural texture with elegance, is a deep source of inspiration for the Japanese-Finnish designer, Yuka Takahashi.

"Let me show you the latest chair I've designed using UPM Grada," says Yuka Takahashi, unveiling the Paris-II chair. "The first version U&A chair was exhibited at the EcoDesign exhibition at the Habitare fair last year, and I'm excited to have created a new chair design for 2023." 

The Japanese-Finnish designer points out the chair's minimalist yet elegant form. "With UPM Grada, I wanted to take a 'less is more' approach, focusing on graceful lines and functional stackability,” she says, demonstrating how the lightweight but durable chair can be picked up and nested together with others. "Strength and portability were key priorities in the design. UPM Grada gave me the freedom to design an airy, delicate frame without sacrificing sturdiness." 

Eye-opener for independent thinking 

Yuka Takahashi came to Finland to study industrial design as a master's student at the University of Art and Design (predecessor of Aalto University) from Kobe, Japan in 2002. She had worked for a few years as a designer in a tool manufacturing company in Japan after finishing her undergraduate studies. Feeling a desire to experience new cultures and with a fondness for Europe, she decided to pursue graduate studies abroad. Her professor in Japan recommended looking at the Nordic countries.  

When beginning her studies in Finland, Takahashi did not have extensive knowledge of Finnish design. “I knew some big names like Alvar Aalto, Arabia, and Iittala,” she recounts, adding she was more aware of Finland's reputation for high-quality design education.  

Studying at a Finnish university was an eye-opening, horizon-broadening experience for her. The Finnish teaching style emphasised independent thinking and students taking responsibility for their own development as designers. This contrasted with the more rigid Japanese university system. 

After completing her Master's in 2006, Takahashi continued collaborating with architect/designer Pekka Harni, whom she had met just after arriving in Finland. Together they founded Harni-Takahashi Design & Architecture which focuses on industrial and architectural design projects with sustainable and unique solutions. 

“Our style tends not to chase fleeting trends, but aims for more timeless, enduring designs,” Takahashi describes. 


Yuka Takahashi

Quality equals responsibility

Takahashi's perspective on sustainability focuses on robust product construction utilising quality materials. For her, top-notch craftsmanship equals responsible design. "If something is thoughtfully engineered and fabricated from proper and ecological materials, it will last for decades despite using fewer raw materials. Lighter items also reduce logistics emissions," she explains. 

Given this context and the favourable impressions she had gathered about UPM Grada within designer circles, when UPM offered Takahashi the chance to explore UPM Grada, her enthusiasm to test its merits was palpable. All wood used in UPM Plywood products is responsibly sourced. UPM Grada is made from birch veneers using formaldehyde-free adhesives to ensure healthy and safe application. The cross-laminated construction provides strength and stability. 

"I had heard great things about UPM Grada and was thrilled to experiment with it in my own work.” 

UPM Grada's easy workability became apparent in the prototyping phase for the Paris-II chair. The slots for using the industrial oven at the university were booked far into the future, but because UPM Grada only needs to be heated to about 95°C to 110°C for moulding, help was found surprisingly close.  

"I was amazed by how easily UPM Grada could be shaped with just low heat. So, I used my kitchen oven at home to shape the prototype,” Takahashi says. 


Exploring new avenues of design

After experimenting with chairs, Takahashi sees much potential in UPM Grada beyond furniture design. She finds its natural texture and malleability rousing and appreciates how it lends itself to elegant, minimalist forms. 

"For me, UPM Grada is a very promising and inspiring material," Takahashi says and reveals she is currently exploring the material’s potential as a building element as well.  "I look forward to discovering more of its potential uses, both in product design and architecture.” 

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