Surfing the internet recently in search of new ideas, Nicely Made in China (NMiC) came upon a beautifully elegant tea set. We managed to track down the designers, and were delighted to discover they produce a whole host of other desirable well-designed items.
This week Nicely Made in China is happy to introduce Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu, architects and designers. Lyndon was born in the Philippines and educated in the US – a Harvard graduate. Rossana comes from Taiwan and is a Princeton graduate. The couple who now works for prestigious design companies like bd barcelona, moooi, meritalia and swarovski give NMiC readers an insight into what China has in store in the coming years with regard to design and architecture.
You have both lived and been educated in the US. Why did you decide to come back to China?
LN: I was posted to Shanghai for Michael Graves & Associates as Asia director for the « 3 on the Bund » project among others. After one year we both felt that Shanghai seemed a good place for experimentation – everything was changing so fast, it was history on the move! Instead of criticizing China we thought we could be doing something positive like taking part in the creation of its contemporary design language.
RH: Since we belonged to the Chinese diaspora, it was important for us to come to a place that was culturally Chinese. We judged Shanghai was the right place to start our brand.
In a 2006 interview you said that « it wasn’t easy to convince people in China of the need for quality ». Has this changed? Also, have you found the expertise you were looking for among Chinese graduates?
RH: We have seen a clear progression regarding the « need for quality ». Clients are now looking for real essence in design rather than just for show. It changed very quickly.
It’s true that when we started we did not find the expertise we wanted. But that was because we are very conceptual. Since then we have nurtured 5 or 6 people who after a few years with us have moved on to set up their own practice and we’re very proud of them.
The Design Republic on the Bund is one part of your multi-disciplinary practice. What type of public do you hope to reach with this outlet?
LN: The Design Republic is a platform for international design where we display and sell work by important overseas designers as well as our own creations. Our intention in opening such a place was not just to cater for those who could afford to buy, but also to educate the public. Children come on school trips to browse in the store, and although they don’t buy anything, I hope they are inspired by their visit.
Can you tell us about the materials and techniques you like to use in your products?
RH: Generally speaking we like to use natural products like clay and wood. Our Zisha tea set, for instance, is made of purple clay that is typical of Yixing in Jiangsu. All our tea sets are handmade in that region. We like using bamboo for weaving, as in the Emperor lamp we designed for Mooi. We are also working on more modern and contemporary ways to use cloisonné. And we are looking for someone to work with in lacquer, another traditional technique we are interested in.
LN: What we hope is that people will fall in love with our products after touching and feeling their textures.
How can Chinese designers position themselves on the world stage?
LN: Chinese designers cannot be complacent. The world is looking at China now but the hype will stop at some stage and we will be judged for who we are and for what we do. That’s why I think architects like Herzog & De Meuron and Rem Koolhaas are good for China. They stop us becoming parochial. We need to be as good as any other country – Japan, France etc…- and still be humble about it.
In your opinion what could / will Chinese designers bring to global modernity in the 21st century that Western designers are not bringing?
RH: More boldness that comes with less tradition in design and an experimental spirit.
There is still an expectation outside of China that Chinese products should be cheap. How do you react to that?
LN: This is changing too, albeit slowly. As architects, we frequently compete against other international practices and are sometimes more expensive than they are, depending on the project. We are proud of our work and believe in charging a fair price for it.
RH: Also people must realize that the cost of living in Shanghai is now higher than in the US.
Store: The Design Republic, 5 on the Bund, Shanghai.