Meet Jun Aizaki, the man making coffee cups out of food

The work of Jun Aizaki's design firm Crème spans everything from organic coffee cups to pedestrian bridges

Words by: Johnny Tucker

Jun Aizaki + 14 staff

Interior architecture and design studio

New York City, US

New York-based Crème, headed up by Jun Aizaki, is all about people — from its design process through to the final output. Aizaki has a palpable love of the immediacy of the hospitality sector that his 15-strong practice focuses on most heavily. He is particularly taken by the fact that the design solutions are all about the end user and that as soon as they are finished he can see people interacting with them in real time. It’s about ‘working at that human scale’, and as far as the design process goes, he believes deeply in a highly collaborative, non-hierarchical way of working with his team that is drawn from all over the globe.

‘I really like to focus on user-centric design rather than the theory or geometry — that’s where it all really clicked for me,’ he says. Aizaki, who graduated in architecture from the Pratt Institute in New York, set up the Williamsburg-based practice in 2005. Previous to that he had worked for five years at Rockwell Group and been quickly propelled into project managing. He hopes he has brought ‘the energy and vibrancy’ that he experienced at Rockwell to his practice.

RedFarm in Covent Garden, London, an outpost of the New York resturant. Credit: Taran Wilkhu

Aizaki freelanced for a short while on hospitality work before setting up under the name Creme (taken from the phrase ‘creme de la creme’). His first project was a pastry shop in Japan, and the practice’s work has grown organically through word of mouth, repeat clients and now those seeking him out as a result of Creme’s portfolio.

He now has a raft of hospitality projects to his name, from swanky establishments in Chelsea, New York, to more hip places such as RedFarm on Broadway, and more recently in London, as well as chains like Shake Shack. Hotel restaurants are a growth area for the practice and this has led to whole hotel projects which are soon to leave the drawing board, but which he is playing close to his chest. He has also just designed a store interior for Naked & Famous Denim in New York, though he works all over the US and not just in the Big Apple.

Two gourds which have been grown into moulds for a coffee cup and a carafe — packaging is another option being explored. Credit: Chris Collie

Ever sketching, Aizaki has books full of ideas that he’s keen on bringing to fruition. Two of the most interesting and current ones are organic coffee cups which are actually gourds force-grown into moulds, while at the other end of the spectrum he set up a crowdfunding campaign to create a pedestrian swing bridge to make a new physical connection between the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.

The gourd is a research project and design answer to the huge problem of landfill from all the throwaway coffee cups being used globally. It has already garnered a lot of interest, with everyone from growers to investors looking to get involved. ‘We wanted to see what it would be like to create a cup that was almost like food itself, so it could be composted after use,’ Aizaki says. ‘We looked at all kinds of material like pasta and rice and then the idea of the gourd — which is a container used historically in many cultures — came along.’

He started off growing gourds in his backyard before a local farm got involved. Now he is looking at issues of quality control and efficiency before scaling up production. ‘And this is something we could see going beyond coffee cups into areas like packaging,’ he says. ‘It would be great to use something that nature does, and that goes back into nature again instead of lasting for thousands of years, when you only use it for a few seconds.’

Plans for a pedestrian bridge over Newtown Creek, that would connect Brooklyn and Queens

The bridge is more of an urban/ community design idea for an area Aizaki knows well. He lived and worked on the south side of Newtown Creek, which needed a human connection to the north (other than the dangerous road bridge that exists nearby). The initial crowdfunding push didn’t reach its goal, but the scheme has moved on in detail since then and Aizaki is looking to more traditional ways of getting it up and swinging. He already has support from the Brooklyn borough president and is seeking the same from the Queens president.

It is a timber-based, pontoon structure on two pillars. The pontoons are powered via propellers and swing the bridge around to allow boats through. ‘The lack of connectivity between neighbourhoods is a real problem here in New York right now and at the creek it’s a dead end all of a sudden — you are cut off,’ Aizaki says. ‘We also wanted a community-based, grassroots kind of solution to address this issue. A project like this can’t just happen with a developer, the community has to be involved.’

You feel there are plenty more, slightly leftfield, ideas other than community bridges and gourd-based coffee cups, set to come out of the pages of Aizaki’s sketchbooks — and in the meantime, he has the day job with his burgeoning practice to keep him busy.

This article was originally published in Blueprint issue 364. Buy it here, or subscribe to Blueprint

Progressive Media International Limited. Registered Office: 40-42 Hatton Garden, London, EC1N 8EB, UK.Copyright 2024, All rights reserved.