Presenting furniture designs that fuse ancient Chinese pictograms with modern-day interpretations, the exhibition “Picto-Furniture”, curated by Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, opened from 17 - 23 April. The exhibition was part of the experimental laboratory We Will Design at Milan Design Week 2023.

Milan Design Week is the world’s largest annual design event, with exhibitions and events spread across multiple locations in the Italian capital. This year, it attracted over 300,000 visitors, including practitioners, scholars, students, industry leaders, and the general public of design lovers.

“We Will Design” promotes talented designers from around the globe and aims to create new tools, practices, and experiences. It is supported by BASE Milano, a community that brings together the arts, enterprise, technology and social innovation.

The XJTLU booth, Picto-Furniture, showcases projects by industrial design students, including Flower Stool, Xian Bench, Peace Lamp, Balance Lamp, and Reflection Bench, all inspired by ancient Chinese pictograms while corresponding to today’s simplified Chinese characters.

The projects were developed within the industrial design postgraduate module Innovation by Design taught by Vicente Esteban, associate professor at the Department of Industrial Design.

“Our students explored and analysed certain areas in two Chinese cities, Shanghai and Suzhou, and developed their projects from the context and history of those areas.

“These designs aim to communicate and materialise contemporary Chinese culture and produce genuine and original Chinese designs using the Chinese graphic language.

“They are translated from a flat form to a three-dimensional one to become indoor and outdoor furniture that speaks about the areas through shape and positions,” Esteban says.

One of the designs, Xian Bench designed by Yihao Huang, Zheyuan Chen, Xiaohan Zhang, and Mengdie Wu, was inspired by Pingjiang Road Historical District in Suzhou, one of the best-preserved areas of the old city. Xian, 闲 in Chinese, means rest.

Xian Bench by Yihao Huang, Zheyuan Chen, Xiaohan Zhang, and Mengdie Wu

Two different functions were integrated into the project using the Chinese character shape. One side is a bicycle parking spot, while the other is a multifunctional seat with a table. The team hopes to provide tourists and residents with public seating to rest at, as well as bicycle parking spaces to encourage good parking habits.

Xian Bench rendering

Flower Stool, designed by Kang Lu, is a modular stool whose shape can be changed and adapted according to different needs. The seats form the Chinese character hua (花), a general term for all plants and flowers. The flower represents new life and death at the same time: the decay of the flower is when the fruits begin to grow.

Flower Stool rendering

Balance Lamp, designed by Yinghui Wang, takes the ping (平) of he ping (和平, meaning peace) in Chinese as the template framework to form a symmetrical structure. It also indicates other meanings of ping (平), such as balance, safety, and fairness, while the lightbulbs symbolise the hope for peace and the future.

Balance Lamp by Yinghui Wang

Both Flower Stools and Balance Lamp were inspired by the Tilanqiao area in Shanghai, where nearly 20,000 rescued Jewish refugees once lived with the local population and supported each other to survive during World War II. The Flower Stool expresses the mourning for the deceased, while the Balance Lamp conveys the desire for a peaceful world.

Peace Lamp by Yiwei Liu

Reflection Bench by Canghao Yao

Massimo Imparato, head of the Department of Industrial Design, says: “Being part of the Milan Design Week fosters the outreach of Design School and enables us to present our students' works to a broader audience on an international platform.”

Three XJTLU alumni who graduated from the Design School, Ziyu Liu, Xiaoyu Wang, and Jing Hao, were also present at the XJTLU booth, providing information and guidance to the visitors.

Technical support for the XJTLU booth was provided by Tecsun (Suzhou) Homes, a company specialising in the research, development, and construction of timber-framed structures.

By Yi Qian

Edited by Patricia Pieterse

Images courtesy of Vicente Esteban

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