How Japanese Poetry Inspired A Long-Distance Design Collaboration

To create a new lamp, Nendo and Luca Nichetto riffed on a tanka poem. Sure beats conference calls.

Tools like Slack have revolutionized workplace collaboration but designers Oki Sato and Luca Nichetto favor a more analog approach: writing a collaborative poem to create the Kurage lamp for Foscarini—a handsome jellyfish-like piece made from Washi paper.


To develop the design, Nichetto, who is based in Venice, and Sato, the founder of the Tokyo-based design studio Nendo, riffed on a Japanese tanka, a poem in which one author writes three lines and the next author pens a two-line response. (The two did not hew to the rigid 5-7-5-7-7 pattern of syllables per line of a proper tanka, however.) The designers have used this technique in past furniture collaborations and describe it as “an experiment in dynamic making” and reviewing their co-authored sketches reveals how the two build off each other’s creativity and improvise until finishing a concept.

Nichetto began with the metaphor of a popsicle and remarked that he liked the effect of sun shining on it. Sato responded with the idea of using semi-opaque washi paper to form the shade, which would reveal the subtle shadow of the lamp’s structure. Made from mulberry tree fibers, washi paper is commonly found in traditional shoji screens. Using a technique that dates from 600 A.D., artisans strip fibers from the trees or shrubs, soak them in water, pound the fibers into a pulp, mix them with a plant-based glue, and pass the mixture through a sieve to form paper sheets, which are then pressed and dried. (This video shows the technique.)

After their exchange, Sato and Nichetto noticed that the design resembled a jellyfish and called the lamo “Kurage,” which is the Japanese word for the oceanic creature. Featuring cypress wood legs and a fabric-wrapped cord, the lamp is now available for the tidy sum of $875. It took two years from ideation to production for the lamp—a lengthy time no doubt influenced by the great distances between the designers, manufacturers, and craftspeople. But what an origin story—one that’s infinitely more creative than trading a few emails.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.