CHINESE architect Bu Bing commissioned 14 peers to help him design furniture for Gallery, a cafe and bar he opened last September. Half a year later, these architects completed their task, producing an array of chic tables, chairs, stools and food trays, all of which went on exhibit at the bar last Sunday.
“Just like doing an urban design, Bu divided the space in his bar on a piece of paper. Each architect, including himself, was assigned a ‘plot’ to place his or her own furniture,” says Dr Dai Chun, curator of the ongoing exhibition, entitled “One on One.”
“It’s a challenge to house furniture of different styles designed by different architects in one space. The bar is more like a lab to display a variety of interesting designs,” explains Dai.
The architects were offered a chance to cooperate with Chinese furniture maker Ziinlife, whose craftsmen could turn their designs into finished products. Some architects with their own workshops though chose to make their pieces on their own.
During a seminar that kicked off the exhibition, most of the architects reflected that they found it more difficult to design a small chair than a large house. Many also noted that their experience in architecture informed their furniture design decisions.
Liu Xiaodu, a founding partner of the influential Beijing-based firm URBANUS, says he deliberately left a rough surface on his Urban Neon Chair out of deference to the fine craftsmanship that often typifies furniture design.
“At first I didn’t design a supporting base for my food tray since many architects prefer a ‘less is more’ approach. But an old craftsman at Ziinlife suggested adding a base at the bottom and the final effect is tremendous,” the Shanghai-based architect recalls.
According to Tongji University professor Lu Yongyi, many of the world’s great architects have tried their hand at producing furniture at some point, a trend which coincided with the development of modern design.
“Starting in the 19th century, modern furniture for daily use emerged with an emphasis on functionality and comfort, rather than reflecting the traditions of the nobility ... Chairs are now designed and modified for the sake of forming a most comfortable relationship with the human body,” Lu says.
Architect Yuan Feng explored the possibility of custom-made chairs with his Edge Chair. Yuan used his own body as a model for the piece, which was then built by robots in his studio.
Well-known buildings designed by Bu, Liu, Yuan and the other participating architects can be found across the country, yet Gallery is the only place where works from these masters can be seen together.
Here are some of the works now on display.
“One on One”
Venue: Gallery, 649 Liyang Rd (200 meters west to 1933 Old Millfun)
Date: Through May 12, 10am-10pm
Book back seat
Designers: Zhang Ming and Zhang Zi
This piece can be turned into a lattice structure with interweaving panels, allowing for sitting, laying down and storage.
“Out of the 15 furniture pieces, ours is the largest in size,” says Zhang Ming, a professor and vice director of the architecture and urban planning faculty at Tongji University.
“The design originated from an idea when we designed furniture for our loft office. We wanted to create a modern version of the traditional Chinese armchair.”
Designer: Wang Yan
As the name indicates, the four chairs in this set appear quite simple at first glance, yet upon close inspection one can notice that the legs of each chair rotate 90 degrees at every corner.
“The inspiration came from one of my architectural works, the Huaxin Reception Center,” says Wang Yan, partner & principle architect of GOA Atelier. “The chair legs have nuanced features that set them apart from one another.”
Tangtang food tray
Designer: Yu Ting
This wooden food tray shows an elegant lifestyle of Shanghainese.
“I’ve divided the tray into smaller compartments of different shapes to store tea, dried fruits, and pastries for afternoon tea,” says Shanghai architect and gourmet Yu Ting, who used his daughter’s nickname, Tang Tang, as the title for the tray.
“As an architect, I didn’t like curves very much. But after the birth of my daughter, my heart softened and I prefer to use more curves in design ... Some also see the four compartments resembling mathematical symbols for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing,” says Yu.
Designer: Li Xinggang
This table-and-chair set with pieces of various heights and sizes is inspired by a group of small houses in Inner Mongolia’s Xilingol Prairie, says designer Li Xinggang, chief architect with China Architecture Design Institute.
The chairs could be placed together in tight or loose arrangements. An attaching lamp creates a comfortable atmosphere for reading.
“This set suits a wide range of people. There is a high-back seat fit for a queen, a cozy seat for two, and a small seat maybe for a child,” says Li.
Urban Neon series
Designer: Liu Xiaodu
The series consists of a tea table and chairs with various back styles. It was made using sheets of generic plywood, metal bars and bolts. The different materials create a sense of tension that fits both with Bu’s pub as well as Shanghai itself.
“Shanghai has two faces in my eyes. One is represented by those magnificent buildings along the Bund. The other is expressed by ordinary Shanghainese, who can tell of its industrial history as well as matters from their own personal lives. I’ve tried to mingle the two faces in the design,” says architect Liu Xiaodu.
Y table & V chair
Designer: Zhu Xiaofeng
The Y table features three “half tables” which are unable to stand upright on their own. The V chair has a split seat and back. There are only three legs on this chair, which thus requires help from human legs to remain balanced.
“No matter if we design a house or a chair, we all need to transmit strength to the ground. I’d like to use this set to explore the relationship between various structures and materials and the human body,” says architect Zhu Xiaofeng, design principal at Scenic Architecture Office.