Posts tagged China
The Neri&Hu-designed Aranya Art Center opens in Qinhuangdao

The holistic resort’s new art space is an exploration into the relationship between architecture, art, community and nature

Drawing inspiration from Aranya’s location along Qinhuangdao’s Gold Coast, one of China’s most picturesque beaches, Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu conceived an angular structure with a carved out internal cylinder, their response to the ocean waters just outside.

A stepped amphitheatre forms the light-filled base, which can be filled to become a water feature or drained to function as a site for performances and gatherings. Throughout the building, a series of interlocking spaces house five different galleries, a cafe, multi-use exhibition space and an outdoor amphitheater, while access to the rooftop grants 360-degree views of the coastal landscape.

‘It was exciting for us to work with Aranya on this project where we were able to explore a hybrid typology which combined design, art and performance. The project pushes the boundaries of how architectural space deals with sensorial experiences in unexpected ways,’ say Neri and Hu.

Text / Simone Schultz

Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu on Change, Balance and Humility

At Salone del Mobile last month, the founders of Neri&Hu gave us a candid insight into the workings of their distinguished design firm

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Suzy Annetta: What are some of the key changes that you’ve experienced in your studio, your practice and your life in general  since you founded Neri&Hu in 2004?

Rossana Hu: We’ve had to deal with many different transformations. There's been growth. There’s more of some things, and then a few other things we learned to juggle better so we can become more efficient, and I think those two balance each other out, in some ways. We’ve learned how to deal with things as they come, and now have the privilege of being able to select projects. And then there’s the family aspect. When our children were younger it was harder for us to be absent, so I didn't travel as much. Compared to Lyndon, I hardly made the international trips, except here to Milan every year,  which we would both travel for. But then two years ago all our kids left home; one is at university, one’s doing her gap year and actually she's here with us, which has been fun, and our youngest went to boarding school. So that period was like another phase; I realised on the first day that I was at work, after they all had left, that come six o'clock I no longer needed to go home. We now have busier schedules and actually longer working hours.  It’s interesting, because it’s not like we find it harder and harder to deal with the increasing work, we just find different ways of dealing with different things.

Do you do you find it a challenge to stay creative with all these things that you're juggling and the schedules that you have?

Lyndon Neri: Actually, Rosanna always says something interesting: if you give me only two or three projects it's going to be dreadful for the client, because I will always change my mind. 

Hu: Is that what I say or what you say?

Neri: It drives her crazy that I'm constantly changing the scheme. And so, she's always saying ‘Lyndon, why don't you do that for another project. The idea is already good, why don't you develop it instead of just throwing it away and being unhappy?’ I didn't think that could happen, but I think she's actually right. I think it allowed me to see ideas from a different perspective, rather than constantly changing one idea. When we started our practice, it was actually very frustrating, because I'm extremely prolific — I like to draw, I like to come up with ideas and I'm always thinking. So when we’re in Milan, I’ve already forgotten the projects that we've done, I don't pay attention to them anymore because I'm already thinking of the next year. It’s a good balance because Rossana is always trying to be on time, and be specific about the clarity of the project, but I’m already in another world, thinking about the future projects and what our next collaboration might be.

While Rossana is about refining the designs and thinking about what we can improve on, I'm like, ‘This is over, it's done’. It's an interesting question, and it’s made me think that at 12 people, our studio was too small, then at around 40 to 50 we were comfortable, but we weren’t getting the cultural projects we wanted — the  museums, the chapel. It was only when we hit around 85 team members that people started saying ‘Well maybe they're big enough. Now they can be shortlisted in competitions’. And I don't think we're going to get any bigger, I think this is where we're most comfortable, and if anything else the studio’s getting smaller.

But then we started to realise that our contemporaries, the generation older than us, people like Kengo Kuma, even Herzog and de Meuron, David Chipperfield and John Pawson, all have practices with close to 300 people, and with that many people you can actually get interesting work and grow your portfolio of projects. Obviously it’s about balance and attitude, and I think this is where we are most comfortable. It’s not just about being able to be creative. When we were a small studio, we were great. We drew every single line in the early days. But the problem is that sometimes the project is only one hundred square metres, so no matter how creative you are on a small room, that’s the extent of it. And that's another kind of frustration, that we’re not getting the type of projects we like to do.

Hu: If being creative is coming up with ideas, I don't think there's a shortage. But I do feel that we haven't been able to fine tune our direction as much as we'd like to because of the lack of time. It's about churning out projects. But sometimes I think that as a designer it may be more important to cut back on some things or decline some projects, as opposed to coming up with ideas. [SS1] 

Do you ever just dream up objects or structures out of your imagination, or does it always come from a process of thinking about a context and a brief?

Hu: I think we work differently. Lyndon’s creative process is more like pulling something out of a hat, whereas I almost always refer to something. I think the combination is interesting.

Neri: Rossana is very thoughtful. Very precise.

Hu: I start by thinking and he starts by drawing.

Neri: She loves a brief. I hate a brief.

That's an interesting balance.

Neri: Sometimes it's really frustrating because we get emotional, or at least I get emotional. I’ll be drawing a lot of things, and Rosanna will be like, ‘Quite frankly, that's bad, that's bad, that's bad,’ and I'm like ‘Are you saying I'm bad?’ And she'll explain that it’s a process of elimination. For instance, we just came from Paola C., for which we had created several glass pieces as a series of prototypes that we're working on. So, there were probably 12 objects, but that got narrowed down from 30 of my sketches. I just keep drawing and Rossana's like ‘This isn’t right, that's just not right’. And still, if it's up to her she’ll probably pare them down to two designs. But then we made an agreement with the brand, and with Jaime Hayon as well, that next year we’ll really bring this series of experimentation to the market next year.

It probably sounds like such a stereotype, but do you think that perhaps your cultural backgrounds or where you're from —  the Philippines versus Taiwan —  has anything to do with this difference between the cerebral and the emotional?

Hu: I'm not sure, maybe a little bit. But I also think it’s personality, and a lot of it is inborn. For example, you know we have three children, and they have the same parents and they’ve all grown up in the exact same environment, yet they are so different, and in many aspects different from each other. So, I think it's inborn rather than environmental.

Neri: But it's also interesting because even though we’ve been together all these years. Rossana still surprises me. Take the last five years, for instance, and what we’ve been doing with Design Republic. She really pushes on crazy ideas and makes me think ‘Is she alright?’. And I’ve become a bit more controlled, for lack of a better description, and a bit more risk-averse, which I wasn't before. I mean, when we first met, I couldn't care less about money. I really couldn't. And when she said to me, ‘Lyndon, if we're going to have children, then you know, being an architect, you're really not going to survive,’ I used to say ‘Look, if ever I'm going to leave architecture, I'm not going to go work for a corporate practice. I'm really going to leave, I'm going to completely close that book and make as much money as I can.’ I would have closed the book on it because it would just have been too painful to live a compromised life doing mediocre architecture and making mediocre money. Granted, that’s better than being a starving artist, but that's always been my mentality. And Rossana’s always been a bit more stable and considered in her decisions. But over the years being together I think we've kind of…

Hu: Balanced each other out.

