ASAO TOKOLO: TOKYO 2020 GAMES EMBLEMS DESIGN WINNERInterview
AA Fifth Year Tané Kinch interviews the designer of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic logos
10 March 2017
In 2016, it was announced that Japanese artist Asao Tokolo won the design for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic logo. Where many of his previous works merged the realms of art and architecture, shape and geometry, and colour and light, the design highlighted many of these qualities, forming an iconic logo. The AA Graduate (1993) here explores the inner-workings of his design process.
Congratulations on a unique and intriguing logo for the Tokyo 2020 Games. What was the initial inspiration behind the design?
Originally, it was the 9/11 attacks in the United States that prompted me to start creating patterns. I saw the fragility of the world we live in with my own eyes, and while thinking that the world would not suddenly become a better place, I couldn’t just give up hope. My thoughts turned to the concept of “connecting,” and I continued drawing hundreds or even thousands of different patterns over the next decade or more. The design of the Tokyo 2020 Games emblems is a result of these years of work.
In what ways did you approach the design, similarly or otherwise as you would towards your process as an artist?
As the design was for an international sports event that brings together countries from around the world, I wanted to express the concepts of “diversity” and “connection.” I combined different shapes that, at first glance, didn’t appear to be connected. The three different varieties of rectangular shapes were laid over a series of rhombus patterns. I arranged 60 of the three different rhombus shapes to form a circle, and subtracted fifteen. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games emblems were composed by connecting the remaining 45 rectangular shapes. I worked hard to ensure that both emblems contained the same elements, which would convey a sense of equality while being distinctively different in appearance. This process was the same as I usually employ for my designs.
The geometrical pattern of the logo has a somewhat architectural quality to it. Is this element a continuation of your architectural study at the AA? To what extent does the architectural design inform your approach?
At the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA), I studied under Shin Egashira, and he would often emphasize the concept of things being ‘site specific’. After that, as I developed I tried to see things from the perspective of ‘condition specific’. When I changed my way of thinking from ‘I only have a piece of paper and a pencil’ to ‘I have both a piece of paper and a pencil,’ I sought to imbue my patterns with a more geometric feel. During the design process, I am constantly trying to create something strong and impressionable that will still be around in 50 or even 100 years from now.
The logo, entitled “Harmonised Checkered Emblem”, suggests a desire for unity, a quality the Olympics represents in its influence worldwide. The design itself has historical connotations in regards to its colour and design. In what ways do you feel these attributes were important for the logo and what it represents?
Indigo blue is a traditional Japanese colour, and I felt it would be a fitting colour to convey the essence of Tokyo. The indigo blue used for the emblem is made up of C100, M80, Y0, and K50. I used the ratio of the three rectangular shapes (100:86:50) as a basis of determining the colour mixture ratio of C100, M80, Y0 and K50. It’s also a strong colour that doesn’t fade easily.
One characteristic of the emblems is that they give a different impression depending on the distance from which they are seen. When the ichimatsu moyo pattern is enlarged, the diversity of the rectangular shapes becomes more pronounced, and when it is reduced in size, they almost appear circular shaped.
As well as having excellent visibility, it also has a tactile quality. When the emblems are embossed, like braille letters and numbers, the difference between the Olympic and Paralympic emblems is even easier to understand.
What does it mean to have your logo represent not only arguably the biggest sporting event in the world, but also in a city you’ve based so much of your work in as an artist?
The fact that the Games are being held in Tokyo was a major influence on my design. As well as representing the characteristics of Tokyo, the emblems also seek to incorporate the constant interplay between tradition and innovation.
Districts of Tokyo such as Shinjuku or Kabukicho, are renowned for their bright neon lights, and it’s a really interesting juxtaposition when the emblems with their single traditional colour are displayed in these types of areas. And the design is strong enough to hold its own even when the emblems are depicted alongside photographs or advertising graphics.
Tokyo is where I was born, so naturally I have a special attachment to the city.
The emblems will be on display in all sorts of places in the years leading up to 2020, and I very much hope that the emblems will also be recognized as a kind of ‘family crest’ for the city of Tokyo as well.
For more information:
Asao Tokolo Website
Tokyo 2020 Games Website