Luo Jingmei sits down with architect and designer Chi Wing Lo to talk about his work for Giorgetti, art and cooking.
Since 1996, Chi Wing Lo has been designing furniture for Italian manufacturer Giorgetti. While his reflective demeanour is very much representative of his refined, exquisitely detailed creations, Luo Jingmei discovers that the Hong Kong-born, Athens-based architect and designer also makes for a very opinionated and interesting conversationalist.
Are you very influenced by the Greek culture? Some of the furniture that you’ve designed for Giorgetti has Greek words for names.
The Greek influence for me is not just the poetry of the language; [it’s] more what architecture is about. Look at the Parthenon – the way they used stone in 500 B.C. It’s an incredible, sophisticated development in form, composition… how they reveal everything for us. So there’s a lot to learn from that part of the world. Of course the East is another story. The East taught me more about the spirit, to be humble – design is not just to provide something different but also to know where you are so the next step becomes meaningful.
Lo’s Nea (‘news’ in Greek) bookcase (2011) incorporates elegant dividers into its design
How does a design like the high-tech version of the Ivi table (2011) fit into Giorgetti’s philosophy?
The way I work with wood from the beginning is: wood and metal; wood and glass; wood and stone. Wood can give life. I think wood, in a case like this, takes on a contemporary impulse that very much belongs to the present. I cannot say it’s a modern or classic piece. I think Giorgetti is heading in that direction [where] wood has to deal with contemporary issues. We cannot ignore [that] electronics is part of modern materials. Through process of dialogue with modern materials, wood takes on a new life.
The original Ivi table (2010) in poplar plywood, polished maple veneer and painted aluminium
The revamped Ivi has an electronically controlled, LED-RGB-lit glass Lazy Susan
What do you feel about the state of contemporary design?
There’s a stardom system out there that believes if you are good, you have to be famous. But then design becomes an instrument to impress and that is not helping people make good design. Also lacking is an element of criticism of what is good and what is bad so people are chasing after brands, famous architects, etc. The media is one [to blame]. When I publish my work in the magazine, it disappears, is consumed – what is next? Design is not like that; design has certain responsibilities. It has to sustain. I never see myself as a designer. I’m just an observer, a researcher. I give very few interviews. In Athens I never accept interviews because in the city where I live I want to be nobody.
Oro is a tall dresser for Giorgetti’s 2012 collection with mechanisms to put away private objects
Tell us about living in Athens.
Athens is very dense, [but] not very tall because of earthquakes. The beauty is also the relationship to the Parthenon. We’re living in a contemporary world, a sea of buildings and up there 140 metres above sea level is a piece of rock with the Parthenon – a beautiful irony because 2,500 years later we have not been able to challenge what they have achieved [then]. It’s always there to make you feel you are insufficient. (Laughs)
Dia (2012) is a cabinet that melds wood with leather
Art also features a lot in your portfolio.
I think architecture cannot be just [about] solving a technical problem. Solving a technical problem is a common tool. The artistic dimension is always the variable to give the design identity. Art is the origin of design and I think [in some of my] artwork there are influences in the furniture afterwards. It’s always something I want to go back to. There is nobody to appease. Even in furniture there is a technical dimension that I must overcome. Design is always something you communicate with others. If it’s a chair, you can sit on it first. If it’s beautiful sculpturally, then it’s your luck. (Laughs)
Among Lo’s artwork is To Kardizu, a series of sculptures exploring the poetic tension between known and unknown, real and imagery, familiar and enigmatic
What do you feel are the different challenges young Asian designers have now?
In China, we don’t have designers. We only have traditions because in Chinese architecture, the object, the craft made thousands of years ago, is important to us. The idea of design came very recently to the Chinese or Far East culture. That is when we started acknowledging the designer. [They] realised if [a work] is attached to a particular designer, it can sell more. Before, in China, everything made was anonymous; the work was shared freely. I don’t worry about being copied. If it’s being copied and not as good, at least my work is being shared by others that cannot afford it. That’s a good thing. If the work copied is better than mine, I learn something.
Lo’s Yfi sofa speaks to him of a ship’s hull floating in space
Is design and art your only passion?
I cook! And I always make [the] connection between [a] good architect and [a] good cook. We both deal with materials, colour, textures, presentation, timing… there’s a lot of similarity. I always believe a good architect must be a good cook. I’m not sure a good cook must be a good architect. (Laughs)