Students from Singapore and Kyoto design objects inspired by each other’s cities

By Natashah Hitti

Two groups of students from Singapore and Kyoto exchanged photographs of their contrasting cities, before using them as a reference point to design 17 objects representative of the location’s character.

The Exchanged Forms project was established by two professors from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Kyoto Institute of Technology (KIT) to bring together young designers from two “distant realities.”

These low tables by Tan Sei Yee are designed to imitate the patterns of Kyoto’s famous Zen rock gardens

The collaboration went forward without the two groups ever meeting in person. Instead, they took photographs of objects and sceneries that are typical in their country, and sent them to the students in the other city, paired with a short description.

Each student then chose one of these images and used it to create their own interpretation of the foreign country.

The results ranged from a table patterned with a Chinese chess grid to a tobacco tray set inspired by Japanese dragonflies.

“In this project, we both hope to discover and rethink our identity through each other’s lenses and interpretations. Not only exchanging forms, but also the exchange and forming of each other’s values and identity,” said Patrick Chia, a professor at NUS.

Students from Singapore and Kyoto design objects inspired by each other's cities
Tomoko Murakami’s bench was inspired by the vibrant colours on a Singaporean handrail

According to Chia, Singapore and Kyoto appear on the surface to be opposites in culture, landscape, weather, language, crafts and tradition.

He describes the Japanese city of Kyoto to bear a strong sense of tradition and craftsmanship. Whereas Singapore is seen as a city that is in “constant metamorphosis,” as its buildings are repeatedly torn down and rebuilt.

Exchanged Forms uses the work of these 17 students to try to discover the subtle similarities between the two cities, as well as the differences.

Students from Singapore and Kyoto design objects inspired by each other's cities
Edmund Zhang pays homage to the traditional construction of Japanese bamboo fences with a pair of 3D-printed carbon fibre vessels

Exhibited as part of Ventura Future in Milan’s Università building during the city’s design week, the works are mixed together in a bid to challenge visitors to find out the origin of each piece.

“Relating to someone else’s culture is a good exercise because it forces you to connect, to create empathy,” said curator Paola Bellani.

“In the case of the Japanese designers, they mainly took the multicultural urban patterns, while the Singaporean students were inspired by the natural elements of Japanese landscape,” she added.

Students from Singapore and Kyoto design objects inspired by each other's cities
Aika Nishiyama’s flowerpot depicts the shape and colours of the seats found on Singaporean trains

Using an image taken of the red and white plastic seats on the Singapore underground, Aika Nishiyama designed a 3d-printed flower pot.

Half red and half white, Nishiyama’s flower pot imitates the colours used to represent priority seating on Singaporean trains. It takes its curved form from the shape of the seats when viewed from the front.

Students from Singapore and Kyoto design objects inspired by each other's cities
Mayu Noda’s Add chair was made by adding extra parts onto an existing stool

Adopting the same colour palette, Mayu Noda created a red and white plywood chair that she made by adding parts onto an existing stool.

“In a picture of Singapore, I found it interesting to see plastic signs attached on to old buildings, changing these buildings’ function from residence to a visitor centre,” said Noda.

“So, in my design, I use the same analogy. The old stool is like an old building with added parts, to create a new form,” she added.

Students from Singapore and Kyoto design objects inspired by each other's cities
Kanta Nakano’s Showcase bench features prints of images taken of Singaporean supermarket shelves

Other designs include a bench printed with vibrant images of Singaporean supermarket shelves, a set of low tables indented with the patterns found in Kyoto’s Zen rock gardens, and a silk fabric patterned with “soft scales” inspired by Singapore’s half-fish-half-lion Merlion statue.

“This is quite a peculiar collaboration, as normally there is a lot of dialogue and exchange. Whereas here we were working in a very blind way, and I think this resulted in a kind of uncomfortable way of working,” Chia told Dezeen.

“This was good, as there was no reference to check against, which allowed for more creativity. The students were able to take a leap of faith,” he added.

Students from Singapore and Kyoto design objects inspired by each other's cities
Cheryl Ho was inspired by the way light filters through Japanese windows for these lamps

Without meeting in person, the students from each city weren’t able to give and receive criticism or input about how well each design represented its respective city.

According to Chia, this meant that the students were “free to just do as they wish,” resulting in “unfiltered” designs that weren’t over-edited.

“Thanks to the inevitable misinterpretation that accompanies this process, we produced objects that reflect qualities of both Singapore and Kyoto,” said Eizo Okada, a professor from KIT.

Students from Singapore and Kyoto design objects inspired by each other's cities
Toki Sakurai has carved out the grid of a Chinese chess board and filled it with resin for this Chess Table

According to the exhibition curator, a “retro” aesthetic has dominated the last few editions of Milan’s Salone del Mobile, bringing back “old” materials like marble, brass, velvet and a “dusty colour palette.”

Bellani considers this trend to reflect a dramatic shift of priorities that leaves behind innovation and contemporaneity in place of nostalgia of the past.

Students from Singapore and Kyoto design objects inspired by each other's cities
Lee Hsiao Fong designed a vase that takes its shape from the handle of a Japanese uchiwa fan

However for this year’s Salone, both NUS and KIT have focused on creating industrial design by using technology and innovation, and researching into” human needs.”

“What is relevant in this selection of designs is that tradition is not the end of the journey, but is the beginning,” she said.

The exhibition is on display at Ventura Future from 17 to 22 April as part of Milan design week. Other student projects at the festival include an exhibition by ÉCAL students exploring the changing nature of the manufacturing process.

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Source:: Dezeen.com