INTO THE NEW SPRING

We all have our own unique imaginings of a sublime fantasy world. Japanese architect Azusa Murakami and British artist Alexander Groves of Studio Swine envisioned theirs as a Sakura tree. 

At this year's Milan Design Week, a special 'Sakura tree' became a hotly discussed exhibit. It amazed the audience by offering an unprecedented multiple sensorial experience. It is a masterpiece created by the combined effort of the Swedish fashion brand COS and the famous design office, Studio Swine, called 'New Spring'.

‘New Spring’ is as high as 6 meters and made of recycled aluminum. Flowers containing fog are produced by the sculpture, which explode on contact with human skin, but remain intact when they make contact with fabric—offering an opportunity for interaction with onlookers.  The design is inspired by the profound history and culture of Italy. ‘ We were attracted by the Murano pendant lamp in the private palaces of Milan and the difference between the modern and traditional style of design shown by the lamp, which became the core structure of New Spring. The public fountain, one of the largest of Italian luxuries, was also an important reference to create a common experience’, said Studio Swine. The exhibit makes you feel like you are in a movie, with the site also resembling an old cinema. The blossoming scene in the 1954 movie Seven Samurai directed by Akira Kurosawa and the candle scene of 1976 movie Casanova directed by Federico  Fellini were adopted as references. The conception of New Spring was derived from the cinemas of Middle Ages and developed into a Modernist style. The structure and function were inspired by the spherical bulbs and branch shaped vaulted light decorations of Italy, while the dark environment inside the cinemas brings sharp contrast to the sculpture.

Such a marvellous design brought unprecedented attention to Studio Swine globally. In fact, they have been creating experimental works using recycled and environmentally friendly materials for a long time exploring topics concerning life and time.

Swine was founded in 2011 by husband and wife team Alexander Groves and Azusa Murakami. Alexander is a British designer, whilst Azusa is a Japanese born architect. The founders both graduated majoring in Product Design the UK's Royal Academy of Arts. 'Swine' is an abbreviation of five words: Super, Wide, Interdisciplinary, New and Explorers. Since its foundation, they have published a series of works featured as 'Waste Beauty' and have drawn quite a lot attention in the industry. Studio Swine won the awards issued by the famous UK design journal Wallpaper and architecture journal Architecture Digest, and the best interactive device award at the the 2017 Milan Design Competition.

Metallic Geology

The series of Metallic Geology works are indoor cabinets, the design of which is inspired by ancient Chinese rock landscapes. The material is aluminuim foam made by adding deflating reagents into the melting aluminuim. This is a very light material, which is often used to make heat proof layers in the construction and automobile industries. In Studio Swine’s design, the aluminum foam is fully processed to imitate the uneven surface of rocks. The fascinating texture is a sharp contrast to the modern style of the room. The cabinet’s clapboards are adopted from the style of traditional Chinese tea cabinets. This combination of traditional and modern is what gives the cabinets their unique charm.

the Hair Highway

What is the potential of adapting hair as a material for industrial design? Well, Studio Swine has the perfect answer. The designers were inspired by the ancient Chinese Silk Route, and travelled Shandong Province to collect hair. They mixed the hair with natural resin to create a new composite material which has the texture of tropical hardwood. Studio Swine combined this material with patterns designed in the Qing Dynasty, and the style of the 1920s, in Shanghai, to design a series of household and fashion accessories including dresser tables, vases, screens, jewel boxes, combs and glasses. The ‘Hair Glasses’ series was exhibited at London Fashion Week, drawing a lot of attention and popularity. 

Prism Cabinet‭  ‬

The inspiration for Prism Cabinets came from the display cabinets which were popular in 16th century Europe. The cabinets were used by the nobility to display valuable or unique treasure and are seen as the museums of the time. The Prism Cabinets made by Studio Swine are built using cherry wood sourced from London. The cherry was combined with other woods, including teak, mahogany, maple and various recycled hardwood flooring.  This unique cabinet opens to reveal a 3D prism showing continuously changing colour images and geometric patterns. Amazingly, the images change with real time data collected from around London. Data such as the water level of the Thames, public bike rental prices and the energy consumption of the Prime Minister’s residence. 

Melt the mountains into a lamp

This piece consists mainly of marble and is modelled on three sharp mountain peaks, reminiscent of the architectural style of the British west coast in the Middle Ages. The texture of the marble is evocative of the expansive mountains in traditional Chinese paintings. Glass and brass has also been incorporated into the design to add a taste of a holiday inn. 

RECYCLED RUBBER FROM THE AMAZON

FORDLANDIA is an industrial park located in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest, built by Henry Ford, of Ford Motor Cars, it served as the major supplier of rubber for the Ford Motor Company at the time. This was an ideal source of cheap rubber for Ford, however the local environment and the plantation workers did not fare so well. The project failed, and the site was closed down in 1934. The designers from Design Studios visited the failed industrial park to recycle materials like rubber and fish skin. Afterwards, they repurposed them into household furnishings like deck chairs and floor lamps. 