You're influencing each other, clearly. You must both be proud, though, of what you've built over the last couple of decades. It’s kind of incredible, and unprecedented in a way. 

Neri: We're fortunate, and we’re very grateful. We don’t take it for granted. You know, I'm from the Philippines, and if we’re talking about stereotypes, I’m a man of faith. And I do believe that God has a purpose for each one of us; the most important thing is to understand our calling and to fulfil it with fervent determination. I think Rossana and I have been gifted with certain abilities, like thinking, writing, drawing and producing beautiful things. I think these are a gift from above, and they’re not for us to abuse. In fact, lately we've been thinking about creating a Chinese brand of accessories to appeal to the interests of the younger generations and empower them.  That’s always our dream, and that's the reason we're also teaching.

I met one of your former team members who was showing at Maison&Objet in Paris this year. That must make you feel quite proud.

Neri: We are proud, and we’re also extremely proud that several people who were from our product team are exhibiting at Salone Satellite this year.

Hu: I think that’s probably the thing that has changed the most: we’ve been practicing for about 16 years, and now there is this new generation of designers who are emerging and becoming independent themselves.

Going back to your first question about things have changed, I actually think in terms of the way we live and work, not much has changed. Maybe we have certain conveniences, certain things come easier, and we’re taken more seriously because we're not young, no-name designers. But I don't think we've…

Neri: …changed as people.

It's interesting. Yesterday I saw Tadao Ando at the airport, and I was in awe. I went up to him and before I could even same my name he said ‘Neri-san’. And I was just like, ‘You actually know our work?’ And we bumped into John Pawson, and I said ‘John, I've always respected what you do. I’m Lyndon from…’ And he says, ‘Of course, Neri and Hu.’  And Rossana and I both still have that sense of awe, and we’re so in awe of the opportunity we’ve been given. I will always remember what my dad says: Humility is the most important thing. And we're still very much in awe of people who do beautiful things, that's never left us. And you know, sometimes we look at each other...

Hu: And we forget how old we are.

Neri: We think that we're still in our twenties.

You must get such a thrill from meeting these people

Neri: Very much so, and I'm shocked that they even know what we do, because we're so obsessed and into our work that we don't really realise. My dad always says, ‘Don't let the media get into your head. Don't let it go to your head when the media praises you, and don't be so sad and depressed when they completely destroy you.’

You’ve got to be true to yourself. If you find that peace and that sense of satisfaction it doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks.

As told to / Suzy Annetta


Read the rest of this interview in the Design Anthology Fair Report: Milan Design Week 2019

From the editors of Design Anthology, this stitch-bound compendium captures the energy, events and encounters of the world’s most influential design event, combined with key insights and analysis unpacking the industry’s future

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Neri&Hu’s Cradle range for arflex

Neri&Hu’s Cradle range for arflex

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The studio recently completed the design of the new Kimpton hotel in Da An, Taipei

The studio recently completed the design of the new Kimpton hotel in Da An, Taipei

Kimpton, Da An

Kimpton, Da An

Kimpton, Da An

Kimpton, Da An

The Twelve A.M bedroom collection for Molteni&C

The Twelve A.M bedroom collection for Molteni&C

Neri&Hu’s Cabinet of Curiosity Read, Discipline sofa and Bund table for Stellarworks

Neri&Hu’s Cabinet of Curiosity Read, Discipline sofa and Bund table for Stellarworks

The studio is behind the design of Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat, a member of Design Hotels. Image by Pedro Pegenaute

The studio is behind the design of Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat, a member of Design Hotels. Image by Pedro Pegenaute

Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat

Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat

New China Fusion: Chinese Designers to Watch

We highlight the top ten finalists of the AD Emerging Chinese Designer award at this year’s edition of Design Shanghai

The fifth iteration of the AD Emerging Chinese Designer Platform took place at Design Shanghai earlier this year. Under the theme New China Fusion, ten of the country’s most exciting designers presented pieces ‘uniquely Chinese in nature yet global in outlook’.

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ABOVE Studio

The winner of this year’s Emerging Chinese Designer award, ABOVE Studio was founded in 2017 by Chinese designers Lu Xu and Zihan Zhang, and was based in Providence before its recent relocation to Hangzhou.

The studio designs and manufactures furniture and objects that explore the balance between emotional expression and the beauty of nature. The Spoon chair and Lotus table combine modern production techniques with traditional handmade woodcraft, while the stainless steel 15° Chair is inspired by Ming-style seating.

Look out for our interview with Xu and Zhang in issue 21 of Design Anthology.

 

 
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Chen Shangyi

Using traditional metal weaving techniques, Chen Shangyi transforms our perception of metal with her delicate lights and vessels that appear to be made from soft fabric. ‘One piece of work requires thousands of repeated weaving moves, requiring the producer to have great patience to complete. Every stitch is a practice, and each piece is unique,’ she says.

 

 
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Foam Studio

Foam Studio’s founder Tianyi Shi draws inspiration from foam and the opportunities for combining it with other materials to create new objects. With the Inside Out series of sofas and chairs, the designer playfully deconstructs furniture and upholstery to highlight the often-hidden textures and colours of foam.

 

 
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Hi Thanks Bye

Formed in 2017 by Chinese-Canadian duo Stein Wang and Topher Kong, Hi Thanks Bye is an interdisciplinary design studio based in Toronto. For Design Shanghai’s Emerging Designers competition they exhibited their first collection, the minimalist and sculptural Collection O, which led to a Rising Star Award nomination at the Stockholm Furniture Fair in February 2018, and elsewhere in the fair debuted Be My Guest, their latest collection of inspired by the revived art of home entertaining.

 

 
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HOII Design

Zhu Yaowen, Guan Xiang and Zhuo Yizhe founded HOII Design just last year in Shanghai. The trio’s collective disciplines span product, furniture and interior design, installation art, brand strategy and art direction, and they pride themselves on their ability to work in a variety of styles and beyond the confines of rigid design principles. This year HOII Design exhibited the Phi table, chair and stool, which all featured semi-circular and two-toned details.

 

 
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Huang Jing

Chengdu-born designer Huang Jin studied at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts before returning to her home town, where she now lives and works. With an appreciation for the handmade and a desire to experiment with new materials, Jing aims to create objects that carry stories and emotions. At Design Shanghai, she exhibited a series of bamboo lamps, the elasticity of the material giving way to elegant forms that appear to twist and pop.

