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The Cave Workshop breathes new life into discarded materials

by Michelle Koh Morollo on Feb 1, 2016 in Products
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The goal of 'Wave of Growth' was to transform something that seemed like a public annoyance into something for leisure. Photo © Eqqus Lee

The goal of 'Wave of Growth' was to transform something that seemed like a public annoyance into something for leisure. Photo © Eqqus Lee

Prowling the streets at night to salvage unwanted wood, the Hong Kong designers from The Cave Workshop are hungry for social change

With its incessant demolition and construction projects, Hong Kong is a city ripe for upcycling opportunities, and The Cave Workshop — a nine-man Hong Kong design and carpentry collaborative, has made it their mission to breathe new life into reusable materials such as discarded wood.

Graphic designers Eqqus Lee, Philip Chen and Diz Law; designers Angus Ting, Anson Chau and Calvin Cheng; fashion designers Emthy Chan and Even Chim; and visual designer Brandon Chan met in design school. They banded together in 2010 and established The Cave Workshop in Kwun Tong as a place to nurture their creative ideas.

"To own a studio is a dream for every design student, so we got together after graduation to make it happen. Hong Kong is a business-oriented metropolis, but it lacks fun and whimsy. We wanted to create art and design that would break the monotony of urban life," explains Lee.

Existence of Void is a wooden gazebo placed strategically on the podium of the Tung Chung Municipal Services Building, aiming to increase the value and usability of the empty space. Photo © Eqqus Lee

‘Existence of Void’ is a wooden gazebo placed strategically on the podium of the Tung Chung Municipal Services Building, aiming to increase the value and usability of the empty space. Photo © Eqqus Lee

"When we started, we were just young, fresh graduates. We spent all our money on the rent for our studio, so we had no spare cash for interior decoration, or even to buy a single desk and chair. But our studio is located near an industrial neighbourhood, so we took to the streets at night and started to look for what we needed. This process seemed similar to how cavemen might have hunted during the prehistoric period. Thus, we named ourselves 'Cavemen' and our studio 'The Cave'."

According to Chen, recycling deals primarily with reducing our use of raw materials, while upcycling is about creative adaptation, and the process of transforming waste material into something functionally and even aesthetically pleasing. Due to the low value of wood waste and high transportation cost of recovering wood waste, there is only one wood recycling company in the city.

The Bracket chair (above) exemplifies the art of upcycling or creative adaptation, transforming waste material into something useful. Photo © Eqqus Lee

The Bracket chair exemplifies the art of upcycling or creative adaptation, transforming waste material into something useful. Photo © Eqqus Lee

The lack of recycling collection resources means that pallet wood and other wood materials can be found almost everywhere in industrial areas and at trash collection points. "We'll find wood on street corners and we usually just collect these at night with a little cart. We feel that wood is one of the best materials to experiment and play with as designers. It's a warm material, and its colour, texture and condition changes over time and seasons. We think wood is one of the best mediums for storytelling," he says.

This is an excerpt from the "Out of the Cave, Into the City” article from the January/February 2016 issue of Perspective magazine.

To continue reading, get your copy of Perspective.

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