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Wandering Sentimentalist

Korean photographer Kim Woo Young talks about his path to becoming an artist and why he chooses an analogue approach

Kelbaker Road , 121cm x 156cm, Archival Pigment Print, 2017  Kim wrapped this dilapidated house in orange tinted wrapping to give a sense of hope to the abandoned structure.

Kelbaker Road, 121cm x 156cm, Archival Pigment Print, 2017

Kim wrapped this dilapidated house in orange tinted wrapping to give a sense of hope to the abandoned structure.


Kim Woo Young is a South Korean artist who is based out of Seoul and Los Angeles. His photography art has been widely exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Japan and Korea, and is also included in collections at several major art museums in Seoul. Here, he speaks with Irene Lam about his background and the inspiration and intentions that inform his artistic practice.

Irene Lam: Can you share a specific memory or talk about what it was like growing up in Korea in the 60s/70s?

Kim Woo Young: I was born and raised in Busan, a port city located in South Korea, in the 1960s. At that time, Busan wasn’t such an easy city to live in as it was undergoing a lot of political, social and economic changes, but my memories of growing up there as a young boy mostly revolve around nature — from the smell of the sea to the ambient sights and sounds of the countryside. That all changed when I had to move to Seoul for middle and high school. Seoul was so different, and was undergoing serious industrialisation and political upheaval. Personally, there was a sense of displacement for me as I was trying to figure out how my future would unfold. I remember spending many days and nights wandering along the Han River Bridge feeling sentimental, realising that I needed to find an outlet to express myself creatively and artistically. Before entering university, I was drawn to artists, musicians and photographers and was deeply influenced by their stories and experiences. 

Bagley Avenue , 122cm x 122cm, Archival Pigment Print, 2017  In the eyes of the artist, the exterior of this empty building in an isolated town represents how industrialisation can suddenly make things obsolete, with humans as the culprits of this kind of decimation.

Bagley Avenue, 122cm x 122cm, Archival Pigment Print, 2017

In the eyes of the artist, the exterior of this empty building in an isolated town represents how industrialisation can suddenly make things obsolete, with humans as the culprits of this kind of decimation.

What drew you into the field of fine art photography?

I first studied Urban Design and Industrial Design at Hongik University in Seoul from 1979 to 1986.  My inner circle of friends were all artists at that time so I was quite immersed within the arts scene and tried to learn as much as I could about experimental movies, music and art. However, I still felt a need to find the right channel for myself. Being an urban design student, I would take a lot of photos of buildings and streets for environmental projects, and that had a big influence on my interest in photography. Another reason is that with photography, you don’t need to rely on others to create your images.  So, that’s the reason why after my studies in Seoul I decided to move to New York to study photography at the School of Visual Arts.  And from then, I began my journey in discovering the profound elements of photography as an artistic medium.

E. 6th Street , 170cm x 140cm, Archival Pigment Print, 2017  This image is perhaps the most representative of Kim Woo Young’s works. The colour covering the wall surface and lines connecting the street are the focus of an unexpected aesthetic consequence that empowers his photographs.

E. 6th Street, 170cm x 140cm, Archival Pigment Print, 2017

This image is perhaps the most representative of Kim Woo Young’s works. The colour covering the wall surface and lines connecting the street are the focus of an unexpected aesthetic consequence that empowers his photographs.

Can you share some thoughts about your work?

I’d like to think of my works as not so much an experiment attaching a concrete message but rather an attempt to show the possibilities for a new interpretation of a city or nature scene by providing a direct visual experience. The camera simply acts as a tool to capture a place of meaning. I always like to shoot my subjects in natural light, and preferably in the early morning hours so that there are no deliberate shadows. In fact, I find more depth in an ‘analogue perspective’. In today’s digital age, some might say that I am missing the point, but I feel that in a world so crowded by digital, we sometimes need a break from it all. My images always try to stay unaffected.

You have dedicated and committed most of your life to photography, encompassing all its communicable aspects from commercial, documentary and aesthetic. How do you see the next stage of career unfolding? 

After having established myself as a photographer in Korea and the US, I will continue to develop myself and hope that my works can be accessible to viewers in more countries around the world. I have been travelling to Tibet since 2010 and my next project is to share those images in a published book. I want to bring more of a global perspective to my work. I will always have a bit of sentimentalism in me but now I know where I should be and where my next steps will take me.

As told to / Irene Lam
Images / Courtesy of Kim Woo Young

Olvera Street , 125cm x 188cm, Archival Pigment Print, 2017  One major characteristic in Kim’s photographs is the colourful radiance and flow of lines on the surface of buildings and street walls.

Olvera Street, 125cm x 188cm, Archival Pigment Print, 2017

One major characteristic in Kim’s photographs is the colourful radiance and flow of lines on the surface of buildings and street walls.

CGWC image , 125cm x 188cm, Archival Pigment Print, 2017  Rather than intervening or excessively manipulating photographs, Kim focuses on capturing the unique characteristics of buildings in their original environment.

CGWC image, 125cm x 188cm, Archival Pigment Print, 2017

Rather than intervening or excessively manipulating photographs, Kim focuses on capturing the unique characteristics of buildings in their original environment.

Sophisticated Minimalism

Shaped by clean lines, fine detailing and intriguing artworks, this Melbourne home designed by Flack Studio proves that a restrained materials palette can make a strong statement


David Flack’s passion for interior design is rooted in his childhood. At only five years old, he tried to convince his mother to repaint his cubby house and, despite her negative response, he decided to do it anyway. Originally from Bendigo, Australia, Flack’s family owns a construction company and growing up he frequently joined site visits. With such a background, studying interior design at Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology came naturally.

After being formally trained at Hecker Phelan Guthrie (now Hecker Guthrie), Flack began his professional career at Kerry Phelan Design Office (K.P.D.O) and then launched his eponymous studio in 2014. At just 33 years old, Flack has become one of the most promising interior designers in Australia, designing — with his team of eight — many residential and commercial projects in his own signature style.

Flack draws inspiration from his travels, but also from art, fashion, design, literature, films and music. Taking a contemporary design approach, Flack names Achille Castiglioni, Vincent Van Duysen and Joseph Dirand among those he admires. He describes himself as a modernist obsessed with the 1970s and 80s, placing importance on volumes, proportions and natural light in all his projects. He also focuses on the use of honest materials — such as stone, timber, steel, glass and concrete — while adding bold touches through accessories and art.

Originally designed by renowned architects Holgar & Holgar, this five-bedroom home in Elsternwick, an inner suburb of Melbourne, exemplifies Flack’s approach. ‘It was important to work with materiality that was empathetic to the existing architecture,’ the Australian designer says. ‘However, we wanted it to feel contemporary and like a further take on its origins.’

Remodeled for a family of four (a couple and their two daughters) who had already been living in the house for several years, the interior spaces now comprise two living areas and a central kitchen, providing high functionality and comfort. As the house is made of concrete, remodeling, flipping around the kitchen — a previously dark space — and connecting it to the dining room and living area required serious reworking of the ceilings, which was the biggest challenge for Flack Studio. ‘We also encountered asbestos within the concrete structure, which caused some delays and impacts onto the budget,’ adds Flack.

