Bold geometric shapes, garish colour combinations, vividly stylized patterns and motifs — the instantly recognizable hallmarks of Memphis design are a far cry from understated. And so it would follow suit that an exhibition space and showroom dedicated mainly to furniture and objects from the groundbreaking 1980s movement should be equally curious, exaggerated and bizarre.
When commissioned for a Memphis Milano outpost in Hangzhou, China, local designer Li Wenqiang took the collective’s advocacy for “unrestricted creative expression” to heart and devised a renovation that was both a departure from its surroundings and an indicator of the “unexpected sensory experiences” the pieces inside bring to people.
Set on a busy corner in the city, Ya Space! commands attention with a spiky exterior that was conceptualized as a cliff face (in Chinese, the word for “cliff” is pronounced “ya”). Wenqiang, who founded his 12-member studio PIG Design in 2015, wanted to give the “white box exhibition hall a totally different perspective.”
After comparing the integrity and usability of possible materials, he opted for corrugated sheet metal — more than 200 triangular panels of it — to clad the pre-existing 455-square-metre building that would house the two-storey showroom. “Metal seems to be more abstract, and technology can make each piece have its own direction,” he says.
To realize the vision, Wenqiang and his team welded a large-scale steel framework to the existing building before installing the custom-fabricated wedge-shaped panels, which are a deviation from standard rectangular boards. These modules were fine-tuned with the sup- plier off site, then finished on site with T-shaped strips to conceal their exposed edges — a troubleshoot to keep costs down.
To create a crystalline showstopper, Wenqiang applied the panels in alternating orientations, which resulted in the ridged triangles mimicking the slapdash arrangement of the geometric forms favoured by the Memphis Group while also riffing on the random nature of rock formations.
In a final salute to the movement’s penchant for conflating rudimentary shapes, a bronze-ringed circular glass door punctuates the silvery facade and provides a warm entry point for visitors, protected under the cliff’s edge. Ya Space! is peculiar, multi-faceted and over the top — in short, an appropriate homage to the nonconformist postmodern movement that turned convention on its head.
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A strange and sculptural skin – made of 200 triangular metal panels – enshrouds Ya Space!, a Memphis Milano outpost in Hangzhou, China.