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“Das Haus 2015” by Neri & Hu: where our souls live

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Imm cologne’s “Das Haus” has never possessed such imposing architectural force. Last year, the visitor was invited into the interior of Louise Campbell’s “Haus”, a country-house-like, Scandinavian-cosy space. This year, the installation by the Chinese architect couple Rossana Hu and Lyndon Neri affects the beholder more like a challenge to be overcome. And that’s exactly what “Das Haus” 2015 by Neri&Hu is meant to be – a challenge:

“Our goal is to challenge convention on several levels,” Rossana Hu explains the open-to-discussion philosophy of the architect couple from Shanghai. “For a start: does a living room always have to look the same: a sofa, two comfortable upholstered armchairs and a coffee table in the middle? Or can one comprehend it in an entirely different way? How do we get to something unique, something that challenges us and is different to what we’ve grown used to over the last ten years?”

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Neri&Hu’s “Haus”, rituals of living seem cast in furniture – archetypes of our living traditions are staged in a not quite conventional way in order to expose and question precisely these living customs. Neri&Hu have designed a course which respectfully embraces European design traditions in order to celebrate and at the same time deconstruct them. They have thereby wholly fulfilled imm cologne’s expectations of them as this year’s Guests of Honour because they have actually brought a whole new perspective to the “Das Haus – Interiors on Stage” series.

From the outside, the dark grey painted walls do not look very inviting- indeed at first glance, they look quite like the surrounding fair architecture of Pure
Village. Only the irregular window openings in the “Cages for Living”, as Neri&Hu call the containers for the objects we use for living, communicate the idea even from the outside that this structure contains more than just cool aesthetics – namely a unique, sensual synthesis of the arts of architecture, design, interior design, art and philosophy.

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The architectural composition of “Das Haus” 2015 is compact and urbane: five tall rooms, closed on all sides, create an exciting ensemble around a large interior courtyard, conceived as a semi-public living space. Through this compressed architecture winds a bridge, its path zig-zagging through and over “Das Haus”, intersecting the rooms at different points, breaking through walls, swerving over dining tables and granting the visitor precisely calculated insights into the installations of living space.

The inside of “Das Haus” reveals itself to be far more homely than the outside. That’s not just thanks to the wooden flooring sponsored by Dinesen and the tiles from Mutina. The sophisticated colour concept from NSC Colour also contributes. Neri&Hu specified a colour palette of muted shades from this palette, inspired by the traditional Shanghai lanes (nongtangs), by houses overgrown with ivy, red painted doors and crumbling plaster walls.

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Each of the five rooms represents not just a statement about the history of our living culture but also a suggestion for potential uses such a room holds, if we allow ourselves to think beyond living conventions. Reminiscent of the traditional bedroom is the “Room for Sleeping”, painted blue and containing not much more than the Single, the simple bed designed by Neri&Hu specifically for “Das Haus”. The room is dedicated to our inner child, and a poem by Chinese poet Bian Zhi Lin adds a reflective level to Neri&Hu’s interior design:„When you watch the scenery from the bridge,/The sightseeer watches you from the balcony./The bright moon adorns your window,/While you adorn another’s dream.“ it says – lines which contain the voyeuristic element also typical of Neri&Hu. “Ultimately, we want to create voyeuristic interior experiences which trace, reveal, and challenge personal memories,” say Neri&Hu of their ambitions for the “Das Haus” project.

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The pattern of dedications, colour schemes and quotations is repeated in the other four rooms: in the green “Room for Eating”, devoted to the skilled kitchen chef; in the glowing dark red “Room for Bathing”, dedicated to lovers; in the exhilarating yellow study designed for the poet, entitled “Room for Reading” and in the light grey “Room for Living” wherein Walter Benjamin’s thesis on the possible disengagement of art from ritual due to the former’s reproducibility is quoted.

The structure of the closed-in rooms presents our traditional concept of living as “cage-like enclosures” the result of which is that our homes are represented as a place of refuge but also as a cage for our belongings and our rituals of living. “Our ’Haus’ is intended to unsettle people”, Lyndon Neri openly admits, “because we want to challenge them so that when they leave ‘Das Haus’ not only will they visit a fair with the most beautiful furniture and the best materials, they will also really start to ask themselves where we stand today – especially in China. Do we use furniture in the right way? How much furniture do we need? And what does the term ‘the home’ actually mean?”

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“Das Haus” does not just present a whole range of design classics but also actually a number of products and exclusive new products from Neri&Hu. There is the Jian sofa from Gandia Blasco, for example, or the two new carpets called Blur and Street from Nanimarquina. The new luminaires series from Parachilna is reminiscent of Chinese lanterns and for the bathroom, Neri&Hu designed a Communal Tub for the studio’s own label, linking in the idea of the Asian bathing tradition and advocating the idea of bathing as a communal experience – for lovers for example.

An entire collection, conceived for De La Espada, develops Neri & Hu’s idea further – that certain furniture could support communal experiences: Communal Stool, Table and Bench in their puristic design seem made for the most natural and ancient of communal rituals – Eating. The Communal Table also seizes on the tradition of the “Lazy Susan” – a rotating tray positioned in the centre of the table for holding serving bowls, very common in China.

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As well as the bed Single and a range of decorative candlesticks (both for Neri & Hu), the Shanghai studio also presents another furniture highlight in “Das Haus”: the new Sedan Chair for Classicon, which updates the successful Lounge Chair of 2013 into a light, elegant and comfortable chair, while maintaining its materiality – an option particularly suitable for use at the table and as well as in the contract sector.

A city only comes alive when it is brimming with our memories, say Neri&Hu, quoting novelist Italo Calvino. So the name “Memory Lane” has two meanings here; it refers to the urban tradition of the Shanghai lanes, characterised by close neighbourly relations as well as to the “paths of memory” which the visitor is invited to negotiate through the installation.

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The concept of the installation is informed by the spatial experience of a Shanghai “lane house”. Lane houses were typical of the glamorous Shanghai of the 1930’s – a fusion of Chinese living tradition as organised around a lively courtyard on the one hand and of western town houses on the other, organised in rows in and several stories high. The lane house is in danger of disappearing in the fast-paced metropolis. Neri&Hu reinterpret this building type, though they designed the open house arranged over staggered levels and with a central stairwell leading to the residences of the several households.

The Shanghai lane house, like “Das Haus” by Neri&Hu, defines the intersections of public and private space, of the traditional and the public use of space as negotiable. And so their “Haus” comprises the museumesque as well as the visionary at the same time. Right in the middle of the international furnishing fair imm cologne, a tale is told of the history of living, with associative images displaying the past and the (potential) future.

Photos: Konstantin Meyer; koelnmesse

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