Eastern Promise

09 december 2013 / design / words adele chong

Game-changing projects from across Asia do the region justice at this year’s Design for Asia Awards.


West Kowloon Bamboo Theatre 2013
CL3 Architects
Hong Kong




For the past two years, Hongkongers have celebrated Chinese New Year with the West Kowloon Bamboo Theatre, a temporary structure on the site of the future West Kowloon Cultural District. Last year’s edition lasted three weeks and welcomed more than 100,000 visitors. Designed by local firm CL3 Architects, the large-scale pop-up structure, which garnered a DFA Special Award for Culture, was created as a tribute to the traditional bamboo theatres that have served as transient yet prolific venues for Cantonese opera since the 1950s.

An eloquent celebration of Hong Kong’s heritage, the theatre provided a fitting backdrop for a series of opera performances and lively musical events, calling attention to the precarious art of these meticulously crafted structures as well as waning local traditions.

“This project’s success is owed in large part to the intelligent reworking of the traditional bamboo theatre to embrace a fairground of public attractions, including stalls representing fifty companies and organizations selling traditional snacks, crafts, and handmade gifts,” notes DFAA judge Edmund Lee. A special exhibition area dedicated to the Xiqu Center Chinese Opera, the site’s upcoming development, was also housed within the structure as a highlight.



Toyota Automated Guided Container Transport System
Toyota Industries Corporation




Globalization and growing markets mean perpetually picking up the pace with respect to international container shipments. But how does one accelerate the complicated process of loading and unloading cargo without further endangering the port workers who face already hazardous working conditions? Enter Toyota’s newly developed Automated Guided Container Transport System. Manned by a special computer program, a series of automated guided vehicles afford increased work efficiency and handling capacity without compromising safety, even at the busiest ports.

Officially introduced as a fully operational system in April 2012, the idea was initially shaped by the dilemma of Japan’s Tobishima Container Berth facility. Located in Nagoya, a major port city, the facility faced growing competition from port developments overseas. Eager to retain its status as a leading port, it engaged in a collaborative endeavor with Toyota, overseeing the development and introduction of the new system. Coordinating the operation of quay cranes, yard gates, crossing gates and other equipment, the streamlined approach brought about by the system revolutionized conventional port processes by enabling greater flexibility and effective energy use. Best of all, its success doesn’t necessarily foreshadow lost jobs – the lessened physical demands of daily port operations mean that employment may be extended to the elderly, a demographic that has long been overlooked as a viable human resource.


Waku No. 7
Department of Industrial Design, Xidian University
Fresh air and blue skies are what designers at Xidian University’s Department of Industrial Design had in mind when they created of Waku No. 7, a low-carbon teahouse. Situated in Luoyang, a city of about two million in China’s Henan province, the three-story, 1,200-square-meter structure features tile work characteristic of vernacular brick houses. By incorporating these elements, lead designer Yu Peng hoped to recreate the spirit of these traditional structures as a response to the generic modern dwellings that now dominate China’s urban landscape.
The antithesis of public or commercial buildings that rely on artificial lighting and air-conditioning systems, Waku No. 7 was literally conceived as a breathing building: air is circulated via a series of strategically implemented window panels, wooden lattices and various other openings. Used as partitions within the space, tiled walls act as viable filters for air and sunlight thanks to their porous surfaces, channeling a constant breeze throughout the space. What results is a contemplative environment that nods to tradition, where visitors, basking in the naturally ventilated calm of the interiors, are able to leisurely partake in China’s ancient tea culture.


Metaphys Suiu
Hers Design Inc




The simplicity of this sake set belies the complex history embodied by its design. Created for Japanese housewares brand Metaphys and inspired by kagami mochi, a disc-shaped rice cake offered to the gods on the occasion of the Japanese New Year, Suiu centers on two handcrafted tin vessels: katakuchi, a lipped jug for pouring sake, and sakazuki, the drinking cup. The charm lies in Suiu’s initially ambiguous appearance; two or three circular forms are stacked according to diameter. One has to take the lidded vessels apart to understand their intended purpose, fostering a ritualistic curiosity among users. Crucially, the sculptural design also enlists the collaboration of Osaka Suzuki, a company that has been producing fine tin ware since the latter half of the Edo Period. Encompassing a varying range of containers, Suiu’s growing appeal amongst trend-savvy consumers is indicative of its designers’ successful efforts with respect to pairing traditional craft with modern design.



Design Republic Design Commune
Neri & Hu Design and Research Office




It may have begun life as a police station during Shanghai’s colonial era, but this striking building situated between People’s Park and the Shanghai Museum on Jiangning Road is now a cherished hub for Shanghai’s creative community thanks to an inspired revamp by architects Neri & Hu. Opening its doors in November 2012, the Design Republic Design Commune features a renovation likened by its architects to a “surgical operation.” Gutted of dilapidated frameworks and carefully reinforced with a contemporary glass appendage, the once anonymous brick building now brims with elegant potential as a multi-purpose space for creatives, becoming an architectural accolade to Shanghai’s heritage.



