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designboom in conversation with neri & hu at stockholm furniture fair 2019 21/02/19, 15)45

designboom in conversation
with neri & hu at stockholm
furniture fair 2019
at this year’s stockholm furniture & light fair, designboom
caught up with guests of honor neri & hu, who were there to
present their installation ‘the unfolding village.’ the shanghai-
based architects chose to highlight the issue of disappearing villages in
china — an alarming trend that greatly impacts the traditional notion of
community, family and cultural roots. inspired by street life, the exhibition
formed a sinuous alleyway that folded and unfolded to create lanes and
layers of spaces slowly revealing themselves to visitors. the profile
appeared as an abstract pitched roof to symbolize the home, which when
repeated in connected rows created a ‘village.’

image © pedro pegenaute (also main image)

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designboom in conversation with neri & hu at stockholm furniture fair 2019 21/02/19, 15)45

designboom (DB): we’re very interested to know about the


design process at neri & hu. when you first receive a brief from a
client, what is your initial approach?

lyndon neri (LN): first, before the design brief comes, there is a vetting
process in our office. so for instance, last year we got over 400 requests to
do architecture and interiors and we probably took only about 15 of them.
that’s less than 5%, but that’s just because that’s a present condition of
where we are in china, where it’s just crazy. before the brief even comes to
our studio, or even before we start, we actually ask a lot of questions to the
client. whether they really understand why they’re motivated to have us
work with them, what’s the reason behind their project, and not that
they’re bad, but sometimes they’re not in line with our ethos, or we feel like
they don’t really understand us. maybe they just know our brand, or our
name, or just want a glamorous project, or just want a project that’s
published. we quickly know that they’re probably not the right clients. so
that actually in many ways makes the briefing easier, because by the time it
comes to our table, it’s very clear that that brief is very much aligned with
our ethos.

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designboom in conversation with neri & hu at stockholm furniture fair 2019 21/02/19, 15)45

image © pedro pegenaute

rossana hu (RH): it depends on the client also, particularly in china, a


lot of the clients don’t really know what the briefing is. so the initial
briefing comes from a discussion with them and us kind of, through the
interaction, drawing out what they are really looking for, because we need
to help them define what’s in their mind. for example, they want their own
hotel brand and then we need to ask them a lot of questions. then maybe
they realize that they can’t do it, or they want to do a co-working space, and
when we describe to them what it entails, they realize they don’t want a co-
working space, they want a restaurant instead. so the briefing is important
as we believe in discussing with the client and picking out from all the
different considerations they have and what really matters. we help them
focus.

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designboom in conversation with neri & hu at stockholm furniture fair 2019 21/02/19, 15)45

image © pedro pegenaute

LN: we approach architecture more from a very precise, almost surgical


way. clients don’t come to us and tell us what they need. you don’t go to a
doctor, and say this is what I need to be done. you go to a doctor and say I
have problems… so we approach clients and ask, what is your problem?
how can we help you and if your problem is beyond our means to serve you
or help, then we send them to another architect or product designer who
can help them solve their problem. naturally the clients that come our way
are interested in trying to address cultural issues and expressing certain
convictions. so we ask what their problems are and through the process we
try to figure out how we can help them.

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designboom in conversation with neri & hu at stockholm furniture fair 2019 21/02/19, 15)45

image © pedro pegenaute

DB: as you work on a breadth of different projects, from an


installation such as this in stockholm to large-scale architecture.
does your approach change between architecture, interiors,
design and graphics?

LN: it’s very research based, we are solving problems. issues of urbanity
are very different from architecture, very different from interiors, very
different to product design. the solution might vary, but the way to solve it
is not so different. so it means trying to find the conceptual framework that
can solve the problem at hand. there’s always a concept, and there’s always
an idea behind the projects we do. be it a small product or bigger
architecture, there is always a diagram on the side of each member of the
design team’s table, so when they’re confused, they go back to that
diagram.

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designboom in conversation with neri & hu at stockholm furniture fair 2019 21/02/19, 15)45

image © pedro pegenaute

DB: you have also been involved in teaching, how do you think
this informs your own practice? what does teaching bring to you
as an architect?

RH: I think it goes both ways. the teaching informs the practice, and the
practice informs the teaching. it’s sort of a tradition already since, I don’t
know, fifty years ago starting from the bauhaus and probably even before

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designboom in conversation with neri & hu at stockholm furniture fair 2019 21/02/19, 15)45

that. practice and teaching goes hand in hand, and our practice, like in
many practices, when we design with our teams, it’s kind of like going
through a studio crit. also, we’ve always said the learning goes both ways,
it’s never really us teaching and students learning, or us giving the orders
and the workers taking the orders. it’s both ways because the teacher is
learning and the students are teaching.

image © pedro pegenaute

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designboom in conversation with neri & hu at stockholm furniture fair 2019 21/02/19, 15)45

DB: on the topic of architectural education, it is often debated


that current courses don’t prepare students for real practice,
what is your opinion of this?

RH: it depends on who you’re talking to. lyndon and I went to the same
undergraduate institutions, and then we went to very different idealogical
and pedagogical schools. so I went to princeton, which rests on theory and
lyndon went to harvard GSD which is more about design and drawing and
practice.

image © pedro pegenaute

LN: I think we take the opinion, at least for us, that the more technically
driven skills can be learned. I think it’s important to train your mind while
you’re young to be philosophically and theoretically grounded. without
that, you could be going around in circles detailing without an ideology and
idea. while we have problems with the way this is crafted (the pavilion)

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designboom in conversation with neri & hu at stockholm furniture fair 2019 21/02/19, 15)45

there is some theoretical, political underpinning message that we are


trying to address. some booths here might be done very beautifully, but
without really any meaning. and at the end of the day, this in five days is
going to come down but I hope that message comes through. but a
beautiful piece when it comes down, is gone.

RH: also, because technology is moving so fast and everyone is talking


about which jobs can be replaced by AI, how to draw, how to build,
definitely all that, can be and will be replaced easily. of course you need a
balance, and we’re not saying you don’t, but if you only have a limited time,
I would prefer you spend all four years thinking. design is all about
thinking.

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designboom in conversation with neri & hu at stockholm furniture fair 2019 21/02/19, 15)45

image © pedro pegenaute

DB: talking about your background, your practice is based in


shanghai, but you both were educated in the US. how have these
different influences informed you as architects and designers?

RH: the world is shrinking and its colliding in ways that makes explosive
energy. I think the commercial globalization helps to instill this thinktank
in a global way that everyone is aware of each other’s issues and problems.

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designboom in conversation with neri & hu at stockholm furniture fair 2019 21/02/19, 15)45

I think we all learn from each other, and I think that’s super great for
designers, because the worst thing is if we are isolated.

LN: even though we were educated in the US, we are fundamentally


chinese and culturally very chinese. the problem is that we are a small
tribe, a tribe that’s kind of delusional by thinking that by having a
platform, be it milan or another architectural biennale, that we are
changing the world when in fact we are only a small fraction of the real
condition of this world. I think it’s very important and that’s why when we
designed this installation we made an intention to be cultural, because a
city without culture is dead.

image © pedro pegenaute

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designboom in conversation with neri & hu at stockholm furniture fair 2019 21/02/19, 15)45

image © pedro pegenaute

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image © pedro pegenaute

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designboom in conversation with neri & hu at stockholm furniture fair 2019 21/02/19, 15)45

image © designboom

project info:

project name: stockholm furniture & light fair guest of honor exhibition
– ‘the unfolding village’

project location: stockholm furniture fair 2019

architect: neri & hu design and research office

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