The owners — who work in the music and public relations industries — are passionate about art collecting and design, and it’s reflected in their home. A painting by Judith Wright (from Sophie Gannon Gallery) in the bedroom, a floor lamp by APPARATUS (from the CRITERIA COLLECTION), the Maralunga sofa by Vico Magistretti for Cassina and the Thin Black Table by nendo for Cappellini (both from Cult) in the living room adorn the home.

‘Throughout the process the client was extremely active, says Flack, ‘but at the same time, they also very much trusted our process.’

American oak veneer, white fantasy quartzite and oak flooring create a neutral palette, which also incorporates fresh whites, pale timbers and veneer stains. The original tiger-stripe carpeted staircase and colourful artworks bring personality and audacity to the interiors.  

‘It was important for the space to feel as if it belongs in the 1970s… but with a contemporary twist’, says Flack. ‘This house is an incredible mixture of forms and expressions.’

Text / Karine Monié
Images / Brooke Holm

New Traditions

In this Hong Kong apartment, STUDIO ADJECTIVE translates traditional Chinese architecture and aesthetics into a modern design language


The connection between people, community and city is a focal point for Emily Ho and Wilson Lee, founders of Hong Kong-based STUDIO ADJECTIVE. It’s at the intersection of these three themes that their designs fit most comfortably: considering individual needs and character, and the broader community it is or will become part of.

For their recent design of a 2-bedroom 2-bathroom apartment in Hong Kong, the duo reinterpreted traditional design to reflect the client’s fascination with Chinese culture and minimised the spatial constraints that are par for the course in the city.

Where before the kitchen and service area consumed more than half of the available living space, a pavilion-like structure now houses the full kitchen and bathrooms, blurring the boundaries between these spaces and the rest of the home. Here, overlapping layers of fluted glass and wooden fins define the areas more subtly.

Wrapped in teak, glass and metal frames, the kitchen becomes an extension of the living space. The materials, in varying levels of transparency, are used again in the bathrooms and on one side of the corridor, while a dark smoked oak wall wraps around into the corridor on the opposite side. Throughout the compact apartment, the fragmented layers, visual depth and material continuity create a balance of spatial and tactile qualities.

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Courtesy of STUDIO ADJECTIVE

155TBR Conservation Shophouse

This two-storey shophouse in Singapore highlights a material that was once considered sub-standard and reserved for utility buildings, not modern family homes


When Singaporean firm Inte Architects were tasked with the renovation, the team, headed by founder Chan Loo Siang, focused their attention on maximising natural light and ventilation while taking advantage of the shophouse’s unusual corner position.

The renovation had to be carried out within the confines of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s conservation regulations, so Inte Architects proposed replacing the existing steel-framed timbre louvred screen that made up the store frontage with glass blocks that are both easy to maintain and add an aesthetic quality. They turned the frame into a surprising and effective glass-block wall, paradoxically creating a sense of privacy and wide-open space. In Singapore, these glass blocks had been stigmatised as an industrial material, largely due to the limited range of designs and unsightly grouting. After experimenting with various techniques, however, the team was able to land on a method of recessing the grouting behind the blocks’ edges, resulting in a frosted wall where the profile of each block creates a modernised aesthetic. Rather than being a conspicuous design feature, the glass blocks blend into the surrounding streetscape, proof that the common material can be used effectively in a residential context. At the same time, the enclosed space, including the area once reserved for a fish pond, extends the wet kitchen. The kitchen and living areas are bathed in natural light, thanks to the skylight and semi-transparent expanse of wall, where clear blocks are interspersed with frosted versions higher up on the facade to maximise the natural light.

Large shutter windows that appear to be part of the original exterior now open onto the enlarged air well, which connects the home’s multiple floors and adds a sense of volume and height that continues up to the rooftop terrace. Here, steel supports are visually balanced by the glass panels that surround the outdoor space. Glass jalousie windows on the terrace provide natural ventilation to the air well and connect the indoor and outdoor spaces, further blurring the boundaries between the two.

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Courtesy of Inte Architects

Latina Manila

Jonathan Matti’s recent collaboration with de Gournay is inspired by the rich history and culture of the Philippines


The word luxury gets bandied about so often these days that it’s lost much of its impact and meaning. Manila-based designer Jonathan Matti, however, knows the true meaning of the word, and that it doesn’t refer to anything ‘that can be found in a department store,’ as he often quips. According to the designer, true luxury is something that is hand-made, bespoke, unique. It’s for this reason that Matti often specifies custom de Gournay wallpaper in the homes he decorates for the upper echelons of Filipino society.

The British wallcovering company de Gournay was originally founded in 1986 by Claud Cecil Gurney, who purchased a few panels of antique Chinese export tea-paper at auction and was looking for a way to restore and replicate them. Gurney’s mission took him to the source, and after touring studios and factories in China he decided to create the company (named after the original spelling of the family name). Over the following decades, de Gournay has built a solid reputation for providing high-quality, hand-made and highly customisable wallcoverings based on the traditional chinoiserie patterns and scenic landscape panels that were originally created for some of England’s most stately manor homes.

Over lunch, after meeting Matti for the first time serendipitously at Decorex, Jemma Cave — de Gournay’s design director —  ‘popped the question,’ as Matti says, inviting the designer to partner with them to create a new panorama design based on his native country. The collaboration was unprecedented for the company. Matti, initially put off by his admitted lack of drawing skills, eventually agreed, knowing that Cave shared his vision.


What he may lack in drawing skills, Matti more than adequately makes up for with his encyclopedic knowledge of Filipino culture, design and art. The designer shared visual references from his own library with Cave, and after more than two years and several trips back and forth between Manila and London, Latina Manila was launched at Elements, de Gournay’s distributor in the Philippines, last month.

Made up of 20 individual panels, the panoramic design illustrates a bustling scene of the Philippine islands —  Chinese traders, farmers and landowners all going about their days under palm trees that sway in the tropical breeze — depicted beautifully in colours reminiscent of fading light. An effect perhaps symbolic of a faded grandeur, the scenes are evocative of a bygone era, a time when the Philippines was one of the wealthiest countries in the region and under Spanish rule.

The design is an amalgamation, or a pastiche if you will, of a variety of elements of Filipino flora, fauna and colonial architecture. While not all the designs are historically or geographically accurate, they are the result of Matti’s exuberant imagination — and it’s about time somebody drew on the rich culture and heritage of the Philippines for inspiration.

Text / Suzy Annetta
Images / Martin Garcia Perez, courtesy of de Gournay

The Colours of Indonesia

ID12 celebrates its 10-year anniversary with a ‘soulfully Indonesian’ exhibition that offers a vision of modern living inspired by the country’s rich history

DSC00409 Final.jpg

ID12 — an abbreviation for 12 Indonesian Interior Designers — is an association of the country’s interior design luminaries. They were brought together 11 years ago by Erna Nureddin for a collaboration between the designers and Laras magazine, where each would work on one issue over the course of a year. Following such thoughtful match-making, the relationship between the dozen designers has only grown stronger over the years since. As they found themselves in the same circles and working on the same projects, they decided to come together as the ID12 and have since pioneered the creative collaboration known as ‘The Colours of Indonesia.’ Chairman Ary Juwano puts the success of ID12 over the years down to the fact that although they work in the same field, ‘each one of us instils individual style and taste – perhaps this is what holds us together.’