Hyundai Card Design Library
Hyundai Card
South Korea




Purposefully located in Gahoe-dong, a historic area often deemed the most idyllic part of Seoul, the Hyundai Card Design Library was realized as a tribute to design learning. Centered on a deliberately minimalistic design by local architects ONE O ONE, the light-filled facility was conceived as an intellectual “perk” for Hyundai Card members. Boasting over 11,000 quality book titles chosen by top industry practitioners and critics, the library’s premium appeal is bolstered by its restrictive access – only 50 visitors are allowed on the premises at any given time – establishing a perpetual sense of calm and remaining true to the architects’ intent of creating a library/gallery space that affords one “time and space for immersion and inspiration.”



Lucky Shophouse
Chang Architects




This restoration effort by Singaporean firm Chang Architects represents a refreshing departure from the run-of-the-mill shophouse renovation, moving well beyond preserving the grandeur of a historic 1920s property. Formerly a bookstore, the latest incarnation of the two-storey shophouse elaborately entwines the past and the present to give rise to a contemporary family home, incorporating modern forms and volumes that delicately inform restored vernacular components. A crucial addition is the newly-built guesthouse at the rear of the original building. Connected to the remodeled shophouse through a manicured garden, the guesthouse is nestled in a leafy natural setting bathed in natural daylight and emerges as a gleaming urban oasis that embodies the best of city and country living.



Ong Shunmugam
Ong Shunmugam Pte Ltd




Singaporean womenswear brand Ong Shunmugam has long been acknowledged for turning convention on its head through its exceedingly contemporary interpretations of traditional Asian apparel, notably the iconic cheongsam. The brainchild of fashion designer Priscilla Shunmugam, the label first made waves with the 2010 launch of its first ready-to-wear collection Orientalism, followed by its first cheongsam collection the subsequent year. Eschewing what the brand calls “fast fashion” in favor of made-to-measure garments that showcase a striking sartorial flair, what continues to set Ong Shunmugam apart is the way in which its creations transcend time and trends, resulting in “conceptual collections for the thoughtful dresser.” Staying true to the sensibility of a bygone era, the clothes simultaneously incorporate modern touches and references, enabling the brand to bring to the fore discussions concerning cultural identity. Well received in Singapore and abroad, Ong Shunmugam’s efforts to incorporate textiles made in Southeast Asia and to support craftsmen and cottage industries throughout Asia have made it a sterling business model for emerging brands striving to pair style with substance.



Nike Flyknit Racer
Nike Inc
United States


Heralded as a game-changing shoe even before its market debut, the Nike Flyknit Racer didn’t disappoint. Prized by runners and non-runners alike, these innovative kicks were literally designed to fit like a glove, featuring a precision engineered yarn that wraps snugly around the entire foot. Stitched into the tongue and the sole, the all-in-one piece deftly merges functionality and good looks, hinging on a feather-weight, form-fitting structure that serves as a flexible second skin while boosting the wearer’s athletic performance. Composed of 35 fewer pieces that the brand’s popular Air Pegasus+ 28 running shoe, the Flyknit’s streamlined qualities are also extended to its production – with an emphasis on speedier outputs, reduced labor and increased profit margins, Nike’s newest consumer favorite is a shoe-in for the most best-selling footwear of all time.


Osoro System
Narumi Corporation



Harried city living often means increasingly little time to deal with the daily obstacle of cooking, eating and storing. Conceived by Narumi Corporation, Japan’s leading manufacturer of bone china, the Osoro container set was designed for swifter transitions between the kitchen and the dining table. The lidded, modular vessels, crafted with easy refrigeration and freezing in mind, enable diners to use the same dish for multiple functions, eliminating the hassle of packing away leftovers and washing a mounting number of dishes. A sensible combination of porcelain and silicone, Osoro’s simplicity belies the complex two-year development process that culminated in its production. A quintessential accompaniment for compact urban kitchens, the stackable system also represents a green alternative to lackluster plastic storage and cumbersome cling-film wraps.



Shibuya Hikarie Commercial Center
Nikken Sekkei Ltd




Over the years, Tokyo’s Shibuya district has grown in acclaim, cultivating a global reputation as the Japanese capital’s premier shopping and trend-spotting hub. At the heart of this is the Shibuya Hikarie Commercial Centre, a mixed-use 34-story complex that has played a key role in the ebb and flow of the bustling area since opening last year. Harboring a direct connection with Shibuya station, the city’s busiest interchange, the conspicuously designed complex by local architects Nikken Sekkei is essentially an intelligent layering of rail-integrated facilities that navigates mass traffic, resulting in a coordinated dispersion of passengers and shoppers frequenting interconnected train lines and shopping streets. Less glamorous transit-related objectives aside, Shibuya Hikarie also imparts a noticeably more sophisticated flavor to the area, attracting a more discerning, mature clientele via novelty offerings such as oxygen bars and new design and art galleries.


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