 

 
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mutuopia Studio

As the homeware studio of innovative product design studio Mutto Group, mutuopia seeks to bridge the gaps between innovation and heritage, form and application, and advanced manufacturing and traditional craftsmanship – a mission conveyed succinctly in their Fireworks collection exhibited this year.

 

 
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Re:Studio

Re:studio is an eco-design project that, through extensive research and experimentation, creates objects solely from recycled materials. In the Repaper and Replastic collections, plastic and paper waste is turned into terrazzo-like surfaces and home accessories.

 

 
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THESHAW Studio

THESHAW was founded by Shaw Liu in 2017, and the studio combines material and craftsmanship to create minimalist objects that are heavily influenced by Liu’s understanding of spiritual and religious elements. The play of steel, glass, mirror and light in the Sanctuary series of arc-shaped lamps presents ever-changing perspectives, and reflects the studio’s signature fusion of spatial and three-dimensional elements.

 

 
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Studio Dejawu

Stockholm-based designer Qian Jiang established Studio Dejawu in 2015, and he has since been creating furniture, products and art based on the concepts of familiarity, honesty and timelessness. At Design Shanghai, Jiang exhibited a set of stackable brass candle holders, oak and cast zinc furniture and an aluminium tape dispenser, the surprising forms of each adding a sense of the unfamiliar to everyday objects.

Text / Simone Schultz

Images / Courtesy of Design Shanghai

Quad House, Beijing

Architect Nolan Chao and the ARCHISTRY design&research office team documented their transformation of a century-old hutong in Beijing’s Qianmen district into a slick speakeasy

Along the narrow alleyways of Beijing’s historic Qianmen district, a stylish speakeasy bar that blends traditional and modern Chinese elements has opened. Originally the space was a residential building, before being transformed into a spare parts factory, and then a Mahjong, chess and card room. Now, ARCHISTRY design&research office have tweaked the evocative space and opened a bar, which spans across two floors, and includes a terrace area as well as a secluded courtyard. The material palette is reminiscent of the Republic era with bricks, stones, concrete and wood, and the bar embraces the familiar grey tiled rooftops which are so distinctive of Beijing’s hutongs. Principal architect Nolan Chao found the blueprint of the original construction and created a new arch structure and facade to mirror the original. He likens his creative role to an ‘archaeologist and restorer’ rather than architect, and at Quad House guests can rediscover Beijing’s past with a cocktail in hand.

Video / Yang Bo

Images / David Chu

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For the Love of Books

The Book House is a whimsical children’s library tucked away in a small minority village in China’s Hunan province

Condition Lab, an architectural research team led by Professor Peter W. Ferretto at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s (CUHK) School of Architecture and the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at Guangzhou University (GU) recently opened the Gaobu Book House, a collaborative project two years in the making. Over this period, the universities’ research and design teams visited and lived with the only 2,500 villagers of Gaobu, a Dong ethnic minority village in Hunan Province, to better understand the community and its unique cultural heritage that they hoped to help preserve and restore. The team soon realised that educational facilities such as schools and libraries are scarce in the village, and children are usually sent to study elsewhere in nearby towns. Aiming to promote learning through play, the team conceived an education incubator as a response.  

The team took their design cues from traditional Dong vernacular, where a timber frame is adapted and reconfigured to suit the structure’s purpose. Having observed how stairs are a key architectural element in the Dong’s daily life, as a place for coming together and for children to play, stairs became a central element of the library, where the team hope that the children of Gaobu will develop a love for reading through play and fun.

Inspired by the Book House we’ve compiled our own ‘storybook’, annotated by a poem that Professor Peter W. Ferretto, Associate Professor at CUHK’s School of Architecture, was moved to write after the project’s completion. 

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Xu Liang Leon, Arthur Wong, Peter Ferretto

Urban Renewal in Shanghai: Shimao Festival City

The upgrade of this overlooked retail space is part of a broader strategy to revitalise Shanghai’s Nanjing East Road for locals and tourists alike

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Kokaistudios’ recent renovation of Shimao International Plaza in Shanghai illustrates a contemporary crossroads of China’s retail landscape. In response to the rise of online shopping and consumers’ appetite for lifestyle spaces that offer compelling offline experiences, shopping malls need to become more than just a physical framework for tenants. Today, in order to draw people in a mall must have a strong identity and be situated within an appealing social context.

Completed in November 2018, the urban renewal project saw Kokaistudios upgrade Shimao Festival City, the existing retail section of one of Shanghai’s modern monuments, Shimao International Plaza. With reconfigured internal and external circulation pathways and an abundance of open spaces, the mall has helped reinvigorate a prime corner of Shanghai real estate that had become neglected and overlooked in recent years. In doing so, it has placed the mall back on the radar of both residents and tourists, reconnecting it to the city.

Shimao International Plaza’s shopping mall represents an interesting case study in Shanghai – although one that is far from unique. As technology and trends continue to outpace development and construction, cities find themselves left with a legacy of large-scale buildings whose original purpose no longer matches the urban lifestyle. With available land now at a premium, architects must therefore find ways to reintegrate these structures back into the fabric of a city.

Kokaistudios’ renovation of Shimao International Plaza forms part of a broader urban regeneration strategy for the Nanjing East Road area, and coincides with the launch of Nike’s House of Innovation in the mall’s ground floor space; as well as The Shanghai Edition, which occupies the former headquarters of the Shanghai Power Company. Collectively, these developments offer a sense of contemporary urban lifestyle in an area that had until recently failed to attract a healthy mix of residents and tourists.

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Courtesy of Kokaistudios

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Small Town Charm

This hotel in the coastal city of Xiamen is designed as a ‘floating city’ and invites exploration at every turn

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The latest offering under the Hilton brand, the independent Curio hotels are characterised by their unique locations and designs, each conveying a strong sense of local flavour and heritage. To China’s Fujian province comes the region’s fourth Curio hotel, Joyze. Multiple award-winning firm Cheng Chung Design (CCD) was called upon for the hotel’s design, and the team looked to Minnan culture and Xiamen’s history as a fishing town to design the hotel as a ‘floating city on the sea’.

The design team was inspired by the historic fishing village topography and designed the hotel to narrate the story of its location, paying homage to the traditional with innovative and contemporary flair. The floorplan invites guests to explore their way around the hotel through a series of small lanes, twists and turns. Cubes and boxes, reminiscent of traditional local homes, are a constant motif. In the reception area, a wall of cubes was inspired by the fishing nets that were hung outside each home at the end of the day, while the boxes and squares that feature on the building's facade and exterior walls and partitions were created to resemble the windows of small village homes.  

