Five Royal College of Art (RCA) Alumni visited Japan in January 2017 to stay at the Institute of Industrial Science (IIS), the University of Tokyo in Komaba, Tokyo.
For this visit, they were assigned the role of “treasure hunters” for a period of three months. The Innovation Design Engineering (IDE) master’s course led by RCA professor Miles Pennington provides training in both design and engineering. One of the members Charlotte Furet completed her master’s course at IDE after studying architecture at Columbia University in New York City. Furet became an RCA researcher last year. Prof. Pennington says, “Our strength is that all our members have background knowledge in engineering. Design and science are generally thought to belong in different worlds, but for them, cutting-edge technology is filled with inspiration.” IDE is known for establishing open labs and tackling design projects involving organizations and corporations from outside the school. Its diversity with students from over 30 nations is also characteristic of the course, but Prof. Pennington and others have also established labs outside Britain and have long been drawing up a future image that strengthens internationality. Coincidentally, a “design project for creating new values” was initiated at IIS in 2015. This envisions “incorporating design perspectives in engineering and drawing up a future image of making things in Japan.” Prof. Shunji Yamanaka who joined the University of Tokyo four years ago is one of the leaders of this project. He heard from Takram’s Kinya Tagawa who is also a visiting professor at IDE that Prof. Pennington was planning to expand his design lab overseas in around the summer of 2016. At this time, Yamanaka realized what they were aiming for coincided. “I was also wondering whether it’s possible to set up a lab that integrates designers, engineers, and corporations at IIS. I thought it would let our technology and research become known to the world, and, at the same time, feed opinions from outside the school back to our research,” Prof. Yamanaka explained.