This year marks the 10th anniversary of ID12, and the third iteration of ‘The Colours of Indonesia.’ Since much of their work hadn’t made it into the public sphere (due to the often-private nature of interior design), the group conceived the exposition to showcase the practice and potential of interior design, and at the same time, highlight how design in Indonesia celebrates the country’s rich and multi-cultural history.

Following the two previous editions (in 2014 and 2016), this year’s theme was suitably ambitious. The Maison 12 Suite Apartment is a fully-realised residential building, comprising a showroom/marketing gallery, apartments, gardens and a community cafe. Within this framework, ID12 offers a glimpse into what modern, vertical living could look like in Indonesia’s sprawling and ever-growing cities (particularly Jakarta).

DSC00061 Final Ayam__.jpg

Ary Juwono was responsible for the marketing gallery, which reflected ‘The Spirit of Sumba’ with eclectic traditional accents fused with contemporary style.

The three-bedroom suite was a collaborative effort by Agam Riadi, Anita Boentarman, Joke Roos, Shirley Gouw and Vivianne Faye. The designers reflected ‘The Soul of Java’ by placing custom-designed mid-century pieces alongside Javanese design and furniture.

Prasetio Budhi, Roland Adam, Sammy Hendramianto S and Yuni Jie brought ‘The Voyage of Borneo’ to life in the two-bedroom apartment, with Indonesian craftmanship at the helm of the modern family home.

Indonesia’s eastern archipelago was represented by experimental duo Eko Priharseno and Reza Wahyudi, who designed decorative elements inspired by ‘The Mystical Papua’. The combination of monochrome and warm hues in the one-bedroom apartment represents the traditional homes of Papua, reinterpreted for a younger generation of city-dwellers.

More than just a home, Masion 12 Suite Apartment offers a ‘living experience,’ so in addition to the exceptional architecture and interior design, the exterior features gardens and spaces designed by Amalya Hasibuan from Eshcol Gardening and Landscape.

Rounding off the concept is Cafe12, an in-house amenity that offers something different: a clean and modern aesthetic where designers, manufacturers and the public can meet, discuss ideas, and develop designs. Here, Eko Priharseno wanted to create an open exchange within the community and showcase the ID12 design process, complimented by a photo exhibition in the café that shows ID12’s journey over the past 10 years.

Befitting this momentous milestone, the third edition of ‘The Colour of Indonesia’ simultaneously pays tribute to the association’s heritage and offers a promising vision for the future.

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Courtesy of The Colours of Indonesia


Following the recent edition of Asia Now – Paris Asian Art Fair, Jae Lee had the opportunity to speak with Paris- and Tokyo-based Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto about architecture, cuisine and chaos

Image courtesy of IWAN BAAN

Image courtesy of IWAN BAAN

Siegrid Bing described Japonisme — the affinity for Japanese art and design — as ‘a bond of kinship born of the same love of beauty.’ Widely known for its violent reactions toward modernisation, France’s 160-year-old passion for Japanese architecture may come as a surprise. From the humble 1867 tea house by Shimizu Usaburo to the modernists invited by its Japanophile president, the secretive love affair is now offering solutions to the city divided between heritage and modernisation. Among the welcomed is Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, one of 23 selected in 2016 to ‘reinvent Paris’ in the city’s Reinventing.Paris initiative, which aims to develop urban projects in the city.

Jae Lee: How did you come to set up your studio in Paris?

Sou Fujimoto: Back in 2014, I won a design competition with my L’Arbre Blanc proposal for the city of Montpellier. After that, about 10 new projects followed, including Mille Arbres in Paris. It made sense to set up a studio in France.

Paris has a history of reacting negatively towards modernisation. Did that ever cross your mind when coming to Paris?

I’m very happy to be working in a city that’s so passionate about architecture. I personally feel that today’s France is optimistic towards modernisation. They’re quick to accept new concepts or philosophies as long as it hits the spot. Of course, to do that you must communicate honestly with the local lifestyle.

A great number of Japanese architects are realising their projects in France. What’s the appeal? 

Yes, there are many Japanese architects in Paris now, but in my case, I've always loved French architecture for its imbedded cultural heritage. It glances off very strongly. I try to fuse the French context with the Japan-ness I carry. And there are cultural similarities, like the delicate sensitivity. if you compare French and Japanese cuisines, they’re both all about the subtle flavours of the ingredients instead of overpowering spices.

You are one of the architects designated by the city to reinvent Paris and embrace its density problem. Could Paris look like Tokyo in the future?

No. I feel that France’s passion for art really comes alive with its cityscape. In Tokyo, I’m afraid people aren’t as interested in their urban scape. Much of it is created for economic reasons, which can hinder the quality of living. Compared to Tokyo, Paris is far more organised, but each city has its own chaos. I think that chaos is a hidden opportunity for better social harmony. Architecture is not about concealing a problem, but about representing it by suggesting a solution. They are a part of the context.

You are designing number of exhibition spaces this year as part of Japonismes 2018 : les âmes en resonance. Are there any specific aspects you want to highlight?

The Asia Now Paris venue — Les Salons Hoche — is a traditional French building with strong marble surfaces and enclosed pockets of space. I tried to bring the openness and fluidity of traditional Japanese architecture to the exhibition. The bare wooden columns serve as half walls, you could even call them ‘anti-walls’. Usually at a fair, galleries are incased in a cube. I wanted to go beyond that and realise more natural interactions and communication with both the booth’s neighbours and the structure itself. At Musée des Arts Décoratifs, I plan on continuing the sense of semi-transparency by re-discovering the concept of shoji walls. They can be delicate, strong or very organic in form. The feeling of in-betweenness, ma (間), is the essence of Japan’s design sensibility that I hope to apply to the Japonisme exhibitions.

Text / Jae Lee

Image courtesy of SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

Image courtesy of SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

Sou Fujimoto Image by David Vintiner

Sou Fujimoto
Image by David Vintiner

Image courtesy of SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

Image courtesy of SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

Image courtesy of SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

Image courtesy of SFA+NLA+OXO+RSI

Image courtesy of IWAN BAAN

Image courtesy of IWAN BAAN

Image courtesy of IWAN BAAN

Image courtesy of IWAN BAAN

Common Comforts

The SoHo home of Common’s Director of Architecture Jenn Chang is a thoughtfully designed space that promotes harmony and happiness


In densely populated cities where co-living is a way of life for many, finding ways to improve communal living is a top priority for designers like Manhattan-based Jenn Chang.

Born in Taiwan, Chang moved to the USA when she was 12, and later studied architecture at Columbia University. In 2017, she joined the American co-living brand Common — a residential leasing company that offers private rooms and shared spaces in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington DC and Seattle — as Director of Architecture, where she oversees the spatial and structural design and planning of Common’s co-living properties. 

‘As a designer, the most fascinating part of working at Common is the direct access we have to our end users. This means we can take member feedback and loop it directly into our design process in real time. If architecture can generate happiness — and I think it can —  we have the metrics to prove it,’ says Chang, who hopes her work can help alleviate the housing crisis across all major metropolitan areas.