Guest rooms are outfitted in a neutral, classic palette that highlights details specific to Zeng Cuo An and the nearby Gulangyu island, like woven textiles and carved ceramic tiles, while in some, floor-to-ceiling windows offer expansive views of the surrounding town and landscape. As a side note, Gulangyu itself is a designated UNESCO world heritage site, and is just a short ferry trip from the mainland. You can easily spend the day exploring the charming island’s winding alleys, historical architecture, shops, cafes and cultural centres.

With Gulangyu as but one example, Joyze’s prime location between Dongping Mountain and the coastline make it perfectly positioned for guests to discover the local cultural sights and surroundings, with most only a short walk or ride away. Exploration and discovery are at the heart of Joyze, and while your days could be spent at the rooftop pool or in the lush spa, the real experience lies beyond the confines of the hotel.

Highly knowledgeable staff are always on hand to help tailor your itinerary and share insider tips and recommendations, but it’s the innovative digital personality test that makes the experience feel truly unique. Curio undertook a research exercise to determine the role that curiosity plays in travel, and the result is the custom-designed Curiosity Quiz, which determines which of five categories (Epicurean, Spiritualist, Pathfinder, Challenger or Culturalist) you fit into, and then creates a custom itinerary to suit your style of exploration — allowing you to experience the local culture in a meaningful and memorable way.

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Courtesy of CCD & Jia Zijian


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LA.Prime Kitchen

A conversation with the founders of Quarta & Armando Architecture Design Research about their latest project, a restaurant and cocktail bar in Shenyang

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Located on the ground floor of the Shenyang Kerry Center — a mixed-use development that includes a shopping mall, hotel and offices in the city’s financial district — newly opened LA.Prime is not your typical mall eatery. While the main access point is through the mall, two of its three sides face the sidewalks, giving a particularly urban quality to the space.

Here the studio’s founders Gianmaria Quarta and Michele Armando talk us through their process and design approach.

Design Anthology: How did the overarching themes of balance and contrast inform your approach to the design?

Gianmaria Quarta & Michele Armando: These two themes are always present in our projects. They’re a direct consequence of our design method, which is on one hand very meticulous, almost scientific, and on the other always playful. First, we define a very precise set of rules, then we start playing with them. We like using complexity and hybridisation as raw materials to be highlighted — it’s more honest than hiding behind a particular style.

Can you talk about some of the key materials in the palette and how they fit into the design language?

The material palette reflects a series of dualisms — natural/artificial, warm/cold, colourful/monochrome — that in turn describe different moods. Overhead, the steel screens with their printed gradients respond to the natural light coming in from outside, and represent the colours of the Northern lights. At eye-level the materials take on a far more tactile quality: striped concrete tiles on the walls, terrazzo flooring, coarse-grained stucco. Most of these familiar materials are used outdoors rather than inside, which also helps to establish a sense of being ‘out-of-place’ in the space.

What factors informed the spatial design, and what kind of experience does the floor plan engender?

Overall, the spatial planning is rather simple: the long bar divides the kitchen and bar from the general seating area, and circulation primarily happens along this central axis. The only elements that disrupt this simplicity are the slightly inclined outline of the bar itself and a more private planted aisle, treated with the same material of coarse-grained stucco. This sequence of elements allowed us to define the space without creating any physical enclosures.

 You designed the project from brand and visual identity through to the interiors. How did being involved from the very beginning influence the interior design?

We worked on the interior design and branding at the same time, and the two were developed in parallel. We’re comfortable working across disciplines to create a project that’s completely different from what one would expect from a simple addition of parts. Everything from the floor plan to the colour scheme, and from the material palette to the typeface, is designed as part of a bigger system.

As told to / Simone Schultz
Images / Peter Dixie, LOTAN

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Twisting Steel in Wuhan

Studio Libeskind’s first project on the Chinese mainland pays tribute to Wuhan’s industrial past

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A silver arc floats above a landscaped plaza on the site of Wuhan’s former steelworks. At its highest point the structure offers occupants views of the city, while lower floors overlook the surrounding plaza and gardens. The crescent-shaped building, known as the Zhang ZhiDong and Modern Industrial Museum, opened to the public last year, and it marks Studio Libeskind’s first project on the Chinese mainland.

Executing an ambitious project 12,000 kilometers from the firm’s head office in New York was nothing out of the ordinary for Daniel Libeskind, who routinely designs projects in far-flung places like Chile, Kenya and Lithuania. To facilitate the firm’s ethos, he sent Chinese-speaking architects to Wuhan. And the team found creative ways to communicate the studio’s vision, including life-sized models. ‘Building a good building is not just a nice photograph, it’s about how to construct it in a well crafted way,’ says Libeskind.

The museum’s curved form and steel-panel facade references both Chinese pagoda architecture and the shape of ships on the nearby Yangtze River, while its central volume rests on what Libeskind describes as a pair of steel and glass ‘legs’. ‘It’s almost like a piece of a sphere that’s been elevated to create really a vital public space.’

Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, is considered central China’s hub; equidistant from Beijing and Hong Kong, it is also known as ‘China’s thoroughfare’. The city was the birthplace of China’s steel industry, and the symbolically modern structure, crafted in glass and steel, is intended as a public hub that celebrates Wuhan’s iron and steel culture as well as the illustrious 19th-century Qing dynasty politician who pioneered it.

‘At the turn of the century Zhang ZhiDong went to Europe and bought whole steel mills,’ Libeskind explains. ‘He was the first to produce steel for railways and weapons. It was the real modernisation of China. He was of course reviled during the Cultural Revolution, but he’s come back into focus as a major thinker and a major visionary for what can come out of China.’

The apertures in the museum’s predominantly metal skin are configured to optimise views and natural light, with the glazed atrium in particular radiating sunlight into the gallery spaces. Permanent exhibitions on the lower floors focus on Zhang and his contributions to the industrialisation of China, while temporary exhibitions are held on the top floor.

Having established himself in Europe and the US somewhat late in his career, Libeskind is primarily known for civic projects predicated on memory, such as the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the 9/11 Memorial in New York, that give shape to historical and cultural trauma. With the Zhang ZhiDong museum, the architect shows a more playful side, a design that looks back while also buoyantly forward.

From its location among the city’s steel factories to its materiality, the museum references Zhang’s legacy and Wuhan’s, while also proposing a new public landmark for a new era. ‘It’s a very dramatic building that tells the story of Wuhan, the story of Zhang ZhiDong and the story of the future,’ Libeskind says.

