Pinwu Design Studio and Rong Library
In 2004 Lei Zhang, from China, Jovana Bogdanovic Zhang, from Serbia and Christoph John, from Germany founded PINWU Design studio in Yuhang, a district of Hangzhou in China.
They met in Milan and came to Yuhang with the idea to combine traditional Chinese handcraft and contemporary design.
Hangzhou has a rich cultural past. It served as the ancient capital of the Southern Song Dynasty and was the birthplace of Liangzhu culture, one of the oldest civilizations of the world. It is also known for its ceramics, printing, silk, tea, food, Chinese medicine, religion, painting, calligraphy, and seal cutting art. Hangzhou, or “Paradise on Earth” as Marco Polo described it, has been the home to many generations of designers and artists. In 2012, UNESCO listed Hangzhou as a “Craft and Folk-Art City”.
The team of designers decided to start a deep investigation into the techniques and craft processes of Yuhan district. They conceived a curatorial initiative, called Handmade in Hangzhou, whose core philosophy is rong, which means “melting and fusion”, a principle used by thirteen designers to deconstruct the traditional bamboo crafts of Hangzhou and apply them to contemporary design. Since then, every five years, the group has been exploring different traditional materials, such as silk, porcelain, copper, and paper. The projects have been showed in different renowned international museums, such as in Milan Triennale Design Museum, Design Museum London, Le Caurrusel du Louvre, BODW Hong Kong, Museum of Contemporary Arts Lugano with idea to promote and spread the knowledge of Chinese tradition.
One example of their design projects is Piao Paper chair, whose concept evolved alongside the traditional Yuhang paper umbrella. Rather than use a single surface layer, paper layers are stacked and glued together until the desired strength has been achieved. The free edge has been left as a unique stylistic feature embedding the feeling of touching the texture and hearing the sound of paper.
Another representative project is Air, bamboo chair, an unconventional interpretation of traditional Chinese bamboo weaving. The concept explores the limit of bamboo's weight and strength. The result is a significantly lightweight chair with the same durability of a common lounge chair.
In 2015, they started a new adventure. In collaboration with Yuhang local government, few companies and some private sponsors, they established the first Design Library in China to be part of a wider project of protection and development of a sustainable community. Villagers were welcomed to participate in several (re)design projects that would, later on, be sold commercially, proceeds of which would go to the them. This Library, called Rong Design Library, collects, catalogues and shows to the public a broad numbers of traditional Chinese crafts and materials. The design studio is studying craft processes and discovering interesting and inspiring methods for working with materials. Furthermore, they are trying to combine materials and processes in original and usual ways, to inspire and drive innovation. After a focus on Yuhang precture, today the craft research includes materials and samples of 32 Chinese provinces and is located in a small village, Qingshan, far from the big city.
I couldn’t miss the opportunity to go visit this fascinating place and, after 3/4 hours travel from Shanghai, I finally reached this stunning destination.
The library is located in an ancient building dedicated to public activities and has been completely restored keeping the same structure and materials. Besides the relevance of its meaningful, careful and interesting activity, the space itself is charming and perfectly suited for stimulate people’s interest and curiosity in studying and exploring the beauty and importance of materials and craft.
There is a large open space holding big shelves where resources, materials and artifacts are exposed following a thematic, geographic and technical classification. In the middle there are many designated positions for studying and working, open to the public.
It is a reference point for students in the art and design field who can spend time studying both from the materials and artifacts’ collection and from the great books’ selection, which is constantly updated with new topics and national and international references.
Every detail is well curated, and each piece of furniture is designed by Pinwu studio, which is located on the second floor, in another open space, filled with creativity and traces of a constant research process everywhere.
To make this place even more charming and operative, there is an inner garden and an equipped kitchen where to host events with and for both the clients and the general public.
The Design Library is mainly a place of connections and reconnection. The Company’s ambition is, in fact, to connect different geographical and cultural communities and to re-connect people and professionals with roots and fundamentals. They believe, in fact, that innovations and cultural directions surrounding our lives today are demanding for a partial return to traditional values. It does not mean that their activity is based on an approach averse to technological innovation, but that we need to gain a deeper awareness of our past and roots to embrace and fully use and understand innovation and technology. Working with materials and handcraft help to enhance human awarness, culture and perception. In order to make connections, the Design Library is inviting designers from all over the world for limited residencies. They can benefit from the library research, incorporating it into their design and finding new approaches to their work. Equally, the Library and the whole community around it is learning from their visions and their approach.