The design values and aesthetics of Chang’s own home, a 96-square-metre apartment in a pre-war duplex in New York’s SoHo, which she renovated with friends in 2015, certainly translate into her work at Common.

Chang’s duplex apartment is housed within a four-story Queen Anne style building that was built in 1886 as a grammar school before being converted into a 39-unit condo by the New York City Board of Education in 1981.

‘The repurposing of a schoolhouse for residential use creates a progression whereby tight spaces are relieved by expansive, airy spaces. The former classroom, with its 4-metre high ceilings and oversized picture windows, is almost proportionally cubic in its dimensions, which makes for wonderful and unusual living spaces,’ Chang explains.

In its reconfiguration, the two unused storage spaces in the lofts were reconceptualised as the main design features of their adjoining spaces. This allowed Chang to keep the common areas simple but beautiful. The warm maple that wraps the apartment works with the compactness of the space to create the most intimate areas in the home.

Chang collaborated with her university friends Charlie Able and Andy McGee on the redesign. ‘My budget was limited, so the renovation didn’t rely on luxe finishes, but rather the detailing of basic carpentry. We focused on using simple materials like drywall, maple plywood and raw, unfinished concrete. Kin & Company custom fabricated the blackened steel accents that connect the spaces, highlighting the portals, doors and interior windows,’ she says.

Being part of New York’s design community allows Chang access to sample sales around the city, which is where she sourced most of the interior furnishings. One of her favourite pieces, the Matter Made Windsor Chair in the dining area, was found at a sample sale in Gowanus, Brooklyn, while the rose gold coffee table was designed by a young couple from Florida who were exhibiting at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair for the first time.

‘I have a strong affinity towards graphics, patterns and colour, and much of this was expressed in the floor textiles. The Kinnasand rug from Future Perfect makes a strong graphic statement without overwhelming the space. But the real gem is the handwoven rug in the bedroom, made by craftswomen in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. It’s covered in a collection of textures, colours and symbols that make it unique, charming and personal to me,’ says Chang.

Text / Michele Koh Morollo
Images / Nick Glimenakis, Will Choi, and Mukul Bhatia for Par en Par

‘Childhood Series’ by Wanghe Studio

Wang He’s debut collection is designed for young urbanites


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

A New Narrative

In her latest collection, interior and furniture designer Joyce Wang reimagines traditional terrazzo


With bases in London and Hong Kong, Joyce Wang’s eponymous studio specialises in hospitality and residential interiors and furniture design, and her name is on a host of top international locations, including the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, and Mott 32 in Hong Kong and Vancouver.

The studio’s latest collection, FLINT launched at a week-long open studio during this year’s London Design Festival. Inspired by the idea of reinventing an old material into something new, Wang reimagines and elevates terrazzo beyond its traditional uses in flooring and surfaces, diverging from those rectilinear forms to create curves and domed shapes that reveal the material from a sculptural perspective.

Featuring a series of objects, vessels and furniture, FLINT is a celebration of contemporary design, modern techniques and classic materials. Wang developed the collection in Hong Kong, experimenting with various tools, technology and techniques, and developed FLINT in collaboration with a third-generation Italian terrazzo manufacturer. The collection also features the studio’s signature metalwork, with solid brass accents that form complimentary motifs throughout.

With FLINT, Wang has created objects that are refined and robust, and that breathe new life into the humble material.

The full series is available in charcoal, and also includes limited edition rose- and sage-coloured ice cream bowls.

Text / Simone Schultz

Design for Life

Highlights from the Singapore Institute of Architects Conference 2018

Archifest Pavilion

Archifest Pavilion

Last Tuesday (the 2nd of October), several hundred ticket holders convened at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre to hear some of Southeast Asia’s most interesting male* architects present their work. The occasion was the SIA’s annual conference, the professional core of Archifest, which this year took the overarching theme of ‘Design for Life’.

Conference-goers entering MBS from the waterside encountered the Archifest pavilion, designed by open call-winners Kite Studio Architecture, with engineering by Web Structures. Seeking to incorporate characteristics of ‘the ubiquitous HDB void deck’—the area beneath the government-built blocks that house the majority of Singaporeans — the pavilion’s lo-fi brick and rebar walls, and bamboo charcoal flooring enclosed a multi-purpose space for festival activities and exhibitions. Visitors were encouraged to customise the bricks with eco-friendly paint provided by headline sponsor AkzoNobel.

The contrast between the humble, organically changing pavilion and the glossy, consumerist hulk of the Marina Bay Sands complex offered an apt visual illustration of this year’s theme. ‘The spotlight has mostly been shone on iconic, spectacular projects, while the day-to-day architecture sits in its shadows,’ stated the curatorial team, under the guidance of SIA President Seah Chee Huang and Festival Director Yann Follain.  

School of Alfa Omega by RAW Architecture

School of Alfa Omega by RAW Architecture

As an alternative, they propose to explore ‘the architect’s vision to respond to the true needs of humanity’ and the need for ‘design to give back to the community and enrich human life as a whole.’ In his opening address, Seah grounded these grand abstractions in the practicalities of regional events, reminding the audience of the previous week’s earthquake-tsunami disaster in Sulawesi, Indonesia, and the responsibilities of built environment professionals to protect life and strengthen social ties.

Conference keynote speaker Borja Ferrater, Founding Partner Architect of globally successful Barcelona-based family studio OAB, exhorted the audience to jettison perceived divisions between “commercial” and “craftsman” architects. He also offered examples from OAB’s substantial international portfolio to illustrate that a global firm, if working conscientiously with local partners, can still design in a contextually sensitive manner to achieve a sense of place. In comparison, the majority of conference speakers represented smaller-scale practices working in an embedded way within Southeast Asia.

Chuồn Chuồn Kim 2 Kindergarten by KIENTRUC O

Chuồn Chuồn Kim 2 Kindergarten by KIENTRUC O

Chuồn Chuồn Kim 2 Kindergarten by KIENTRUC O

Chuồn Chuồn Kim 2 Kindergarten by KIENTRUC O

Confident that ‘architects can help people change their lifestyle,’ Dam Vu of Vietnamese practice KIENTRUC O, shared two preschool projects for which existing residential buildings were remodelled into colourful, light-filled spaces for exploration. Realrich Sjarief of Jakarta-based R A W Architecture showed how his studio’s philosophy — integrating the need to beautify the world, to believe in something greater than oneself, and to practice mindfulness — manifested in built work. R A W’s Alfa Omega School was produced in close collaboration with skilled bamboo craftsmen, and in only four months, while their experimental studio space in Jakarta also encompasses a free school and public library.

In dialogue with Follain, Colin Seah of Singapore-based Ministry of Design called for new hybrid ways of approaching built heritage ‘as a continuous flow’; alternatives to strict conservation or total demolition. Heritage Architect and Professor Gerard Lico shared a detailed journey through the life of Manila’s Metropolitan Theatre, a Philippine Art Deco landmark that has been brought back from disrepair through a sustained and lively campaign of participatory conservation. Teo Yee Chin of Singapore’s Red Bean Architects used several urban case studies to explore how physical and programmatic connections with its surrounding city are what keep a building relevant and ‘alive’.

