Harri Koskinen Vol.2

Timeless Nordic design – we sat down with Harri Koskinen to discuss the thought processes that underlie Finnish design, which Koskinen incorporated into the hotel.

  • Interview with Harri Koskinen
  • Interview by Yoshinao Yamada
  • Photographs by Yasushi Nagai (Finland) and Shin Ebisu (Kyoto)
Clothes hangers designed by Koskinen.
Both the electrical outlet covers, which incorporate two USB outlets and three regular outlets, and the timer-equipped light switches are original designs.
Koskinen also designed the graphics for the hotel’s floor signage, room number panels, and other such elements.

Koskinen says he spent a lot of time with his Japanese team discussing how to reorient the thin, rectangular building’s functions. “We actually proposed building a sauna on the roof, but legal restrictions and other factors prevented that from coming to fruition. Despite that, I do think we managed to achieve a high level of comfort. We used plywood throughout the hotel, and built both single booths and bunk beds. Wood is a warm, soft material that muffles sound, which was one of our aims. I also created original designs for the clothes hangers and ladders used in the huts, emphasizing the feel of the material on the skin.”
 That attention to detail extended to the panels used to control the lights and charge electronic devices in each room. “We use a moonlight-inspired program that lets the user control the brightness of their hut,” says Koskinen. “The light can of course be used as a reading light, and has an alarm function that gently increases the amount of light in the morning so that guests can wake up naturally. Also, the house or hut pattern we use helps the hotel’s textiles give off a friendly impression. As I mentioned earlier, the word ‘Maja’ has many meanings, including nest, den, hut, and hideout, so we aimed for approachable forms that are indicative of the concept.”

Maja Kioto, the original line of fabrics produced by Marimekko in vivid blue and green. The green version is used in curtains and other elements within the rooms, while the blue one can be seen in pouches and other items.

A chair from Iwatemo, a new project being undertaken in Iwate Prefecture. These chairs are found in the lobby and throughout the rest of the hotel.

Koskinen’s work on Maja Hotel Kyoto saw him collaborate with two leading Finnish companies: Iittala, a brand that Koskinen has designed products for since early in his career and where he has pursued new possibilities as Design Director since 2012, and Marimekko, together with which he came to produce a line of original textiles.
 “I requested the assistance of two well-known Finnish companies,” says Koskinen. “With Marimekko, we produced a special ‘Maja Kioto’ model exclusively for Maja Hotel Kyoto. I designed the pattern, which features a series of small houses and is used in the room curtains, white linen sheets and covers, and amenity pouches. As for Iittala, we use their items at Café Aalto and in the shared space on the second floor. In addition, we’ve incorporated furniture by Iwatemo, a brand that Iwate Prefecture commissioned me for to help bring local handicraft traditions to a global audience. This project, in which we conduct dialogue between Iwate and Finland and started out with small items, is something I’m working on with my designer friend Ville Kokkonen (design director at Artek between 2009 and 2014).”

A prototype for a light made of bent metal plates, created in the office.
“Shadow,” a table lamp launched by long-established Swedish textile manufacturer Svenskt Tenn in 2017. It is also available as a floor lamp.
“8351A,” a speaker set marketed by Finnish audio manufacturer Genelec. Koskinen has also designed record players and several other music-related products.
“Chroma,” launched by Seattle, WA furniture brand Memo, is a collection of office furniture that includes lounge chairs, ottomans, and tables.

Maja Hotel Kyoto exudes warmth and a sense of typically Finnish design. How did Koskinen go about bringing together the uniquely Japanese capsule hotel and the design sensibilities of his native country?
 “Finland is a small country, but has produced several great designers – Alvar Aalto and Kaj Franck, to name a few. For me, what they have in common is design that really speaks to you. Especially during the golden age of Finnish design in the 1950s and ’60s, these people put out many works that are still well known and considered iconic today. On the other hand, you can say that people’s current impression of Finnish design is still strongly influenced by that time…All of these designers’ work feels fresh and simple and is distinguished by a timeless modernity. It speaks to the fact that as designers, these greats observed people very closely. You notice how they all created comfortable and compact spaces, spaces for people. Perhaps I’m following in their footsteps.”
 “In fact, you don’t really see significant differences in design globally these days, be it in terms of materials, techniques, forms, or processes. I don’t think design education differs that much from country to country either. On the other hand, we’ve seen a diversification of forms of expression and a wider range of possible answers. Perhaps you could say that someone born and raised in Finland understands shapes in a certain way. Anyway, I see Finnish design as being about ‘form (that it’s functional) follows (that it’s human-sized) function (that things are made functionally and logically).’ For design to be ‘Finnish design,’ it has to be about more than just creating forms – it needs to take into account those three ideas, which I also emphasized in the Maja Hotel Kyoto project.”
 And that is how Kyoto came to have a hotel that builds on the pedigree of Finnish design – a hotel that is simple but comfortable and has a warmth that makes you want to run your fingers across its surfaces. We welcome you to experience a stay inspired by the land of forests and lakes.