Q&A

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Studio Swine was founded in 2011 by British designer Alexander Groves and Japanese architect Azusa Murakami. The couple run the small design studio based in London.  

How did you two meet‭? ‬How does your background as an architect and an artist influence your work‭? ‬And what is your working style‭?‬

We met each other while studying in the Royal Academy of Arts‭. ‬Our different backgrounds of study has enabled us to build a more‭ ‬rational relationship with the world apart from the romantic factors in our design‭. ‬All of our inspiration comes from the continuous discussion‭, ‬and our mutual experience‭. ‬We enjoy bringing various dimensions into our works‭, ‬until we find a brand new direction‭. ‬

You value research very much in your works‭, ‬which is confirmed by your studio name‮!‬X‭ '‬Super Wide Interdisciplinary New Explorers‭.' ‬Why do you emphasize research so much‭? ‬And what do you think is the true meaning of research‭?‬

To explore and innovate continuously is essential for us‭. ‬We prefer to do something that has never been done and try to achieve‭ ‬something in a brand new field in order to prevent us from being‭ '‬too comfortable‭'. ‬We are interested in topics like regional identity agreement and natural resources‭, ‬as well as further exploration of materials and industrialization‭. ‬But they are still just habits in design process instead of a complete innovation‭. ‬Our requirement towards ourselves is to stay interesting‭, ‬to try different things and keep curiosity‭. ‬As to our works‭, ‬what matters to us is whether it can reflect fresh concepts in the world and answer to the call of our age‭.‬

Your works include chairs‭, ‬lamps‭, ‬shoes and even buttons‭. ‬Does this mean that you have no preference towards your products‭?‬

Yes‭, ‬we are quite eclectic‭. ‬In the past one or two years we have designed more chairs‭, ‬which leads to challenge of keeping balance‭. ‬For example‭, ‬you have to try something new‭, ‬but not too much‭.‬

Although your works involve various mediums and styles‭, ‬it doesn't seem to be difficult for you to agree on an idea to work on‭. ‬Could you talk about the collaborative process‭?‬

We always have core principles in our design‭. ‬Firstly‭, ‬we focus on environmental sustainability‭. ‬Secondly‭, ‬the products should be a comprehensive result of exploration‭, ‬of regions and history‭. ‬Besides‭, ‬some kind of innovation has to be added into the products‭, ‬either the manufacture process‭, ‬or the material‭, ‬or combining them together‭. ‬As to the type‭, ‬we are good at design‭, ‬art and‭ ‬movies‭, ‬which all have interesting features and can be effectively combined together‭. ‬To conclude‭, ‬one principle we always follow is to stick to innovation and to exceed existing rules‭.‬

London is always a cradle for innovation‭. ‬How does staying in London affect your work‭?‬

Definitely‭, ‬this city is full of innovative people and things‭, ‬which inspired us greatly‭. ‬However‭, ‬we are also‭ '‬nomads‭' ‬who travel a lot to other cities such as Shanghai‭, ‬St Paul and Nagoya‭, ‬and work under their influences‭. ‬Fresh perspectives are always the most important for us‭.‬

A large part of your creation is closely related to China‭, ‬for example‭, ‬the famous Hair Highway Project and the‭ '‬Metallic Geology‭' ‬inspired by traditional Chinese rock landscape paintings‭. ‬How many times have you been to China‭? ‬And what's your impression to the country‭?‬

We spent 6‭ ‬months in Shanghai and also visited there several times in recent years‭. ‬We will move to Hongkong in this summer to prepare for the personal exhibition held in Pearl Lam Gallery in September‭. ‬We view China as a very interesting country with both‭ ‬rich historical and cultural heritage‭, ‬alongside a modern style‭. ‬

Materials are important factors of the final work‭. ‬And many of your works involved a re-creation of materials‭. ‬

There is no doubt that materials can help express your idea more vividly in the design‭. ‬It also tells its history and can conduct direct communication with the audience‭. ‬It is like when two people first meet each other‭, ‬they can express a lot of information just by shaking hands instead of talking‭.‬

Out of all your works‭, ‬which is your favourite‭?‬

‭'‬Metallic Geology‭' ‬is my favourite work‭ (‬Alexander‭). ‬It was made in Shanghai with aluminum‭, ‬which is a typical industrial material in China‭. ‬And its shape imitates the traditional Chinese landscape comprised of mountains and rocks‭. ‬Azusa likes the Ebonite‭ ‬armchair of the Fordlandia series the best‭. ‬The material is the hard rubber collected in the Amazon rainforest‭. ‬The design combine the impacts of the early industrial aesthetics of the Ford automobile company and Brazilian Mid-century modernism‭ (‬which is a‭ ‬modernism popular during the 30s and 60s of the last century‭).‬

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