Consumers push for cutting-edge design at home, work
Increasing disposable income is pushing demands by Chinese for cutting-edge design, while market insiders say the focus is more on comfort and relaxation and a sense of community amid fast urbanization and increasingly compact living and work spaces.
At Architect@ Work, an exhibition of high-end companies’ creative products in Shanghai in mid June, photographer Michael Wolf tells the story of an old chair he shot in China in 1990s.
Two bricks were used to replace a lost leg; a creative and functioning solution despite the look, with the chair placed in an open space in the neighborhood.
For Qian Zige, an architecture student, and a visitor to the event, the absence of such a chair is a metaphor for what is happening today in China’s urban landscape.
“Urban residents can afford a new chair if the old one is broken and no one bothers to find a solution to make use of a broken one. There is little public space for you to put a chair that every passer-by can see, and even there is, people are less likely to put a chair outside their room amid disappearing communities,” said Qian.
Compact living and working space that divide Shanghai in small parts have not shortened people’s communication. Instead, the situation pushes everyone into even smaller segments, Wolf said.
Urbanization and housing in mega-cities like Shanghai may face various problems, while high-density high-rises may meet demands of housing for large populations. Residents may have to be displaced from familiar neighborhoods and commute for longer time to work. Some established communities have disappeared, according to Non Arkaraprasertkul, an architect, urban planner, and history and anthropology researcher in Shanghai.
Community-oriented housing that may bring together public spaces and various urban functions may help to give solutions to the problems, said Arkaraprasertkul.
Market insiders and experts point out that Chinese are demanding more for their living and work environment comfort, relaxation and communication, all of which create more business opportunities.
Designers and firms have come up with various ideas and products to make space more comfortable for dwellers, including smart lighting, soft flooring that is good for health and nature, control systems that automatically adjust temperatures and humidity, furniture fabric that is as soft as a baby’s skin, exterior design that makes an office building feel like a park and air purification that creates the feeling of living in a freshair bubble all the time.
At work, some furniture may help to boost employee’s well-being, said Uli Gwinner, president of Asia Pacific at Steelcase. Gwinner presented the latest Steelcase product, a chair called “buoy” that is inspired by buoys floating at sea.
“We have observed that at the workplace people are often engaged in informal talks. On these occasions, a buoy chair gives comfortable seating and a relaxing atmosphere,” said Gwinner, who believes that a relaxing working space shows that employer values people.
Shanghai-based interior designer Lin Yuyan said clients’ demands have been changing drastically in the past decade.
We have observed that at the workplace people are often engaged in informal talks. On these occasions, a buoy chair gives comfortable seating and a relaxing atmosphere.” ULI GWINNER PRESIDENT OF ASIA PACIFIC AT STEELCASE
At first people wanted modern, luxury, and foreign stuff; the more expensive the better, even if they do not fit in Chinese people’s lives. Sometimes they wanted to copy a five-star hotel suite; then they want to return to Chinese ways and hope everything is made of wood or bamboo, and everything looks perfectly peaceful, like a Zen garden, said Lin.
“Now I think customers’ demands are becoming diversified, and they know more about what they want and how to achieve these. They are more critical thinking,” said Lin.
“Designing is not about cultures; instead, it is about evolving,” said Wang Kaifang, a Beijing- based designer and artist, pointing out that designers need to consider natural elements as well as people when they decorate a house or do urban planning.