Speaking with a heavy heart, Shi-Chieh Lu, founder of the renowned company in the architecture world, CJ STUDIO, stated that “Nowadays, Chinese people still evaluate brands based on their value for money, and many even feel guilty for selling a product that costs 10 NTD for 100 NTD. However, a brand is a representation of collective culture and a part of memory. People have a sense of loyalty for brands because they identify with the values that the brands represent, not merely because of its sturdy quality and reasonable pricing. “It would be impossible to pay a designer for his or her work; that way, designers would become workers. We need to change this current mentality.”
Lu was listed among “the five international designers with most potential” by the US interior design magazine “INTERIOR DESIGN” in their 75th anniversary special edition, and is also the first Taiwanese to be awarded a Master’s degree by the UK’s Architectural Association School of Architecture. Shi-Chieh Lu gained popularity among the architecture world very early on and has recently delivered outstanding results throughout his work in product design. “Ming’s Heart”, the chair that he designed was awarded first prize at the international 2015 Poltrona Frau Award and shortlisted among “Best Design of the Year” of the 2016 Golden Pin Design Award.
When talking about his design concept, Shi-Chieh Lu stated that when he was invited to attend the armchair design competition of the Italian luxury furniture brand Poltrona Frau, the theme for the competition was “east meets west.” Therefore, Lu based the design structure on the Ming chair, a piece of furniture that can be easily understood by Western viewers and has a prestige status in Chinese culture, while the world-famous leather and steel of Poltrona Frau are used for the frame. “I started from a minimalist concept,” said Lu, “hoping to display the beauty of the leather and eliminate other unnecessary parts. Therefore, the final appearance seems like a piece of leather floating in midair out of a geometric frame.” The name “Ming’s Heart” also comes with a deep meaning. The Chinese character Ming refers both to the Ming Dynasty and also means “to clarify.” Lu expressed that “Ming means Ming Dynasty chairs. I have a deep interest in Buddhism and philosophy. ‘Ming’s Heart’ also means ‘to clarify the heart’; in other words, I hope that only the leather comes into vision and for the viewer to experience a transparent sensation.” “Ming’s Heart” is displayed for the first time in April 2016 at the Salone di Mobile in Milan and was highly received by international media. “Ming’s Heart” was also listed as “Special Mention” in the 2016 “Archiproduct Design Awards. Shi-Chieh Lu became the first Taiwanese designer whose work has been displayed in Milan and marketed across the world.
Shi-Chieh Lu started working on product design in home furnishings as early as 10 years ago. His works include the ‘Pocket Collection,” “Origami Collection,” and “Sleeve Collection.” All three collections have one thing in common: the cups have no handle. Lu explained that traditional design separates function from form; a cup handle exists for the sole purpose of being held and seems superfluous. “My architectural training involves breaking through the concept of the sky, land, and walls, which is why I wish to create a sense of landscape through the work.” In 2006, Forgemind ArchiMedia described that Lu “designs a cup as if designing a building…he shifts the concept of ‘the mind can fly’ from architecture into product design.” “The mind can fly” is a term by Laozi. When asked whether his design is influenced by Chinese culture, Lu answered: “The saying ‘the mind can fly’ means the ability to rule form. The philosophy of breaking through the gap between form and function is a concept filled with the character of Eastern Philosophy. However, I don’t emphasize this part.”
From architecture to product design, Shi-Chieh Lu stated that he stresses reflection on space. “Take the ‘Pocket Collection’ for instance. Pockets are two-dimensional, but when we put our hand into the pocket, the pocket creates a space. The ‘Origami Collection’ is another example of making two-dimensional concepts into three-dimensional works. When working on product design, I am rarely self-conscious that I am designing a product. I tend to think more about the relationship between space and time.”
Returning to his expertise in space design, Shi-Chieh Lu has produced countless exciting works during his 20 years of experience. Lu has also designed the stores of Aesop across Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and Malaysia for many years. Aesop Zhongxiao East Road Store, which was awarded the 2016 Golden Pin Award, used traditional Taiwan terrazzo flooring and the sinks remind viewers of the cement sinks that are commonly seen in elementary schools in Taiwan during the 50s and 60s. As for the reason for the local elements in designs, Lu states that Aesop is a brand that values combining the brand image with culture and is recently active in creating a dialogue with each city and stresses regional characteristics. This is the reason behind the connections between Aesop Zhongxiao East Road Store and Taiwan.
However, this does not mean that Shi-Chieh Lu inserts elements from Chinese or Taiwanese culture into every single piece of work. Lu believes that he is influenced by both Eastern and Western culture and theory. Different cultures and languages represent different thinking modes, each with their advantages. “Terrazzo flooring is also commonly seen in Italy, while paper cuts created to decorate windows can also be seen in Portugal. Taiwan is a country that has been occupied by many different countries in the past, which makes it difficult to determine exactly which kind of design can be considered as authentic Taiwanese. Therefore, it would be a constraint if we merely emphasize regional characters or Chinese design.”
On the other hand, Shi-Chieh Lu laments about the sense towards brands throughout the Chinese community. Lu believes that Chinese people have yet to taste the rewards of culture. “Starting from ancient times, design was a means to maintain living. Therefore, money has always been the priority; this is harmful to design. When evaluating a brand, we care about the cost-performance ratio and whether the quality of the material is good and feel guilty when selling a product that costs 10 NTD as 100 NTD. But if you think about a painting, should we consider the money spent on the paint and cost of labor? Or course not! It would be impossible count the wages of a designer; that way, designers would become workers.” Lu believes that in western culture, people perceive brands as the collective culture of everyday life and a part of memory that give a sense of worth and loyalty. “Only when we value originality and brands can we enjoy the benefits that it brings. There is still opportunity for growth in this regard in Chinese design.”
About Shi-Chieh Lu
Shi-Chieh Lu graduated from the Architecture Department of Tung-Hai University and was awarded a Master’s Degree from the Architectural Association in London in 1993, the first Taiwanese alumni of the institution. During his time in the UK, Lu entered the architecture company founded by renowned architect Raoul Bunschoten as a designer. After Lu returned to Taiwan, he founded CJ STUDIO in 1996 and started engaging in design works including architecture design, interior design, furniture design, and product design. In 2003, Lu established his personal brand “shichieh lu,” a series of furniture and life appliances. Shi-Chieh Lu’s works have received numerous awards such as the silver prize of Japan’s JCD Design Award, the gold prize of the 2007 IFI award, the TID award, first prize of the 2015 Poltrona Frau Award, and the Golden Pin Award. Shi-Chieh Lu was named among the top five designers with the most potential by popular US interior design magazine “INTERIOR DESIGN” in their 75th anniversary special edition, and was also listed as one of the top ten interior designers of TID Award 2007-2010. Moreover, Lu taught at the Department of Interior Space Design at the College of Design at Shih Chien University, the Department of Architecture at Tunghai University, and the Graduate Institute of Architecture of National Chiao Tung University. Lu’s publications include Forging Parallax (2003), Space, Design, Thinking (2015), and Registration Form (2015), all popular works in the architectural world.