Text / Sophie Kalkreuth
Images / Hufton + Crow

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Eye on China

Continuing their annual tradition of highlighting young emerging designers from a selected country, MAISON&OBJET’s ‘Rising Talents’ this year had an eye on China

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Sing Chan

Sing Chan founded Guangzhou-based Bentu in 2011. The designer has since become known for experimentation, innovative material choices and originality. Focusing on furniture, lighting and accessories, the studio holds several patents. Under the name Buzao Chan has created a line of affordable accessories that reflect the studio’s fascination with materials and experience in manufacturing in China. During the January edition of MAISON&OBJET the brand showcased a small selection of their terrazzo lighting series and spoke enthusiastically about the low-waste and aesthetic qualities of the material.

 
 
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Furong Chen

Furong Chen founded his Xiamen-based studio WUU in 2014 and the next year was named an Emerging Chinese Designer at Design Shanghai. Chen’s manifesto centres around his dedication to developing contemporary furniture, lighting and accessories, while at the same time exploring the boundaries of commonplace materials, particularly concrete and brass. Chen’s Paris debut this January saw him display furniture from the Axis collection alongside Stargazer pendant lights, T-series lighting, Quark pendants, Morandi vases and the Lucid shelf. You can read more about Furong Chen and his work in issue 17 of Design Anthology.

 
 
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Frank Chou

Frank Chou was born and raised in Beijing, where he studied Materials Science and Engineering at Beijing Forestry University. After graduating, Chou spent time travelling before founding Frank Chou Design Studio in 2012. His upbringing in the country’s cultural capital has greatly influenced the expression of his work, but Chou considers himself a global citizen, and so his work deliberately has global appeal. His collections also convey a sense of timelessness. Chou has collaborated with several international brands over the years and is already receiving attention from international media. At MAISON&OBJET he presented a number of recognisable pieces from his oeuvre including the Combo sofa and Bold armchair for HC28. Read more about Frank Chou in this recent online interview.

 
 
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Ximi Li

Ximi Li earned a Master of Furniture Design from Politecnico di Milano after a Bachelor of Industrial design from China Academy of Art. After graduating he worked with renowned designers Andrea Branzi and Luca Trazzi in Italy, and then following his return to China, respected Shanghai-based architects and designers Neri&Hu. In 2016 Li founded his studio URBANCRAFT in Shanghai. While Li’s work draws on Chinese culture and heritage, the forms and materiality have universal appeal. At MAISON&OBJET the studio exhibited a selection of furniture, lighting and home accessories from the Yuan and BY3 collections.

 
 
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Mario Tsai

Mario Tsai majored in Furniture Design and Manufacturing at Beijing Forestry University before founding his Hangzhou-based studio in 2014. Aside from his own design work, Tsai has been commissioned by several European companies to create designs for their brands. Tsai takes a research-based approach and his design principles centre around restraint, in terms of both design form and material use. On display at MAISON&OBJET was the Lift light series and Pig side table, both produced for the designer’s own brand MX Object. In issue 19 of Design Anthology we spoke with Mario about one of his recent collaborations; read the conversation here. 

 
 
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Hongjie Yang 

Born and raised in Chengdu, the 30-year old Hongjie Yang studied in the US before moving to the Netherlands to finish post-graduate studies in the field of Contextual Design. The young designer is still based in Eindhoven and works from a former industrial space. Yang examines the blurred line between intervention and non-intervention in nature, with the idea of metamorphosis at the heart of his work. The monolithic pieces on display at MAISON&OBJET were from his Radical Fossils series and are made from cast aluminium, bronze and porcelain. Read more about Hongjie Yang and his experiences at Eindhoven Academy in issue 20 of Design Anthology.

Text / Suzy Annetta

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Zens

This young Guangzhou-based furniture brand is working hard to change preconceptions of what ‘Designed and Made in China’ means

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Founded in 2009 by Tony Zhang, the founding director of Guangzhou Design Week —southern China’s most established design event — ZENS lifestyle exhibited for the fifth time at the January edition of MAISON&OBJET. This time Zens launched the latest collection by British industrial designer and long-time Hong Kong resident Michael Young, alongside new collections by the prolific designer Oki Sato, founder of Japan- and Milan-based nendo; and a furniture collection by the brand’s own inhouse design team.

Michael Young’s new Eclipse series adds to his lighting and ceramic designs launched in 2017. Curved plywood gives each piece a modern look and a sense of fluidity; they are compact yet comfortable. Complementing the furniture designs are the Fold mirror and Visage vase. Young says the inspiration for the new designs came from observing the lifestyle of the younger generation in Asia and the increasingly blurred boundaries between work and life.

nendo studio’s latest collection displayed the designer’s signature sense of humour, wit and experimentation with form. The extensive collection comprises furniture and accessories; nendo studio worked with wood and stainless steel for the unconventional Waterfall series of tables that mimic nature and seem to defy gravity, the Clip chair’s frame resembles a bent paperclip, with seat cushions that attach with magnets, while the Cut series features four different table profiles, each with a piece of the wooden frame deliberately ‘cut’ leaving the designs with a touch of surrealist minimalism.

Ming Liu, Chief Design Officer of Zens, teamed up with multiple award-winning designer Yuan Yuan of RUYI to create the Ming Corner collection. The duo was inspired by traditional Chinese furniture from the Ming era, widely considered to be the pinnacle of furniture design for its refined forms and use of quality materials. Designed for the modern home, or an office environment, the sofa is available in multiple configurations making it personalised and practical.   

Text / Suzy Annetta
Images / Courtesy of ZENS Lifestyle

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Q&A with One Plus Partnership

Ajax Law and Virginia Lung are known for creating innovative and original designs that transform typical spaces into intriguing experiences. They spoke with Design Anthology about their process and some of their most memorable projects to date

Chow Tai Fook YOHO Mall experience shop, Hong Kong. Image by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Chow Tai Fook YOHO Mall experience shop, Hong Kong. Image by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

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Virginia Lung and Ajax Law

Founders and design directors of One Plus Partnership in Hong Kong, Law and Lung were among a host of acclaimed international speakers at the 2018 Business of Design Week in Hong Kong. Since its establishment in 2004, and with projects spanning entertainment, retail and product design, the studio has won over 540 international interior design awards and has been invited to exhibit in renowned exhibitions around the world, including the Venice Architecture Biennale.

Design Anthology: You tend to work on big-scale projects in China as well as in Hong Kong. What are some of the key differences or similarities you encounter working between these two regions?  

One Plus Partnership: The most notable difference is space: there’s so much more of it in China, it’s incomparable to Hong Kong, where property is so expensive. Hong Kong can be difficult for interior designers, because we’ve found that clients tend to limit their briefs to ‘elegant’. But in China, the design briefs tend to be more in-depth and focus on the culture of the specific place. The vast history of China gives us many options for more culture-related design, and clients are more accepting of various design styles; they allow us a lot more creative freedom, and fewer boundaries.

