Composing and Orchestrating Places and Spaces

Born in Osaka in January 1992, Hiroto Tanabe holds a Master's Degree of Architecture from Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) and a Bachelor's Degree of Design Engineering from Shibaura Institute of Technology (SIT), Tokyo. Before moving to the United States, Hiroto studied at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden and did a project-based program at Aalto University in Finland.

Hiroto is the founder of Hiroto Tanabe Design Studio (HTDS). He creates beautiful, intriguing spaces immersed in various materials, lighting, fabrications, and theatrical architecture. Hiroto is passionate about composing artistic spaces that cause visitors to experience tension, a sense of being in-between homogeneity and heterogeneity. Hiroto states, "That is the best creative moment, the feeling I am most passionate about bringing to life. The more questions you try to respond to, the more bespoken your creation will be."

Hiroto's studio is a multidisciplinary design practice established in Osaka, Japan in 2019 while he was a student at SCI-Arc. Currently, his studio is based in New York, Kyoto, and Osaka. Hiroto, along with five of his best friends, also established and cofounded a research-based think-tank called Crystalizing Design Technologies in Los Angeles.

Pavilion for Future in Osaka Kansai World Expo 2025.

Iroha: Please tell us about your past work, projects or initiatives.

Hiroto: [Hologramitecture] I am currently working on a project for the Osaka Kansai World Expo that will be held in 2025. Being from Osaka, I hoped to have a change to propose a project for the Expo, and with the the backing of the Kadoma City Mayor, I gained the chance to give a presentation on my concept of hologramitecture to the Department of Osaka Kansai World Expo Promotion. The concept was still in quite an early stage when I presented it, but we confidently proposed to use hologram technology to create a new kind of exhibition space within the Expo pavilion. The possibilities and options for creating relationships between digital and physical space are limitless. We aim to create a space that is "beyond time and distance". By having guests experience a sequence of tangible and intangible works, the space becomes an infinite and homogenous world, another universe wherein anyone can realize their visions and wildest imaginations. 

[Parkscape] Another project I worked on recently was Bunsiknara, a private restaurant in Little Ferry, New Jersey. I was temporarily working under Architecture Work Office PLLC to design this project in 2022. The client wanted their restaurant environment to feel like a neighborhood park, somewhere people could come to rest and chat with friends and neighbors. The concept was modern parkscape. Parks have many similar structures, for example, the gazebo, trellis, pergola, and arbor, just to name a few. Instead of using these common structures, I proposed a design that overall felt like a small hobbit-home with half circle profile designs on the walls made of manufactured lumber. The U-shapes also represent the implication of a U-turn, carrying the wish that people will circle back and return.

Korean Restaurant, Little Ferry, New Jersey 

Iroha: What projects are you currently working on?

Hiroto: I am passionate about the construction methods, especially the manufacturing processes, utilized in bringing my visions to life. Normally, an architect does not care or simply does not have responsibility for the means and methods of the construction of their designs. Yet, there are many opportunities for architects to contribute to the innovation of their designs by proposing the method of assembly. This could have a huge impact on the outcome in a pragmatic sense as well as create potential growth within the construction industry for innovative, sustainable, economical, and creative pieces of art.

Papers vs Gravity - Different size and scale.

Iroha: What are your thoughts regarding Asian glass ceiling issues?

Hiroto: Personally, I do not have any conscious feelings about my ethnicity being "Asian". The social issue is not merely about the hate for Asians, but also about hate for others in general. The problem actually comes from the individual's frustration. Sometimes, it’s coming from a reflection of historical contexts and global incidents. Also, educational, political and sociopolitical systems have a problem. In fact, the systems often cannot sort them out, per se. There always needs to be a breakthrough of some kind, and I believe making new spaces is one possibility, not because the place becomes a symbol of one’s achievement for design or product, but because the place is purely able to prompt sociological enhancement. Therefore, architecture has to have a potential empowerment for people. It reflects the people’s mentality and sensation in the urban context. If the society is very complex, the place needs a condition of emptiness. If people lack confidence, the place needs to celebrate people. I truly believe that architecture empowers its visitors and is not just a production on a piece of land. That is something that the architecture has to take responsibility for.

Iroha: Based on your background, do you have any advice or a message for young people who want to follow in your footsteps?

Hiroto: The world is very complicated. It’s a very noisy world. Therefore, the most important thing to me is caring. If you have something you truly care about, understand that if there are moments you stop caring or putting in energy to it, no one else is going to care. In my case, I care about the concept of a story: how things start and reach an end. What is the role for architecture? What is the climax when the space activates? What is the most enjoyable moment during the communication between the space and the person? How can this building perform on this planet of earth? The scale goes beyond what we see - that is also a part of the story. All the patch work of story making becomes a space making. This is architecture.

Artwork1 - 18" x 24", Gypsum board, Acrylic Ink

Iroha: Outside of work, what are you most interested in right now?

Hiroto: Artwork: expression of space, creation of memories, experience of landscaping. The media could be anything, but currently, I'm interested in painting. The way I capture the imagination becomes the first tangible object with painting. In this making process, I work with many colored pencils, a cutter and cutter mat, different types of tapes, sketches, variations of color inks, sprays, and canvas. Using my hands to project my ideas always makes me become so creative, and this is so essential to influence my other works as well.

Director work: Performance, music, stage sets, and acting. I'm always curious about how to enlighten people in space. How to characterize elements in space to become a part of a performer. It's an orchestration, and it's a composition of making an epic scene to be captured, animating reality.

written by Jessica Woolsey / photography : Asher Uchiyama, ©︎HTDS 

Hiroto Tanabe's Instagram 

Hiroto Tanabe Design Studio