Eschewing China’s copycat culture and her bolder-and-flashier building mantra, a Shanghai design atelier is asserting a modern design language with its award-winning oeuvre.
Ostensibly, the architecture scene in today’s China is a paradox. Foreign architect-designed iconic structures and new cities, some exact copies of European towns, are popping up alongside developer-driven ugly behemoths, all at a frantic pace. But amid the chaos, a clique of talented and adroit Chinese designers, armed with impressive portfolios, are paving the way to morph China into a creative architectural force. Awarding the 2012 Pritzker Prize (the Nobel Prize equivalent for architecture) to Chinese architect Wang Shu was also a much-needed boost.
Leading the pack is Shanghai-based design practice Neri&Hu Design and Research Office. With projects spanning three continents, from Shanghai and London to Singapore and Mexico City, the practice has been churning out a steady stream of acclaimed furniture, interior design and architecture projects. Philippines-born Lyndon Neri and Taiwan-born Rossana Hu are the founders of Neri&Hu.
Growing up in their respective home countries, Neri and Hu attended secondary school in the US. Both did their undergraduate studies at University Of California, Berkeley, where they met. Neri completed his master’s degree at Harvard University while Hu received hers at Princeton University. They are work and life partners.
In 2000, the couple arrived in Shanghai to work on the Three On The Bund project for American architect Michael Graves. Neri was then the Director for Projects in Asia and an associate of the US-based Michael Graves & Associates practice. The move to Shanghai was never planned.
“When we completed the project in 2002, SARS hit and we couldn’t go back,” recalls Neri. He was one of the speakers at the Kuala Lumpur Design Forum 2014, in conjunction with architecture conferenceDatum:KL 2014. “Three months turned into six, then eight. During that time, I got to meet different manufacturers, saw how things were done, and realised how everything was made in China,” he says. “I knew if I wanted to experiment, this was the place to be. We thought, let’s give it a shot – and it’s been 10 years!”