Panyaden International Sports School by Chiang Mai Life Construction

Panyaden International Sports School by Chiang Mai Life Construction

Catholic Church, Singapore by MKPL Architects

Catholic Church, Singapore by MKPL Architects

Markus Roselieb of design-build firm Chiang Mai Life Construction made an aggressive case for the expansive architectural potential of bamboo and earth, sharing examples of various buildings in Thailand that aim to bring these traditional materials into the 21st century, and calling for R&D investment to further explore their capacities. Doan Thanh Ha of Vietnam’s H&P Architects shared many examples of thoughtful, scaleable projects (many self-initiated) that put architecture squarely in the service of communities, especially in the rural context where the majority of Vietnamese people live and work.

Bringing the conversation back to densely urbanised Singapore, Siew Man Kok of MKPL Architects shared some reflections on what it means to design sustainable communities, given that they will evolve over decades and generations. Given the highly uncertain times in which we live — a point underscored by this week’s UN report on the urgent need to act on climate change — the conference was positive vote for life, and the architect’s role in helping to sustain it.

*The only female to appear on stage during the daylong proceedings was the anonymous young woman who quietly assisted with the ribbon cutting at the opening ceremony.

Text / Sarah Ichioka
Images / Courtesy of Archifest 2018

Archifest Pavilion, Exhibition

Archifest Pavilion, Exhibition

Contemporary Colonial

Set over more than 1000 square metres, The Bangka Project in Jakarta reflects modern design sensibilities with a nod towards Dutch colonial architecture


This sprawling property in South Jakarta is the latest in the portfolio of Han Dharmawan Architects. The colonial-style house is infused with a certain old-world charm, while the interiors, by Juliana Muljawan and her team, showcase contemporary and eclectic design. Lighting designer Paul Gunawan, founder of LITAC, rounded off the interior design with various interesting and complimentary light fixtures.

Images / Mario Wibowo

The Imaginarium of Luis Chan

Iconic Hong Kong artist Luis Chan’s fantastic beasts and how he found them

Untitled (Goldenhaired Girl with Bird and Beasts)  Luis Chan 1964-1971 Acrylic on paper 45 × 59 cm Unique Generously donated by Red Rock Studio

Untitled (Goldenhaired Girl with Bird and Beasts)
Luis Chan
Acrylic on paper
45 × 59 cm
Generously donated by Red Rock Studio

Resembling illustrations from a half-remembered but much-loved book of fairy tales, the paintings that cemented Luis Chan’s place as a legend of Hong Kong contemporary art arose from a technique he developed to harness his subconscious mind. Strange creatures and kaleidoscopic characters blossom from arbitrary smears of ink, floating serenely on paper and blending into each other like mirages — their dreamlike quality a reflection of Chan’s rich inner world.

 Chan’s fascination with the everyday threaded his artistic career, which began in the 1920s and continued until his death in 1995. Born in 1905 in Panama, Chan moved with his family to Hong Kong five years later. He spent the rest of his life in the city, watching it change and devoting his life to making art that reflected those transformations.

 Chan began as a realist painter in the English style, capturing day-to-day scenes around Hong Kong with such verve and skill that he became known as the ‘King of Watercolour’ and was considered one of the ‘Three Masters’ of Hong Kong painting alongside Li Bing and Yu Ben. Collectors of his early works included Sir Andrew Caldecott, then-governor of Hong Kong, but Chan remained modest and unpretentious, focused only on his passion for art. He was known for his all-consuming desire to learn as much as he could about art, subscribing to art magazines and surrounding himself with a community of artists from diverse backgrounds. Not only was he a member of Hong Kong’s prestigious non-Chinese art society, the Hong Kong Art Club — eventually becoming chairman — he also founded the Chinese Contemporary Artists’ Guild in the hopes that Chinese artists would find their place in the contemporary art world.

 It was this open-minded approach to art and thirst for self-improvement that made him unique among his peers during the experimental art period of the 1960s. Despite being in his 50s, Chan was able to make the transition from realist painting to a diverse range of genres including abstract art similar to action painting and Matisse-inspired collages, before honing the magical realism that would become his signature.

 Though the style of his paintings shifted dramatically, Chan continued to take inspiration from daily life. The fish swimming in restaurant aquariums, the birds callings out from their cages shops — everything he observed on his daily walks made appearances in his paintings, transformed into otherworldly creatures. Consider the luminous fairy-tale subjects in Untitled (Golden-haired Girl with Bird and Beasts), with their hazy, surreal qualities. A lovely and rare example of Chan’s early fantastical work, the painting fills the viewer with the kind of childlike anticipation that might accompany a bedtime story. Is the golden-haired girl a captive or an adventurer? Are we at the beginning, the middle or the end of the story? Chan’s genius lay in his ability to inspire a multitude of narratives through a psychedelic language that could be understood by everyone.

 In 1984, Chan was quoted as saying ‘Above all else, art has to stimulate the imagination.’ Although his paintings have their origins as random marks on paper, his dreams emerged to inspire our own.

Text / Maloy Luakian

Heady Huntingtower

Agushi Construction founding director Bear Agushi’s new family home is a testament to his passion for contemporary architecture and design


The result of a collaboration between Agushi and Workroom Director and architect John Bornas, Huntingtower is the most recent of several projects the duo has worked on together. ‘We’ve worked with Agushi on several projects now, so we know each other well when it comes to our design sensibilities,’ Bornas says of their ability to understand, interpret and compliment one another’s work.

Located in the Melbourne suburb of Armadale, the 3-storey box stands dramatically on the street cantilevering over glass rooms and surrounded by sunken gardens. The home’s uncomplicated street-facing exterior belies the lavish experience within.

Agushi is known for creating bespoke high-end homes, while Bornas is a specialist in contemporary design and interiors. As cocreators, they have designed Agushi and his wife’s ‘dream home,’ with facilities that include 4 bedrooms with individual bathrooms, chef’s kitchen, butler’s pantry, and an alfresco area featuring a swimming pool and outdoor kitchen, and gardens by esteemed landscape architect Jack Merlo. Bornas explains that their ‘approach to the house was very considered and transcends fashion. The connection between the building and the inhabitant is grounded through a rigorous exploration of scale, form, space and material. The delicate palette of materials and intricate detailing bestows elegance and luxury.’

Interior stylist Simone Haag’s judicious selection of outstanding furniture and design objects, which Bornas says ‘helped the home reach its full potential,’ completes the many-layered experience. ‘A narrative unfolds of stunning detail and tactile material, raw steel, dark panelled walls, concrete, bronze, timber and stone, elements that invite you to touch and feel,’ says Agushi.

The relationship between scale, space, material and decor is complex and engaging without being overwhelming. Upon entering, visitors are met with a sculptural steel staircase that sets the tone for the rest of the home, where Bornas explains, ‘each element is chosen to compliment or contrast with another and each is designed with the same level of rigour, down to the smallest detail. This gives the house a sense of consistency that adds to the depth of the experience.’

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Derek Swalwell

A Family Affair

For most Thais, family is the foundation of social life, and multi-generational family homes are commonplace in Thai culture. This extended family home features a communal space that reflects community values, but thanks to the ample living areas never feels overcrowded


The founders of Bangkok-based Anonym Studio, Phongphat Ueasangkhomset and Parnduangjai Roojnawate, are behind the architectural and interior design of this contemporary take on communal living.

