If Hong Kong were a chair, what would it look like? 10 designers respond

Local designers were asked to create chairs that capture the spirit of the city for the China International Furniture Fair in Shanghai. The results were quite surprising

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 September, 2015, 2:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 September, 2015, 11:36am

The question of what Hong Kong stands for has been put to 10 local designers, and they have answered - with chairs.

This delightfully idiosyncratic exercise was conceived by Patrick Leung, founder of PAL Design Consultants in Hong Kong, when he was asked to curate the Hong Kong booth for this year's China International Furniture Fair in Shanghai.

"The atmosphere in Hong Kong is so down at the moment. I also think that the rest of the world has developed a negative impression of our city. I want the project to focus on the more positive, friendlier, aspects of Hong Kong's spirit, and, since it's for a furniture expo, I reckoned that designing chairs would be fun," says Leung.

To condense the spirit of a big city has inevitably resulted in a few clichés. But nonetheless, there is wit and there are ingenious design elements, and some of the chairs may even end up in your living room one day.

William Lim - architect, designer, artist and collector all rolled into one - has relished the challenge. "It is most unusual for 10 Hong Kong designers to work together on one project. It's a good way to bond," he says.

Lim's "Pushcart Sofa" is a mini sofa-cum-storage unit designed to fit into the smallest of partitioned flats or even wheeled around town by the homeless. However, its design might not evince the positive spirit that Leung has in mind, given that Lim is making a point about the terrible living conditions in Hong Kong.

"My chair is small but it has everything, like Hong Kong," says Lim, the managing director of CL3 Architects. "It is also about the fact many people don't have a sofa because there is no space in their home. And there are many street sleepers here who don't have anything, except for a pushcart. We should pay more attention to how people live."

Space, and the lack of it, is also the focus for Ajax Law Ling-kit and Virginia Lung Wai-ki, co-founders of One Plus Partnership. Their "Plus Plus" chair is made up of boards of different sizes zipped together according to the user's needs. "The outside casings have zips attached so you can unzip the chair any time and hide the boards away. You can even fit it into a suitcase for travelling," says Lung.

Antony Chan of Cream, an architectural and design firm, has taken inspiration from Gerrit Rietveld's 1930s classic Zig-Zag chair and traditional Chinese nests of tables. His "Z Chair" is really 10 chairs stacked together.

"Combining East and West is very Hong Kong. I also want to say that this city may seem chaotic and organic, but everything is interlocked in an orderly way. Despite the lack of space, beautiful things can come out of Hong Kong," he says.

"We had very little time to design it. Just two weeks, really. So it's come purely from intuition and impulse," he adds. Like Lim, he appreciates the opportunity to take his mind off routine commercial work, and says he'd love to see commercial production of the Z Chair, in different colours.

I want the project to focus on the positive, friendlier aspects of Hong Kong's spirit and I reckoned that designing chairs would be fun
Patrick Leung, Pal Design Consultants

Norman Chan, architect and interior designer, focuses on Hong Kong's changeability with his chair, called "Flux".

Made of solid walnut wood, this sturdy creation has an unsettling element: it rotates.

"This piece of work presents the idea of a chair in motion and challenges the conventional relationship between the chair and its user. To occupy this chair, the user needs to renegotiate and rethink his or her position, both physically and metaphorically," he says.

Joey Ho, partner at PAL Design Consultants, says Hong Kong is all tension, but that has led to amazing flexibility.

"Tension is not necessarily negative. When we stretch ourselves, we find we can stretch further than we thought," he says.

His "Elastic Chair" is made up of monkey grips bound round and round a chair frame and stretched tight. "I have chosen a material from daily life that best represents the quality of stretching. The chair works only when the grips are in tension," he says.

Leung, himself, has created a chair made up of mahjong tiles. "Each tile is simple, generous and durable. The strength and down-to-earth nature of mahjong tiles match the characteristics of the locals," he says.

It is also his way of saying to Hong Kong people that they should face problems with a smile. "During a typhoon, everyone plays mahjong. It helps so many of us get through a major storm," he adds.

The project is sponsored by local interior design company OVO, which paid the production costs of all 10 chairs. After showing them at the China International Furniture Fair in Shanghai, Leung will take the chairs to design and furniture fairs in Guangzhou, Milan and Singapore as well as, he hopes, Hong Kong and other cities.

China International Furniture Fair, National Exhibition and Convention Centre, Shanghai. Ends Sept 12