Forest Crayons Reveal the Stunning Natural Hues of Japanese Wood

Wood is brown, right? Well, not exactly. It’s also black, umber, Sienna, ochre, red, pale peachy-beige, green and even turquoise. The color variation can be so great, you could transform the hues into a palette of crayons. That’s exactly what design studio Playfool did after discovering just how many hues can be found behind the bark of various trees. Their new product, called “Forest Crayons,” aims to inspire a new generation to gain a deep appreciation for the wonders of the woods.

But even more than that, Playfool hopes their Forest Crayons will help raise awareness about the possibilities contained within Japan’s extensive forests.

“About two-thirds of Japan is covered completely with trees, with around 40% being artificially planted after the war. To maintain the forest’s health, trees must be routinely harvested and replanted, however declining import costs have resulted in little incentive to use the country’s wood, meaning forests are left unharvested and unmaintained, increasing the risk of disasters such as landslides.”


Triangular in shape, the crayons are made from wood salvaged form Japanese lumberyards. The trees they source the wood from include cedar, cypress, walnut and oak. The designers created prototypes by grinding down the raw wood, combining it with a natural wax sourced from the Japanese Hazenoki tree and pouring it into a mold.

“Developed as part of a program supported by the Japanese Forestry Agency, we are now looking to bring Forest Crayons to market in hopes to not only breathe new life into Japanese wood, but also ignite a new appreciation for the country’s forests like never before.”

Playfool’s Forest Crayons are currently in development and will be released next year. If you’re interested in purchasing them when they’re ready, you can sign up for the studio’s mailing list.

Office Envisioned as a “Wooden Box Floating on Air”

Glass office in Japan

Challenged to build a beautiful, light-filled office on a narrow lot, architecture firm Atelier N turned to pine to craft a highly unusual structure that looks like it’s floating on air.

Glass office in Japan modern in a rural setting

The base area of the building measures a mere 355 square feet, but the interior feels surprisingly spacious and open thanks to the clever design. The top half, clad in wooden shingles, rests on a zig-zag of pine lumber enclosed by glass. The pine supports the load, allowing for a nearly unbroken expanse of glass on all sides.

Glass office in Japan with pine wood

Though it looks like a second floor from outside, the upper half of the building is actually a lid of sorts, like a box with the bottom cut off. It provides protection from the sun when it’s directly overhead in the heat of summer, but allows daylight penetration year-round, reducing heating costs in winter. Set on the edge of a rice field, the office takes advantage of a natural cooling effect fro the water.

Glass office in Japan hatch door

“The rural scenery passes through the building from the front road, and a quiet scenery spreads from the interior,” says the architect. “And the wind from the rice field goes through the room. Also, since this area is like a village of old farmers, neighbors greet me through the glass because I have been with them since I was born.”

Glass office in Japan plywood box

Inside, the pine is lightly finished, allowing its natural beauty to shine through and bringing some texture and warmth to structure otherwise comprised of glass, metal and concrete.

Glass office in Japan loft

A ladder leads up to a small loft, where a mattress offers a place to rest and nap, and a hatch door opens to let out any accumulated heat. The rest of the space is occupied by desks, lounge areas and a conference table. Sheer curtains can be drawn for privacy or to soften the incoming sunlight, if necessary. 

Glass office in Japan night

The whole project was achieved on a low budget, and although it’s a modern structure wedged between two more traditional houses, the office avoids detracting from the pastoral scenery.

1,148 Feet of Timber: World’s Tallest Wooden Skyscraper Planned for Tokyo

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So many tall timber building projects have been announced over the last few years, it’s hard to keep track of them all. Wood construction is definitely on an upward trend around the world as architects, developers and government officials realize just how sustainable, beautiful, safe, durable and affordable it can be.

Right now, with dozens of timber towers planned, proposed or under construction, a number of projects are competing for the title of the tallest wooden building in the world. Which ones actually make that record – however temporarily – will depend on when they’re finished relative to each other.

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When PLP Architecture announced plans for its Oakwood Tower in London – set to be the city’s second tallest building in total, after the Shard, at 1,000 feet – it seemed like it would be hard to beat. Most of the other multi-story buildings primarily made of wood that are currently in development are closer to 200 feet, which is still pretty impressive. But Tokyo’s 350 Project, if realized, will blow even Oakwood out of the water.

tokyo skyscraper

Designed by architecture firm Nikken Sekkei and Japanese developer Sumitomo Forest, the 1,148-foot-tall 350 Project skyscraper will consist of an amazing 6.5 million cubic feet of wood in the braced tubing structural system alone, its framing specifically designed to withstand earthquakes. The visible timber frame highlights the physicality of the wood, creating lots of open outdoor spaces on every level, some planted with trees and other vegetation.