Situated on the same 500-square-metre lot, the new house stands parallel to the owner’s original home. The two are separated by a swimming pool — an existing feature on the property — overlooked from picture windows and expansive sliding patio doors. The communal area and open view connect the homes and allow the family members to see and interact with each another, while also subtly separating public and private living spaces.

The verdant outdoor space offsets the angular structure of the new addition, designed to reflect the owner’s sleek and minimalist taste. Exposed concrete, glass and black aluminium panels effectively manage the tropical heat, create a natural flow of light and ensure privacy from outside view.

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Chaovarith Poonphol

Alone Together

Humans are social creatures, but we all need somewhere to retreat to — even more so in a metropolis where space is limited


With this is mind, Shihhwa Hung and Phoebe Wen of PhoebeSaysWow Architects Ltd. set out to turn this 33-square-metre micro-apartment in Taipei into a prototype of minimalist, gender-neutral living.

When Hung and Wen imagine the individual who might call this apartment home, they imagine someone who appreciates the spatial quality — the niches that allow the individual to feel alone even when they’re not — and makes use of it for social gatherings, for which it’s surprisingly well-equipped despite its petite proportions.

The double-height space has been divided into three levels. From the entry level, a moveable staircase leads up to the mezzanine bedroom, while a set of bench steps leads down to the multipurpose kitchen and dining area and the bathroom. Aside from serving their obvious purpose, the ladder and stairs play an important function in the home’s social layout: they also act as multilevel seating areas. While not your average entertainment setup, according to the designers, ‘the three-dimensional levels of seating encourage a dynamic conversation within the apartment’.

The designers formulated an effective visual language by employing two contrasting and complementary materials: birch wood and glazed tiles with cherry-pink grout. ‘The idea is to minimise the use of material to create a wider and continuous view,’ they explain.

Birch features most prominently in the floor-to-ceiling shelving unit — set along the entire left side of the apartment — that consists of bookshelves, kitchen cabinets and, on the upper level, wardrobes.

The kitchen, dining and bathroom areas received a similar treatment, although here a delightful hue of cherry pink has been cross-hatched on the surfaces.

Staying true to the narrative of ‘sometimes solitary, sometimes social’, the birch was chosen to imbue a sense of warmth and comfort, while the pink and white tiling is intended to lift the spirits and declutter the mind.

This apartment, at once private and inviting, and playful yet understated, is an exciting indicator of what smart urban living could look like.

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Hey!Cheese

Let the Sunshine In

A traditional home in Richmond, Victoria, is made over to welcome light (and potential new additions to the family)


Hong Kong- and Melbourne-based building and interior design studio HOLA PROJECTS worked closely with their clients to re-imagine a modern home befitting a variety of evolving activities and a growing family, while paying homage to the building’s original structures and Victorian features.

The structure comprises a Victorian terrace and an upper-floor addition with bedrooms, an ensuite and a balcony, while downstairs a suite of living rooms includes the dining room and kitchen and extends into the courtyard. Though each space in the house has its own character, there’s an overarching contrast between rich tonality and the natural light that filters in through various apertures: the existing Victorian windows, sky views and slot windows allow light to stream in from all angles. To draw the elements of the home together, a ribbon of deep-green walls weaves through the home from front to back.

The designers incorporated the client’s collection of contemporary artworks and vintage furniture to add powerful bursts of colour and focus points in the home. In keeping with the ‘furnished’ approach, they favoured free-standing lighting as opposed to ceiling mounted fixtures. Of the latter there is only a small a selection of pendant lights, carefully chosen to add a sense of age and grace to the otherwise modern home, and to give a nod to the building’s original Victorian facade and preserved brick gables.

Metallic mesh, chosen for its transparency, levity, and ability to catch and reflect light, is incorporated throughout, and most prominently in the centrepiece of the home: the structural steel jungle gym staircase that spans the two storeys from floor to ceiling. The structure is as practical as it is striking, functioning as portal, hanger and sideboard. It creates the illusion of extended space by drawing the eye upward and allows filtered light to bounce down into the ground floor level.

By carefully considering the environment and the clients’ needs, HOLA PROJECTS has created a contemporary and characterful family home representative of the studio’s innovative approach to design.

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Daniel Aulsebrook

A Cross Section of Australian Architecture

At the intersection of old and new, abstract and domestic, this Melbourne home received both a restoration and a modern addition


Built on a 515-square-metre plot atop a hill in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond —where iconic terrace homes dot the streets and warehouse conversions are constant reminders of the area’s industrial history — this multi-generational family home gave the B.E Architecture team the opportunity to explore the past and imagine the future.

The completed building is now comprised of two distinct yet complementary elements: the pre-existing period house — one of the earliest examples of a kit home in Australia — that needed restoration, and a modern extension.

‘As with all heritage projects, the biggest challenge was convincing the local planning authorities that high contrast between old and new was an appropriate design response to the site,’ says Jonathon Boucher, a director at B.E. ‘The new extension is a two-storey sculptural form that twists and rotates from a single point to create setbacks and overhangs. These comply with practical planning requirements and track the sun to create shade for the ground level and courtyard space.’

Each component creates its own vernacular and reflects a different architectural language, generating a dialogue (and also a striking contrast) between light and dark. The existing light-grey timber cladding was reused for the facade of the original house, while vertical metal cladding and mirrored glass shape a sculptural black box that forms the new extension.  

‘This project is a complicated one-off design that is totally specific to the site and to the client’s needs and brief,’ explains Boucher. ‘We asked what architectural story might be told when you contrast the existing heritage values of the site with an exaggerated possibility of what the new, clear, precise and abstract form offers.’

Inside the original structure are a private master suite that opens onto the veranda and private garden, a guest bedroom, library, bathrooms and a laundry. A glazed link — symbolic of the transition from the 19th  to the 21st century — leads into the futuristic extension. Several sustainable design features are incorporated throughout the property: the external surfaces have been coated with low-VOC paint and feature double glazing, wall insulation, cross-flow ventilation and in-floor heating. Large underground rainwater tanks have also been installed.

Boucher believes that the extension ‘is a vibrant addition and a full stop on the existing streetscape’.  On the ground floor is an open-plan communal space with the kitchen, living room and dining area, while on the upper level, extensive windows offer views of the skyline. ‘The elevation that overlooks the city is a dynamic expression of modern sculptural form combined with effortless and precise detailing, and this is where the cantilever and twist is most prominent,’ Boucher points out.

Ultimately, this house is, according to the architect, ‘a literal cross section through Australian domestic architectural history, with two worlds colliding — the old and the new’.

Text / Karine Monié
Images / Peter Clarke

The Panorama

Singaporean architect Goy Zhenru transformed this small condo into a sensory sanctuary


When Goy Zhenru and her team were approached by a couple to renovate their 100-square-metre condominium in buzzing central Singapore, they were tasked with scaling up the living and dining areas while maximising natural light and ventilation.