Speaking about concepts, one of your principles is to base your projects around a specific theme and then extract design elements from there. Can you talk us through the process of finding that theme?

We consider the location of the project, the nature of the business, or perhaps the historical background of the brand or client. In China, another interesting thing is that there are many different historical contexts in each of the different cities. That’s also the case in Hong Kong, but it’s just too small we think. There’s so much in Chinese culture and Chinese history that we can draw on and develop from, and that’s helpful for designers. We enjoy it when clients are engaged and interested in the process and the story as opposed to just commercial concerns and the finished product.

Hong Kong tends to favour the Western style, while in China clients lean toward celebrating Chinese style, there may be Western influences, but they don’t make a point of veering away from the former. I think it may be because of the historical background that in Hong Kong we prefer more British or American styles.

You also spoke about the availability of space in China, and you've won several international awards for many of your large-scale projects there. What are some of the key factors that you take into consideration when you design such an expansive space?

First and foremost, the space must meet functional needs. Then we think about how to maximise the space and make it look expansive and impressive. As we said, we define a theme for the project and that means that even in a large space, everything is unified and the project is a cohesive whole.

And what projects stand out for you as representative of these principles and your practice in general?

When we established One Plus Partnership 15 years ago, it was because we couldn’t identify a company or studio where we could do the kind of work we wanted to do, especially in Hong Kong. Many of the studios weren’t doing work of the international standard we saw in foreign media. At that time, we were doing projects for developers, and that was even more difficult because they were show flats, or sales offices — projects that naturally came with a string of constraints.

There are three key projects that come to mind, since then. Twelve years ago, we designed the Shenzhen Mellon Town Bamboo Lobby in China. The brief was that it should be a contemporary take on Chinese traditions. There were twelve lobbies in total, and to link them together by one theme, we landed on bamboo as the concept. In Chinese culture, bamboo represent many things: wisdom, finesse and so on. So instead of inserting any actual bamboo into the space, we interpreted the colour, the feeling and the meaning. And the colours ended up being bright green and red. Some of our contemporaries thought it was a childish project and that we wouldn’t succeed – they didn’t see that we were trying to do something creative.

It made us doubt ourselves and doubt the feasibility of our work in the market. We decided to enter the project into an international competition, and it won. That really encouraged us and made us trust our vision and abilities. We continued to enter international competitions – overseas, they don’t know who we are or what our backgrounds are. We’re judged based on the project submitted and it’s really encouraging to see how our work is received internationally.

The second project that comes to mind is Pixel Box. After a couple of years, we began to do cinema provides (we’ve done about four or five). Here the client gave us a lot of creative freedom, and the project ended up being a breakthrough for us, people came to know our cinema design work after that one. From there we were given even more creative freedom by the client.

The last one is the established jewellery brand Chow Tai Fook. About a year ago they asked us to design their first experience store. Our design was a big change for the brand, and we didn’t know that they’d accept something so different, so contemporary. Even the store layout is different from anything they’ve done before. In fact, the open-plan style is different to any other Chinese jewellery shop, and the sales structure is different – the salesperson can engage directly with the customer, there’s no barrier. We’ve done several shops in Hong Kong, and we’re now busy with a number of stores in China. For each, they want to infuse the local elements specific to that city. We’ve decided on the concept of ‘gift boxes’ because jewellery is usually a gift, for yourself or for your friends, or to celebrate an occasion. The colour schemes and materials differ, but the structure is the same across the stores. We’ve also created another concept for them: Hong Kong’s Festival Walk store is based on a bank’s safe room, where there are many small, numbered boxes. We took that and created our own version, with fabric instead of metal, and embroidered numbers. The numbers are actually dates, and they all have special meaning; you could find your birth date on a box, or for example, in Chinese 1-3-1-4 means ‘I love you forever.’ When customers come in, they love to search for their birthday or numbers associated with love.

For another of their stores we drew inspiration from the structure of DNA, so we created what looks like a sushi belt, but instead of sushi there’s jewellery displayed under the glass dome. Right now, the first of these shops is in Shenzhen but we’re working on the second one in Xi’an. We’re trying to introduce new and innovative concepts for the brand.

As told to / Simone Schultz
Images / Courtesy of One Plus Partnership

Chow Tai Fook YOHO Mall experience shop, Hong Kong. Image by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Chow Tai Fook YOHO Mall experience shop, Hong Kong. Image by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Xiangyang Fanyue Mall International Cinema. Images by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

Xiangyang Fanyue Mall International Cinema. Images by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

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Shenzhen Mellon Town Bamboo Lobby. Image by Ajax Law & Virginia Lung

Shenzhen Mellon Town Bamboo Lobby. Image by Ajax Law & Virginia Lung

Shenzhen Chow Tai Fook Experience Shop. Image by Jiangnan Photography

Shenzhen Chow Tai Fook Experience Shop. Image by Jiangnan Photography

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Shenzhen Chow Tai Fook Experience Shop. Image by Jiangnan Photography

Shenzhen Chow Tai Fook Experience Shop. Image by Jiangnan Photography

Hangzhou Kerry Centre Premiere Cinemas. Images by Jonathan Leijonhufvud & Ajax Law

Hangzhou Kerry Centre Premiere Cinemas. Images by Jonathan Leijonhufvud & Ajax Law

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Refined Tastes

Linehouse is no stranger to large adaptive re-use projects, having renovated a former opium production facility to deliver WeWork Weihai Lu three years ago. And just like that impressive undertaking, the studio’s recently completed fit-out for Tingtai Teahouse is a masterful study in balance, exhibiting sensitivity towards the existing structure and a confident materiality. Old and new happily co-exist in a cavernous space that was once a textile factory and up until its current iteration was being used as an art gallery.

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The brief for a traditional Chinese teahouse with a modern twist led the designers to create a series of private teahouse rooms, each offering their own individual spatial experience. Co-director Briar Hickling and the team stripped back the interior, exposing the original raw concrete and brick ceilings, walls and columns, as well as many years’ worth of history in the form of layered patinas. An existing mezzanine was also removed, the resulting double-height space giving the designers plenty of scope for play. In this respect, the stacked teahouse concept, featuring three upper rooms, may have an element of whimsy to it, but it’s resoundingly logical too.

‘We wanted the teahouses to read as singular insertions that contrast with the interior as well as reflect the surrounds,’ notes Hickling. ‘The upper rooms in particular have a strong relationship with the existing building in the way they connect to the original clerestory windows, and because each of these rooms is bookended with full-height glazing, guests don’t feel completely removed from the activities below.’ Each has a different roofline, and all occupy the space not unlike pieces in a puzzle: dipping here to accommodate a structural beam, extending there to capture natural light.