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It’s not set to be completed until 2041, which is awfully far away, and there’s no telling what could happen before then. But the project would easily become Japan’s tallest building as well as the tallest timber tower in the world. Nikken Sekkei hopes that even the attention-grabbing renderings will help pique public interest in timber architecture and give the forestry industry in rural areas a big boost.

This Office Building’s Wooden Frame Was Built Without Fasteners or Glue

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Though it’s certainly beautiful in its completed state, photos of this office building during the construction process are almost more interesting to look at than those of the finished product. Japanese architect Shigeru Ban designed an incredible interlocking wooden frame for the 7-story Tamedia Office Building in Zurich, Switzerland, which fits together without the need for any glue or fasteners. But luckily, much of that frame is still visible through the structure’s glass envelope.

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Housing 480 employees, the building integrates traditional Japanese craftsmanship with modern European design. This Japanese take on traditional timber frame construction is soft and rounded, fitting together in a way that’s almost reminiscent of a child’s toy. This frame upholds airy, open spaces, and many of its structural elements are entirely visible, providing character that’s unusual in an office building of this size.

tramedia finished

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Shigeru Ban is known for his innovative architectural work using paper and cardboard tubes, and his structures are almost always highly sustainable and recyclable. In this case, using timber as the main material was a natural choice to meet and even exceed Switzerland’s strict environmental responsibility mandates, as the lowest producer of CO2 during its manufacturing process of any widely available building material.

Carved Japanese Chapel is a Masterwork of Intricate Wooden Design

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Beautifully carved wooden elements have been common in architecture for millennia, including the antique Eastern White Pine columns, capitals, corbels and other millwork and decorative trim found in so many colonial homes. These flourishes are typically used sparingly, so seeing them take center stage in incredibly intricate interiors makes quite an impact. Check out this gorgeous wedding chapel, located at the Ana Crowne Plaza Hotel in Hiroshima, Japan.

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Nikken Space Design collaborated with a kimono designer to come up with the botanical patterns lining the walls and ceiling of the chapel, containing its rows of pews within a shell of lace-like wooden lattice. The complex design is supported by an arched framework measuring 20 feet high by 62 feet long.

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100 hand-carved wooden panels bear the patterns illustrated by the kimono designer, including leaves, flowers, butterflies and billowing clouds. When sun streams in through the floor-to-ceiling window connecting the pulpit to the garden outside, it projects the pattern onto the floor.

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“Hiroshima is often known for the ‘Genbaku Dome’ and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, and one of the most popular destinations for overseas tourists to Japan,” say the architects. “For this reason, in planning the chapel, we were highly conscious of the fact that we were not simply designing as a commercial facility but a showcase that would let the rest of the world know about Japan’s peaceful spirituality, history, traditional arts and crafts, and its refined workmanship.”

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We’d say that goal has been achieved! This chapel is unforgettable, and it’s easy to see why couples would be eager to book it as the setting for their wedding ceremonies. It would be great to see similar woodworking trends catching on in the States, marrying traditional craftsmanship and American motifs with contemporary architecture. (Hint: Eastern White Pine would be an ideal material for this!)

Amazing Wood Creations: Japanese Chapel Lined with Hand-Carved Lattice Panels

wooden japanese chapel

Beautifully intricate hand-carved wood tends to be utilized sparingly, in details like fireplace surrounds, railings, room screens and other decorative touches, but when it takes the main stage, it really shines. One stunning example can be found at the Ana Crowne Plaza Hotel in Hiroshima, Japan by Nikken Space Design, a space integrating Japanese wedding traditions with an emphasis on nature.

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The artists translated designs often seen on kimonos into a pattern for an arching lattice structure creating a canopy roof over the chapel, enhancing its feeling of sacredness and serenity. Measuring twenty feet high and 62 feet long, the interior ceiling is comprised of 100 large hand-carved wooden panels featuring true emotions.

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The panels represent a single tree arching over the guests as they sit at the pews in the chapel, with roots running to meet the floor, trunks stretching up the sides and individual branches sprouting leaves and flowers overhead. The wood was left unpainted to celebrate its natural beauty.