After consulting with the pair, Goy conceptualised a calming and relaxed atmosphere that would be a sanctuary from the city life just outside. Inspired by scenography as the design strategy, the team set out to create a variety of engaging ‘scenes’ that the couple could retreat into.

In the narrow entrance corridor, the floor was reconstructed with a concrete pebble wash to introduce the sensory experience and enhance the transition from public to private space.

By doing away with the existing kitchen walls and the two bedrooms adjacent to the kitchen, the team expanded the living room space to segue into the now-open plan kitchen and newly created library and lounge room. Natural light flows from these areas into the corridor and kitchen, and interaction and communication are freer in the space that had been walled in and boxed off.

In the kitchen the ample countertop doubles as a preparation surface and a dining table, while the library desk can be slotted underneath it to extend the surface area and accommodate more guests.

With the addition of half-glazed sliding doors, what were once the bedroom spaces can still be divided off as a second guest bedroom, and when the doors are open the teak-textured shelves in the library offer an interesting juxtaposition with the soft linen curtains in the facing room.

For the living room, Goy selected a Lincak bamboo daybed by Santai, the design of which is inspired by the amben, a Javanese bamboo platform used for all manner of daily activities like crafting and trade. With flexible bamboo slats, it offers a ‘bounce’ that adds another layer to the sensory experience of the home. The bamboo and wooden pieces in the living room also create a visual passage between the indoor space and the undercover terrace overlooking the city below. A handwoven banana fibre carpet demarcates the lounging space from the kitchen and adds to the textural variations of the flooring.

In the master bedroom, fixed black woven rattan slats with timber frames have been fixed against a tea-coloured mirror wall. The effect of screening off the room from its own reflection at once creates a subtle illusion of space and adds a handmade sensory layer to the room.

By incorporating a variety of interesting textures and curating spatial consumption, Goy re-created the home as an immersive sensory experience that encourages the couple to slow down and feel at home in their sanctuary.

Text / Simone Schultz
Images / Marc Tan

Q&A with Kenya Hara

On a recent trip to Tokyo, Design Anthology sat down for an insightful conversation with venerable design theorist, author and art director of Japanese lifestyle brand MUJI, Kenya Hara


Exformation — unlearning or unknowing — is the subject of your book. What can we gain from this?

As a graphic designer, I am always creating information. These days there is too much information floating around in the media, but a lot of information is not enough. But these days, people always say “I know, I know," and I don't know why people always say that, because how much do you really know about something? They don't get enough information to really know something, but they always say "I know." We should be worried, we’re being consumed by saying "I know.” We should make people aware how little they really know about a subject. How do you really know about things? If I can make people aware of how little they know about something, they might wake up with more of an interest in something, and I am aware of that. We don’t have to only inform, we can highlight how little is known. We can make things unknown. Making things unknown is a fantastic way to communicate, and it’s a fantastic way to create interest about things. How you create exformation is a lesson in making things uknown. If we can see something as if we were seeing it for the first time, suddenly it becomes new and fresh. That is a type of exformation, and I created this concept with my students at Musashino Art University. I graduated from Musashino, from the Department of Science and Design and then 15 years ago I was asked to teach there. From 2003-2015 we researched the concept of exformation with the graduate-level students. The brain of the student is very soft and flexible, and students always surprised me with their ideas. Every year, together with the students, we would decide on one thing that we would exform. The themes could have been nakedness, or pear, or Tokyo, or air, they were always very different but every year we tried to make a new approach to a subject. I think the experience was fantastic. Then Lars Müller, a Swiss publisher who is a friend of mine, was interested in this project, and he asked me to publish our research in a small book, which I titled Ex-formation. I think that this is a kind of hidden message in my communication design: making people aware of how little we know. This ‘awakening’ plays a very important role in designing.

You speak a lot in the book about people saying “I know, I know,” and collecting facts but not really understanding the subject. How do you feel about technology — is it making the situation worse? Are we just collecting more facts; have we stopped thinking?

Yes, I think so. Too much information stops us from thinking. It’s terrible. AI is terrible I think, although of course AI has great possibilities. I curated a special exhibition at Salone del Mobile with Andrea Brandi in Milan in 2016, ‘Neo-Prehistory: 100 Verbs.’ It was a huge exhibition, and in it we charted a kind of history. History is connected with many aspects such as politics, religion, technology, but I tried to plot history by showing the history of human desire by showing artefacts created by man. Starting at the Stone Age, I combined the artefacts and certain verbs, it became a kind of metaphor for human desire… destroy… kill. And when man created a new tool, a new desire was created, new desire created new artefacts, and new artefacts created a new desire. An artefact of desire combines it all together. And so the Stone Age progressed to the Bronze age, and then the Iron Age — there was progress. The exhibition was a great collaboration between Italy and Japan. We selected important artefacts and verbs, 100 artefacts and 100 verbs. The exhibition revealed a new aspect of human desire, in fact a new situation: we are in the new Stone Age. The Age of Hunt. The hunt creates something, and this period proves that art can change humans. Historically, man created tools and the tools changed the world, but in this new age, tools created by man will change man. We, the humans, will be changed by artificial intelligence. I don't know if it’s right or wrong, but we will change. A new era is coming.

We don’t have to only inform, we can highlight how little is known. We can make things unknown. Making things unknown is a fantastic way to communicate, and it’s a fantastic way to create interest about things.

Do you think globalisation and immigration are changing our intelligence? Are we losing our cultural intelligence by becomingly increasingly homogenous?

I sometimes use the concept of ‘glocal’ — global and local are not opposite concepts, I think. Today is a new age, I call it the ‘new Nomadic Age’. People like you and I are always moving, moving is a new daily thing, it’s not special or unusual anymore. The people who have great influence are always moving. They only stay in one place for a few weeks, and they’re always moving. When they move so much, they can understand the value of locality more and more, and culture is only dependent on locality — there's no global culture. Culture is dependent on locality, so we polish the locality and it contributes to the richness of the global. Global is a context that locality contributes to, and the more the locality is polished and flourishing, the more value it contributes, and so the broader context becomes richer. l think, the age that we live in, in fantastic houses, collecting many fantastic goods, this  rules us. If I want to have good spaghetti, I should go to Milan, but then when I am satisfied with the pasta in Milan, that is when I realise how fantastic Japanese food is. It’s is an important situation, and in this situation, locality should have mean meaning. I think China has created a new situation for the world, there are many possibilities for China, and it’s in a very good position, but it’s not always good. The centre of the world is moving to Asia — to China — I think.


I'm always talking to the G-Mark people, and of course it’s good to focus on the product design, but a new situation is coming and we should change our concept of, and what we recognise as, good design. The very special words ‘Made in China’ used to be the symbol of fake or poor quality, but now China is striving to transform ‘Made in China' into a symbol of high quality and progress, at least by 2025. I agree with them, it could and should be. Huge numbers of students are going abroad, and they’re learning a lot about today’s world, they get good academic results and work for top companies for three or four years and then go back to China. Students will create new opportunities, new jobs, new services, and join new industries with the help of IT. In China people always use electronic money, they don't use paper money these days, so if you think about the population of China, you can imagine the situation, and how much time it will take them to progress. So that is a very important thing for Japanese people to think about, but the Japanese archipelago is a great very unique landscape, most of the archipelago is mountainous surrounded by the sea, and sea is very delicate and changing. There are hot springs everywhere, and we have very special traditional culture that has existed for more than a thousand years, so we as a country don’t have a very simple situation.

