At the International Design Furniture Fair in Hong Kong late last year, Perspective sat down with Lyndon Neri, co-founder of renowned Shanghai-based practice Neri & Hu. Together with his partner Rosanna Hu, the firm designs architecture, interiors, products and more, all with considerable thought and precision
Your firm refers to itself as a 'Design and Research Office'. Tell us a little bit about why you felt it was important to use the word 'Research' when naming the company…
I think that designers and architects often get so caught up with designing, so fast and so intuitively, that it's almost borderline acceptable for us to not spend a lot of time thinking.
I need to have some time to think about what I'm drawing because… you could be extremely facile and be very good at what you do and what you draw, to a point where it could be quite beautiful, it could be seductive; it could be very convincing — even to clients — and things could get built and you would look back in history and would be like, "What did I do?!"
We have a responsibility in everything we design. When there is meaning in the things you do, naturally, your work becomes not just more interesting, but you can truly give something back to society.
Research is important because it tells us certain things that help us rethink the whole process of design.
So, then, that leads into the question of how would you define the concept of 'good design'?
Well, that leads me to say when I look at a project, I don't necessarily say, "Oh. That's ugly." I am aware that aesthetics are very subjective. What was ugly 20 years ago is cool now.
So, as designers, who are we to say, "This is ugly!" or "This is unacceptable"? I ask, "What's your initial concept, what's your idea behind this — some people are more successful in executing their ideas, and I judge 'good design' on, first, whether or not the idea is appropriate to begin with — within the parameters they are working with — and, second, whether that concept was executed all the way.
In that case, when was the last time you saw a building or a product that encompassed that concept? Does that happen often?
Often. Yes, and I get really upset and I feel like quitting architecture. I think, 'I should be the one doing this!' I do — all the time I get really depressed! (laughs)
But I recently had the opportunity to visit a lot of Le Corbusier's buildings — and as much as people talk about it, and as much as architects we don't want to talk about it any more because it's so overused — yet when I went to the space I thought, 'I now understand why people really talk about this now.' It is really moving.
You know, people like Louis Kahn or Pritzker Prizewinner Peter Zumthor, who's in his 70s right now and lives in the Swiss Alps and just does really small projects, (their) concepts are so rigorous and so strong… You can't help but admire projects like that.
This is an excerpt from the “In His Own Words" article from the January/February 2016 issue of Perspective magazine.
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