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Neri & Hu: Storytelling Asia

Jan 22, 2016

Design and architecture agency Neri & Hu were recently appointed art directors of design brand Stellar Works. The first steps of the collaboration will be revealed at Maison & Objet Paris in January 2016.

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Text by Lise Coirier

Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu from design agency Neri & Hu are devoted to their multi-faceted projects ranging from interiors to designing products and architecture for public and private use. TLmag interviewed the architects, designers and entrepreneurs based between Shanghai and London in-between their travels in time and space.

TLmag: You were recently appointed as art directors of the Shanghai-based design company Stellar Works. How will you position this brand’s DNA in Europe? Will the presence of the factories in Shanghai and in Laval, France, support its creative development between both continents and worldwide?

Neri & Hu: We will reveal most of it in Maison & Objet Paris in January 2016. The manufacturing aspect of the brand is of course central to the DNA, but the brand has other aspects that we want to explore.

Will you introduce new collections and make a ‘special’ statement at Maison & Objet Paris in January?

N&H: The collection will be a continuation of what we have already been doing with them. The brand identity will be stronger and clearer.

Your wooden cabinet of curiosities and the seven objects that go inside – one to represent each of the seven deadly sins – was shown at Gallery Rossana Orlandi in Milan in April 2015. The cabinet is intimate and discrete and it reveals multiple stories. Would you say that the cabinet serves as a metaphor to enter into the world of Stellar Works and bridges the narrative and cultural heritage of your Asian roots? Is it a first step to entering your world?

N&H: You could interpret it that way. It could also be seen as a process to draw the audience of design into an object closer to themselves and allow them to engage with a brand following a path that is not often offered.  It’s an effort to inject fresh content into design objects, and the narrative and storytelling become personalized within each person’s ‘confession’. There are multiple readings into this project, and that’s why it’s so fascinating.

You have the great ambition to promote the European design brands, particularly in China, thanks to your research and design practice and Design Republic, and you have headquarters in both Shanghai and London. You also manufacture your collections through De la Espada – what has been the impact of it both in Europe and in Asia? What about Paris in the future, the so-called ‘Capitale de la Création’?

N&H: The collaboration with De la Espada started a few years ago, and we were drawn to them by the refined craft. At that time we had a small collection of products, which were not well made. Working with them allowed us to improve these designs and to access to the international market. We were very pleased to have this opportunity. Since then, the collection has been introduced to many cities and has continuously been promoted very well in different parts of the world.  We always welcomed exchange and dialogue, and this effort to bring our designs to the world is one way of doing it. Paris is a great place to be and it would be very easy to work on a project there from our London office.

As Designers of the Year in 2015 at Maison & Objet Singapore as well as on imm Cologne with Das Haus, what is your personal feel towards this dialogue that happens more and more between Asia and Europe? How will China, but also Taiwan, Korea, Indonesia and Japan influence Europe in the near future?

N&H: It will be like blending two ingredients together and stirring more and more, and the mixture will be something completely different from before. Asia will definitely start to influence the world in terms of design in ways that the world has never experienced, but this process will be slow.  The world will be confronted with the Eastern philosophy and culture through the designs, and as seen in the past masters, how their works have been made different by Asian sensibilities, we will see that in designs of the West.

You’ve been involved in many multidisciplinary projects. What is your approach to scale? On your website, you speak about your practice but also your objects. Is the modern Chinese aesthetic and craftsmanship more and more enhanced within your practice? Is it going to be the direction you want to take with Stellar Works and with your own so-called Objects by integrating not only the Chinese meaning but also the Asian identities as local and global at the same time?

N&H: We certainly are interested in finding a new Chinese abstraction in our approach to design. We are not so much interested in style, but in architecture we tend to explore the essence of Chinese spaces like courtyard and lane houses in order to understand how they could apply to our work. The blurring of boundaries is one overall issue we like to tackle. In architecture, one of those is the boundary between exterior and interior. This allows a new way of looking at conventions, and that’s what we like to do – to push the boundary and see where we can get to.

That being said, we find ourselves more and more shying away from talking about it too explicitly. We now think that the culture of who we are as people will come out naturally in who we are as designers. We don’t need to shout to people and point at our black hair and say, look, we are Asian! We just walk out and people can see that. Our work should just stand for what it is and who we are, in a quiet and natural way. Cultural boundaries are being blurred also everyday, so Chinese isn’t so Chinese anymore, and French isn’t so French either.

You founded Neri & Hu in 2004. What would you say are for you the most meaningful architectural and interior design projects you have been working on in this past decade and in the upcoming years?

N&H: To name some of them: Waterhouse, Design Republic – Design Commune, Rethinking the Split House, and Cluny House.

Following you on Instagram, I’ve the feeling that you are in love with Scandinavian design. I remember seeing recently your Arne Jacobsen series 7 Syver Chair’s reinterpretation for Fritz Hansen. What is your relationship to the Nordic creative scene?

N&H: We have a project working for a client from Denmark, although the project locates in London. We work with many Danish brands, and we do love the sensibilities of Scandinavian.

Many of your projects concern retail environments such as restaurants and boutiques, and they are not only for already renowned brands. Does the just-delivered interior design for Comme Moi, the new fashion brand founded by the supermodel Lu Yan, have more meaning for you than collaborating with large hospitality groups such as Le Méridien or Swire Group from Hong Kong?

N&H: Every project is different, and with each specific one we explore different things, so it’s hard to segment them into ‘large brands’ and the others. However, we do find freshness and new energy when it’s a young brand that’s in the making, because there are fewer rules and we are allowed more freedom. •

Maison & Objet Paris at Paris Nord Villepinte in Paris, France, on 22–26 January 2016.

Main image
Rossana Hu and Lyndon Neri.

The interview was originally published in TLmag 24, From East Asia to Northern Europe in December 2015. 

A Cabinet of Curiosity for Stellar Works, 2015
A Cabinet of Curiosity for Stellar Works, 2015
'Extrude' stool for De La Espada.
'Extrude' stool for De La Espada.
'Together' chairs for Fritz Hansen.
'Together' chairs for Fritz Hansen.
Comme Moi flagship store. Shanghai, China. Photo Dirk Weiblen.
Comme Moi flagship store. Shanghai, China. Photo Dirk Weiblen.
Comme Moi flagship store. Shanghai, China. Photo Dirk Weiblen.
Comme Moi flagship store. Shanghai, China. Photo Dirk Weiblen.
'Solo' dining chairs for De La Espada.
'Solo' dining chairs for De La Espada.
The Waterhouse, South Bund. Photo Pedro Pegenaute.
The Waterhouse, South Bund. Photo Pedro Pegenaute.
The Waterhouse, South Bund. Photo Pedro Pegenaute.
The Waterhouse, South Bund. Photo Pedro Pegenaute.
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