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18 February 2022
The couple of designers believe in the cultural power of design, as an instrument of reflection and poetic enchantment
Going beyond the function to promote a poetics of the daily gesture, transforming it and taking it beyond its utilitarian root. This is the mission chosen by Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu, a couple in life and work, and founders of the architectural and design studio that bears their names. Their projects start from function and then explode into an enchantment of formal and material details. Elegance is the recurring theme that is expressed by subtraction, giving life to a delicate but realistic style. It is found in the Twelve collection for Molteni&C as well as in the Yanzi lights for Artemide and Bai Ba Ba for Parachilna in which the shape of chinese lanterns echoes. In the furnishings of the Ren series for Poltrona Frau, which with the dressing table, the bookcase and the mirror complete the environment as well as in the tea set The Society Collection for Paola C. Sometimes introducing new configuration and use, as in the case of the Lan collection for Gan: a set of elements to freely create corners for sharing and relaxation.
Why did you choose to work together and what is it like to design as a couple?
We have different ways of looking at things and different architectural talents. We complement each other quite well, whether we’re tackling management issues at the office, pursuing a project or working on a design. We’re both very conceptual but not in the same way. Lyndon is formalistic and visual, whereas Rossana is theoretical and historical. At the beginning of a design concept, we brainstorm together. Rossana uses words – she likes to write things down and research ideas – whereas Lyndon, even at the very beginning, is always drawing. The elements are formed by her talking and him drawing – we act like one person.
What are the values that you carry on through your work?
A quote by Saint- Exupéry expresses both our design and life philosophy well: We don’t ask to be eternal beings, but we ask that things do not lose all their meaning. We believe in architecture and design as a powerful cultural force. The functional aspects are less interesting for us, although as professional that’s the prerequisite – your design must work on a very realistic level. We believe in the subtext over the obvious and the poetic over the utilitarian.
You are present in so many homes around the world through your furniture, lights and accessories, but what kind of style did you chose for your own home?
Home is related to everyday life. It also relates to our work because we feel that we are designing objects and spaces for daily life. Actually, our own home is very simple. Just a collection of some of our favorite things and it’s a renovated old lane house in Shanghai.
What was the first project of your studio and how do you feel about it now, after all your successful projects?
The first architecture project of our studio is The Waterhouse at South Bund. This project was very important for us that the design of the hotel takes cue from the city of Shanghai, but not in a touristic way. We had read Svetlana Boym’s writing on “reflective nostalgia.” We decided that, instead of restoring the barracks brick by brick, we should try to understand the essence or spirit of the building. We wanted the guest of the hotel to experience an abstracted, or interpreted, version of Shanghai, so we embedded in the design many features of the city in an unexpected and sometimes uncanny way. There is a strong spatial experience inspired by the traditional nong-tang (lanes) of Shanghai, where there is a blurring of interior/exterior spaces, private/publics spaces, where one can see from one’s guestroom windows directly into the hotel lobby or the restaurant. Also spread across different surfaces of the hotel are graphic installations of quotes regarding travelling from past Shanghainese literati and local phrases about food, clothing, and everyday practices well known to locals but not quite understandable to non-locals. The architectural form and material of the new rooftop addition echoes that of ships passing by the Huangpu River in front of the hotel.
Talking about architecture: do you think that we are going through a real change in the way we live and design our homes?
We believe there will be greater flexibility in the perception of domestic spaces and functions. In recent decades we saw an ‘Americanization’ of spaces, a hyper-specialization of functions where every corner of the home corresponded to precise, individual possibilities of use. Today the domestic dimension is expanding, becoming widespread. Just consider, for example, a table which is a surface that from time to time is transformed to become a ‘school,’ because the kids use it like a desk for remote learning, and then it is a dining table, a restaurant, maybe even a sort of theater. For us this is nothing new: in China, in the historical cities, we have always had multigenerational homes, where grandparents, parents and children coexist, learning how to move around in shared space. We are accustomed to sharing of spaces and the necessary respect for others – we understand the proxemics of closeness.
Is there a new project that you would like to share with us?
We would like to share our recent project in Shenzhen – Nantou City Guesthouse. Situated at the heart of Shenzhen, this project is inspired by the vibrant milieu of the alleyways in Nantou City, which has evolved from a well-heeled ancient capital to the overcrowded inner city. Seeking to reflect on the cultural heritage of the mundane and the everyday, the project has sought to unearth the possibilities of the past that could invigorate our contemporary culture. Scenes of the everyday—people, objects and their settings—are the primary source material for design. By absorbing the urbanity into the building, Nantou City Guesthouse in turn makes its private history legible and becomes fully ingrained in the ebb and flow of the city.
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