Akari Light Sculptures: traditional craft with a modern touch
Born in the USA in 1904, Japanese-American artist and designer Isamu Noguchi was an innovative thinker who spent his life bending the rules of sculpture.
Famously declaring that “everything is sculpture” - Noguchi crafted many designs throughout his career including furniture, sculpture and landscape architecture.
In 1951, Noguchi began to design the Akari Light Sculptures. An extensive traveller - in a visit to his ancestral home, Noguchi stopped in Gifu; a town famous for its paper-based manufacturing of lanterns and parasols. It was in Gifu that Noguchi was asked to create a version of the traditional paper lamp in a hope to revolutionise the struggling industry there. Here, Noguchi designed the first ‘Akari’ lamp - infusing a centuries-old art form with a modern touch, turning paper lanterns into electrically lit lamps.
The name ‘akari’ - Japanese for ‘light’ or ‘brightness’- was chosen for this range of lamps as it could convey not only its practical function but also the delicacy of form which was so important for Noguchi to instil in his creations.
Starting with just two designs, Noguchi went on to create more than 100 distinct table lamps, floor lights and ceiling lamps – reigniting the industry in Japan and creating a legacy of design that is still popular in homes throughout the world today.
To this day, the Akari lights are hand-crafted in the traditional, family-run Ozeki workshop based in Gifu. The design process is meticulous; first bamboo rods are stretched across the original wooden forms designed by Noguchi, providing the framework that determines the shade’s shape.
Then, authentic Japanese Shoji paper, derived from the bark of the mulberry tree, is cut into strips and glued onto the bamboo rods. Once dry, the wooden frame is removed, and the shade can be manipulated into place. The individual craftsmanship behind every Akari means that every lamp produced is utterly unique.
A lamp that feels like home
Noguchi was fond of the phrase “…all that you require to start a home are a room, a tatami, and Akari.”
Uniting the simplicity of Japanese aesthetics with the principles of contemporary art and design, the Akari are sculptures of light. Giving off a warm glow, the Akari lights instantly bring a softness to a space with their diffused light. Crafted from bamboo and paper, these materials are inherently warm and carry unique imperfections. It’s these differences that give the Akari lamps their warm personality and make them so desirable for the home.
How to spot a fake
These sculptures of light have an enduring popularity that has led to them becoming instantly recognisable throughout the globe. Unfortunately, as with many popular designs, there are many low-quality reproductions of the Akari lights available to buy. With imitations flooding the market, make sure you use a respected retailer to source your original design.
At Nest, we never sell fakes or reproductions. Each Akari light’s authenticity is guaranteed by the marking of a stylised sun and moon logo, designed to resemble the corresponding Japanese characters.
Vitra Akari Lights are packaged using bespoke flat boxes which have been developed specifically for the shades.
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