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A Steam Aesthetic For The Digital Era

How do you represent the information age through spatial design? For an IT research hub, X+Living looked back to the steam age for potent symbols.

BY Narelle Yabuka

6 April, 2018

The invention of the steam engine heralded an era of massive change. The industrial revolution came to be associated with some powerful related symbols: the pipes and tanks that powered factories and machines. Our information age is just as world changing, but how, wondered Chinese design studio X+Living, can it be represented? 

“There are no iconic symbols for the Information Age. The amount and efficiency of information is the first perception,” says the Creative Director of X+Living Li Xiang.

When designing the interior for Ideas Lab – a space for the research and development of IT and its hidden business value in the consumer world – Xiang looked back to the industrial era for symbols that represent massive change and business development. The lab is thus fitted with curious elements such as ‘reaction tanks’, ‘energy delivery pipes’ and walking platforms for engineers.



The original space had two storeys, but large areas of the upper floor slab were removed to create a high volume. Devices for new retail experiences are displayed within the ‘reaction tanks’. Narrow strips of flooring were reinstated on level two to create meandering pathways that incorporate nodal work zones for R&D staff. While they work on the elevated platforms, staff are aware of the presence of consumers on the ground floor – a reminder of purpose. Cables and ducts are hidden in the so-called ‘energy delivery pipes’.

Xiang’s brief was inherently challenging – to create a functional workspace that would also appeal to the consumers who visit it to take in the latest gadgets. Her playful solution provides a degree of intrigue that can be enjoyed and interpreted by anyone. 



Photography by Shao Feng, courtesy of X+Living. 

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