by Sunena V MajuAug 22, 2022
Can exhibition design within contemporary furniture fairs go beyond an 'aesthetic' approach to achieve something that's architectural and exceedingly experiential? Instead of conjuring the setting as a 'backdrop' or an 'enclosure' for the exhibits, can the space have an identity of its own?
Shanghai-based Neri&Hu Design and Research Office explored this inquiry in the design of an exhibition space showcasing products by modern furniture company Camerich. The studio creates a bamboo pavilion in which crisscrossing multi-level pathways lead you to pockets of spaces showcasing the furniture collection. The temporary installation titled The Structural Field was designed in response to the need for an inventive setup as the exhibition program did not allow Camerich to use pedestals or any special display mechanisms.
Intensive geometricity, multi-layered journeys, and a dual spatiality of containedness and exposure are threads that emerge as one navigates the installation. These nuances are not new in the works of Neri&Hu; previous projects by the studio that were expressive of these include The Brick Wall – Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat in Yangzhou, China, the Pernod Ricard's whiskey distillery in the country's Sichuan Province, and the Relic Shelter public teahouse in Fuzhou. Contradictions reside within the architectural folds, both in its spatiality and metaphoric disposition, and impart every project its inexplicable meaning and beauty.
Speaking of the driving inspiration behind the project, the design team shares, “The concept for the Camerich pavilion stems from working through a number of dualities: nature/artifice, chaos/sanctuary, objects/the viewer, and tradition/innovation. Responding to the brand’s invitation to rethink exhibition design within the context of international furniture fairs, Neri&Hu explores the possibilities of creating a structural field, as a way not necessarily to arrive at a harmonious synthesis, but perhaps to hold these seeming contradictions in suspension.”
Intervening in the horizontality of the hall where the pavilion was set up, Neri&Hu created multiple vertical channels leading to the furniture displays that were staged as scenes from everyday life. A small entryway cutting through a section of the bamboo thicket ushers visitors to embark on an interior walk through the 'exterior-looking space'. Navigating these dark bamboo wood walkways and small connecting staircases, the paths sometimes close in on interstitial pockets and other times, manifest open fields. In places where the paths reveal enlarged areas, the spaces before them have been meticulously curated to present the furniture collection in the form of small seating areas, a living room, a bedroom, or lone niches displaying independent pieces.
“Within the varying density in the field, the relationship between objects and spectator is constantly shifting,” adds Neri&Hu. This relationship could be explored in the way how spaces open up or shrink within the pavilion for the visitors. Elaborating on this, the design team continues, “At times, the narrow and winding walkway gives the viewer a glimpse of the vignettes ahead, maintaining a distance between the spectator and the objects. In the public areas where the field opens up, the visiting spectator becomes embedded as part of the domestic scene, fully occupying the setting where the presence of furniture encourages user interaction. In other words, “at home” with the objects, the spectator takes on the role of a participant, on display as part of the exhibition.”
Designed to be portable and scalable, The Structural Field was created using 1000 bamboo members, and realised in collaboration with the Architectural Design and Research Institute of Tsinghua University Co., Ltd. In order to facilitate quick and easy disassembly, Neri&Hu pushed the contemporary narrative of building craftsmanship and technology by working with special connection details and modular design units to conceive the grid. The design scheme led by architects and studio founders Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu used "embedded steel plates, single direction dovetailing of bamboo members, and the overall structural design for deflection and slender ratio," in the hope "to exceed the conventional formal expectations of a temporary bamboo structure".
As one navigates the bamboo thicket, the recurrent spectator-character transformation, the inconspicuously woven domestic scenes, and the modulating scale of the structure are what define the value of the pavilion as not being a side setup but an architectural phenomenon in itself.