The Chinese have a four-thousand-year history, but the country is divided into smaller regions, and there’s a vast history of conquests and defeats. But Japan is only one country, and its accumulation of culture is expansive, so if we combine technology, aesthetics and historical heritage into a new situation, not only to produce a product but also to create a bind, Japanese people can see a new vision of Japan, besides just China. Speaking about the G-Mark a little more Kazafumi Nagai, the Chairman of the Good Design Awards, created the new concept of a focus issue and the aim of creating this focus issue is to move from productive design to value-making design in a social situation; it is very important. I’m very interested in the areas where new technology, historical heritage and aesthetics combine.

The role of design is to visualise the hidden possibilities of industry.

I noticed on your website that you post some of the topics that you’re thinking about, whether it's travel, or other topics, I thought it was an interesting idea to show people what you are thinking about, and I wondered what is it that you are thinking about now? Is there something on your mind that is important to you?

I'm very interested in new tourism trends. In the next year I will be taking a break from University to explore Japan. On my website I like to share fantastic places or things from around the Japanese archipelago. By using my own words and photos, I can share my small, personal view on the world. This small and personal view is very important.

I am also the general producer of Japan House, run by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which  showcases Japanese culture to people around the world. There is a Japan House in London, São Paulo, and Los Angeles. As I said, Japanese culture is difficult to explain. Most of the time, Japanese people use certain methods to communicate their culture instantly, like Ikebana, wearing a kimono, origami, sushi, and so on. Of course, this is a very brief understanding of Japan, it’s exoticism. But if people can touch the essence, they’ll understand better. Even Japanese people don't know the essence of their culture. When I learned Japanese Ikebana, I was deeply moved. I think in that aspect, most of people have never thought about Japan, only a small group of people know about Japan and have some interest, most people, even us, never think about Japan, but by using the facilities and different experiences in Japan House, I awaken the people to how little they know about Japan. In these spaces, there are also shops selling Japanese items that I selected with a special buyer. We have a 250-square-meter gallery and we select three exhibitions from Japan, and these exhibitions move to São Paulo, Los Angeles, and London. They last two months, and then another two exhibitions are created in each place independently, and the exhibition, as well as individuals from supporting organisations, come from Japan, and in this facility they have a dedicated spaces to host shows and talks, as well as a fine-dining Japanese restaurant. Not just Kaiseki or Sushi, also Teishoku.  Locals in London can have lunch in this restaurant, and the quality very good. In London, there was no Japanese food on Kensington’s High Street. This area is very interesting, there’s a great design culture, and the Design Museum, so we opened our space there in May. The architect of this project was Masamichi Katayama of Wonderwall. In São Paulo, the architect was Kengo Kuma, and in Los Angeles the architect was Kohei Nawa.

The Shop at Japan House London - 2- Image by Lee Mawdsley.jpg

These hubs are very significant, I think, to share information about Japan and Japanese culture. This is the age of the nomad, more and more people are moving around the world, more and more people are coming to Japan, and this is a special time to create a new industry in Japan. Not only to share information, but to consider the more overlooked places in Japan. Kyoto, Nara, Tokyo, those first-tier cities are places of the past now, the second and third tier places are more important, I think. The Kumano Kodō is an old, very special place, the people who visit there have great knowledge about it, even more than the Japanese people who live there now. We have a vast heritage, and we should take better care of it. We should create new systems to cater for more people, of course we need more hotels, more restaurants, but the image of tourism in Japan is cheap, I think. We should ask 'Why?’ Why is Bourdeaux so expensive? In Japan there is a special industry to deal with the language of tourists, but there is no industry to deal with the dynamics of this situation. Most of the Japanese sake is seen as lower value when compared with the quality of Bourdeaux wine. Value is subjective and always changing; it’s not decided, and there is no measurement of these things.

I'm very interested in this, and that is why I created my small website to share and highlight these special aspects of Japan. I'm not a Nationalist, but when I became the art director of MUJI, I made a point to look for Japanese Culture. I avoided using Japanese icons in my design, I don't use Japanese symbols, I cut out everything. My designs are always very minimal, but in that situation, some essence that is inside of myself is a continuation of the Japanese essence. But I like Italian design, I like Chinese design, and their heritage also, and I learned about American technology and the American mindset, but to think about the global situation, actually we should focus on the local situation. As I said, the global and the local is a sense.

What role does design play in society? Do you think the purpose of design has changed in recent history?

The role of design is to visualise the hidden possibilities of industry, and in that context it’s always getting better. The role of the designer is to find a way to identify an organisation or company, or some fantastic shape and forms for functional products or architectural projects. That is the very important role of design, as is branding and product designing, but the world is changing. In this situation, the role of the designer is to visualise the essence of things. As I said, Japanese industry faces a new situation, and in this sitatution creating a fantastic product is of course very important, but it’s not only about creating fantastic products or shapes, but also to visualise more and more possibilities, the hidden possibilities, of the industry. As you know, I created an exhibition called ‘House Vision’ and it’s a very special exhibition. Most people recognise it as an exhibition of new house, so most of the people who visit are very interested in architecture. Of course I am too, but the house is a very important crossing point of many industries like electric, mobile, information and circulation, and to take care of the elder generation. The house is very important. I'm very interested in the important position of industry. I think the house is an important corner stone, because a human cannot diminish its physical body, a human is only a body, the human senses are very important to industry. Japanese people take off their shoes when they enter their houses, the human body in that sense is a very good touch point already. You can learn a lot from that, and to create energy, and to keep energy in the house is very important. How about mobility? Personal mobility, auto-mobility, it all has a deep relationship with houses too, and if we can influence personal spaces the house becomes very important. If we imagine a new house, we can visualise the new situation of industry clearly.

As a designer, people sometimes tell me ‘you are not a designer, you are a producer.’ No, I don’t think so. That is designing.

Today, every possibility has already been imagined and that when a living company and the design combine together, and create one house. It is very influential, I think. I selected a building company and an architect and combined them together, to create the exhibition house. I am only the producer of this exhibition, so I borrowed a very huge space in Odaiba, the same scale as a baseball stadium,  and selected 12 companies to create 12 exhibit houses. I was very excited. The first exhibition was in 2013, the second was in 2016, and the next will be in Beijing this year. I think House Vision can visualise new, hidden possibilities of the industry. This kind of activity is a very important role of the designer, but in today's context it’s very difficult to understand but I'm really interested in that situation. Also, one reason why I’m taking this exhibition to China, the company that is joining this project is a very young company, the age of real estate in China is just concluding, and the new companies that are working in the AI or mobile industry, some co-working offices, many companies in China will join this project. It’s not only the possibilities, but also China is creating many social programmes, the possibility and the programme are from resources of new innovations. Next year, China will be the host. That situation is good for House Vision, I think.

As a designer, people sometimes tell me "you are not a designer, you are a producer." No, I don't think so. That is designing.

As told to / Suzy Annetta
Image / P: Akihito Ito
©️ Hara Design Institute. Nippon Design Center, Inc.