While three of the ground-level rooms at the rear of the space are fully enclosed, the three that sit directly beneath the upper ones are clad in brushed darkened stainless steel, with a low glass datum. The interiors of each room are clad in smoked oak, which adds warmth and heightens the sense of intimacy within these small insertions, in juxtaposition with the overtly industrial aesthetic of the overall space. But perhaps the most unexpected material choice is the green terrazzo that runs the interior.

As Hickling explains, ‘It needed to appear as a solid shifting landscape and not only operate as a floor finish, but as a surface that could be used as a seat when drinking tea or as an elevated platform on which the teahouses can rest.’ The speckled finish adds another level of visual interest to the overall scheme, and its deep hue is a counterpoint to the space’s predominantly black, grey, cream and brown palette. This is a design of elegant restraint and striking spatiality that ultimately provides a quiet and comfortable environment in which people can gather and socialise.

Text / Leanne Amodeo
Images / Dirk Weiblen

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‘Childhood Series’ by Wanghe Studio

Wang He’s debut collection is designed for young urbanites

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China has a staggering 160 cities that each accommodate more than a million residents; at least fifteen of them are home to over 10 million people. The younger generations, like in many parts of the world, are drawn to these cities and the career prospects, culture and lifestyle they offer. Urban sprawl and density are increasingly serious issues in the world's most populous country, and with the recent end to its one-child policy, who knows what the future holds for affordability and average living space sizes.

Up-and-coming designer Wang He knows all too well the issues facing the younger generation who live in China's most crowded and expensive cities. Beijing, where he lives and works, ranks third in terms of overall population.

The young designer graduated from London's Central Saint Martins’ Industrial Design programme and stayed on in the UK to take up a job offer at Theo Williams Studio. During his time with the studio Wang worked with clients such as IKEA and John Lewis & Partners — both of which helped shape the designer's ideas about affordability and design democracy.

Upon returning to his home city in 2016 Wang landed a job with the in-house design team of Chinese furniture brand ZaoZuo (read more in DA11), a brand quickly establishing a reputation for desirable, high-quality products made in China and designed by an impressive roster of international designers, including Sebastian Herkner and Luca Nichetto.

Earlier this year Wang moved on to establish his own company, Wanghe Studio. His breakout collection, titled ‘Childhood Series,’ was exhibited at the London Design Festival this September. Consisting of five essential pieces, the collection was designed with the younger generation in mind: ‘drifters,’ as Wang calls them, are those who sacrifice personal space for the dream of city living. The collection is meant to be affordable and appealing to these young urbanites.

The materials used are simple and don’t require expensive moulds or tooling. This means that production in China is quick and affordable, and the results are of good quality. The shapes, profiles and colours are playful and youthful, but most importantly they are lightweight and portable, with the rental market in mind.

As large cities the world over become increasingly crowded, average home sizes are shrinking while prices rise. The need for well-designed, flexible and affordable furnishings is not unique to China. However, taking the lead in the design and production of pieces so widely appealing and attainable may go a long way towards changing the stigma attached to the ‘Made in China’ label.

Text / Suzy Annetta
Images / Wanghe Studio

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Inkwood Restaurant & Bar

One of the first restaurants to open in Shanghai's Columbia Circle, INKWOOD Restaurant & Bar is chef Beichuan Yang’s first solo endeavour. Serving European dishes with a Chinese influence and designed by Shanghai-based multidisciplinary design studio STUDIO8, INKWOOD has become a destination for the city’s fans of contemporary dining.

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Yang approached Studio8 founders Andrea Maira and Shirley Dong to conceive and create the restaurant’s visual identity and interior after seeing of one of the firm’s earlier designs, the Caozitou bench, which appealed to him for its simplicity and playfulness.

INKWOOD, from the name to the design aesthetic and menu, reflects the symbiosis between two seemingly dissimilar concepts. Yang himself is a combination of Eastern and Western cultures, having spent his childhood in China and his later years training as a chef in Canada then working alongside renowned chefs in North America. Back in China, Yang now shares his passion for using local ingredients to create innovative international dishes.

It was only once Yang had settled on the name that Maira and Dong began to conceptualise the visual identity and interior design of INKWOOD. 'On one hand, wood represents nature and ink represents constant daily routine. On the other hand, wood represents the ingredients and ink represents the sauces that make ingredients more flavourful,' Yang explains. However, rather than focus on either ink or wood the designers were drawn to what would become the key concept: the connection between the two.

Material and colour combinations express the marriage of ink and wood without detracting from the food. This ‘stroke of symbiosis’ is expressed in the recurring motif of a brass stripe, which appears on the floor, walls and furniture, as well as in the custom-made light fixtures.

Perhaps the most striking design element is the colour combinations, which were inspired by the colours of wood, sauce and ink that invoke, for Maira, the colour palette used often by Italian painter Giorgio Morandi. Maira explains, 'I want guests to feel the intensity and temperatures of wood and ink, and to "taste" the sauce and ingredients with their eyes first.' The designers chose dark green boiserie for the bottom section of the walls, making it seem as if the entire restaurant has been dipped in dark green ink. The remaining wall space is mustard yellow and finished with a rough texture that absorbs and reflects light, creating a soft, warm ambience.

Yang conceived the menu of sharing dishes and the space (with a variety of seating combinations) as a place to bring people together. The chef’s table looks into the kitchen through a large window, allowing guests to observe the cooking process. Below the window is a bookshelf on which Yang and his partners have curated a selection of their favourite cookbooks.

Studio8 has made sure that the details, from the tableware to the carefully selected custom-made accessories and paintings, and even the flowers and plants, tell the story of INKWOOD’s design - 'like the chemistry created by food and sauce, delicate, warm and many-layered'.

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Rosu, Studio8

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Less is More

Our world is in a constant state of flux. It’s only natural, then, that humanity would be drawn to spaces that are calm and soothing, a nurturing shelter from the outside world. That’s exactly what Shanghai-based Hip-Pop Design had in mind when they designed this private clubhouse in Nanjing, China.

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The spacious clubhouse has been divided into a series of generously-sized living and dining spaces, each with prominent windows that boast an almost panoramic perspective of the surrounding landscape. Designed with family-time, entertaining and relaxing in mind, the ample seating allows inhabitants a front-row view of the changing seasons.

The Japanese-inspired minimalist interiors have avoided any risk of feeling cold and sterile with the thoughtful selection of materials. Natural in their origin, reflecting the building’s setting, finishings and furnishings are made from silk, oak, leather and copper - and exude warmth.  Oversized artworks were carefully selected and arranged throughout to balance with the otherwise zen-like spaces. Proving the old adage, the less really is more.

Text / Suzy Annetta
Images / Zhang Jing

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Lane House, Beijing

Finnish architect Alvar Aalto once said that architecture should be 'in harmony with the human being'. Extrapolate from this what you will, but Beijing-based architect Nolan Chao of ARCHISTRY design&research office has taken the literal route.

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When an adventurous young design-loving couple approached the architect to redesign the high-rise apartment they had purchased in the PRC capital they were looking for something different. Together with his clients Chao wanted to investigate a new typology for space planning within such a high density urban context, and break away from tired stereotypes of what a modern apartment might look like. Taking into consideration the client’s daily rituals and working from there, a new floorplan was created. The new layout contains contradictions between public and private space, not unlike the traditional alley homes, or ‘Hutongs’, that are an important part of Beijing’s architectural vernacular.

Chao says he removed many of the internal walls to create a significantly larger feeling space which allows the couple an enormous sense of flexibility and freedom. Moving curtains and partitions allow the homeowners more control over when and how they use their space, and its this movable, shape-shifting nature that Chao refers to when he says the plan is essentially ‘a block within a block, or ‘a lane within a lane’.

Efficiency is likely a word that Le Corbusier would have used when referring to his buildings, or ‘machines for living’, which seems to contradict Aalto’s theory entirely. But here, in one of China’s most expensive cities, the two sides coincide peacefully.

Text / Suzy Annetta
Images / Cai Yunpu

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Amateur Architecture
Humanity is more important than architecture, and craftsmanship more important than technology
— Wang Shu
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China’s first and only recipient of the Pritzker — the world’s most respected prize for architecture — Wang Shu, along with his wife and practice partner Lu Wenyu are the founders of Hangzhou-based practice Amateur Architecture Studio. The name refers to the couple’s rejection of what the pair say is the “professional, soulless architecture" practiced in China. Their interests lie in vernacular Chinese architecture, traditional techniques, craftsmanship and locally sourced materials.

Reducing tradition to a decorative symbol and then applying it to the surface of a modern construction... that’s exactly what kills the true meaning of tradition.
— Wang Shu

Over the last ten years, Amateur Architecture Studio has created a respected body of work and a unique style that challenges the role of the architect today in China and internationally.

This summer a retrospective exhibition of the work of Amateur Architecture Studio at the arc en rêve centre d'architecture in Bordeaux, organized in partnership with the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, showcases five projects with a series of models, material samples, large scale photography.

The exhibition runs from 31 May – 28 October 2018 at arc en rêve centre d'architecture, Bordeaux. For more on Wang Shu, check out the feature on the Hangzhou Academy by Amateur Architecture Studio written by Alastair Gordon in issue 2 of Design Anthology.

Text / Suzy Annetta
Exhibition images / Rodolphe Escher
Project images / Iwan Baan

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Shuyang Art Gallery

A cultural centre in Jiangsu Province pays architectural homage to the traditional Chinese art form

Located in the birthplace of calligraphy in coastal China’s Jiangsu Province, the Shuyang Art Gallery first opened to the public in 2014. Designed by The Architectural Design & Research Institute of ZheJiang University, the gallery showcases works of cultural heritage in the form of calligraphy artworks, including distinctive regional styles.

Using the three fundamental colours of Chinese calligraphy — black, white and red — the gallery seeks to embody qualities of purity and refinement in its form. Inspired by legendary Jiangsu painter Zheng Banqiao, its aesthetic draws on the incongruities of ‘ideological and practical work, the light and heavy, and the opening and closing of calligraphy’ through spatial proportions and materiality, according to the designers.   

The largest exhibition hall stands out for its Yixing red-bricked clay, inviting visitors to take note of its unique texture and arched surface, while an adjacent building that suspends from the water that surrounds the entrance reflects what the designers describe as the ‘unconfined and detached spirit of calligraphy’. The cumulative effect allows for visitors to compose their minds quickly before entering.

Just like the organic strokes of a calligraphic brush on paper, visitors flow freely through the gallery’s indoor and outdoor spaces. The transition of space is ethereal, guided by walkways that lead between pure black and white structures that mirror inkstones and calligraphy scrolls.

From overhead, the gallery’s grayscale paved road and roofed courtyards mimic the abstract pattern of ink spreading across parchment. As the buildings blend, one into the next, an ink painting is formed — paying homage in architectural form to the legacy of China’s master calligraphers.

Text / Isabella Chon
Images / Courtesy of The Architectural Design & Research Institute Of ZheJiang University Co.

Serene Corridors

An elegant new office space for Changsha-based China Resources Center finds harmony between modern aesthetics and traditional values

A calm, inviting ambience conjures up pleasant emotions and is key to spaces that people respond favourably to. The China Resources Center, designed by Shenzhen-based Rongor Design & Consultant, demonstrates an understanding and mastery of just this.

Located in Changsha, the capital city of China’s Hunan Province, the new office space resembles an ethereal utopia and drew inspiration from the Eastern Jin dynasty poet Tao Qian’s piece Peach Blossom Spring. ‘We believe that there is a peach blossom garden in everyone’s heart,’ says Qin Yueming, founder and design director of Rongor Design & Consultant. ‘Though it’s not tangibly accessible, the rationale underneath can be perceived and experienced.’

The client’s brief was simple but concise, calling for a well-balanced environment that embodies oriental values through modern components. From there, Qin and his team approached the interior design from a traditional Chinese perspective, applying layers and spaces that gradually reveal themselves, unfolding to eventually reveal an interior courtyard with grace.

Circular landscaping stones resonate with curated art pieces, depicting mountains and rivers in traditional shanshui form and beckoning visitors in for further discoveries. The interior palette is comprised of versatile materials such as marble, wood, metal mesh and stainless steel, while a cool colour palette expresses a modern design language. By working with elements from both traditional and contemporary worlds, a sculptural peach blossom garden has taken form.  

The creative team also sought to imbue the space with expressions of humanity. ‘There are specific dispositions and expressions in different spaces, which would greatly affect a person’s psychological state and behavior,’ explains Qin. ‘It’s our role to employ such expressions and determine what message we deliver to the audiences.’

A long, narrow corridor offset by two miniature pavilions and sculptural wall dividers — inspired by intricate latticework and made of sleek convex-concave acrylic — encourages passersby to slow down and appreciate the surroundings; on one end is a lofty project model area, distinguished by a sprawling ceiling installation that mimics the swirling petals of a peach tree blossom, recently liberated. Such a dramatic change in the spatial scale induces a calming effect, according to Qin.  

Other highlights include several richly appointed break out spaces for meetings and reading nooks, which continue the theme of a harmonious marriage between present day practicality and traditional delicacy. ‘The two aspects have no contradiction. Ancient values were modern once, modern elements will become traditional as time goes by,’ says Qin. ‘To master the art of balance is to respect and restrain the two aesthetics.’

Text / Nikey Cheng
Images / Courtesy of Sunshine PR