Cheng-Chung Yao established the Department of Interior Space Design at Shih Chien University and served as its Head of the Department. After more than ten years in the education sector, Yao established T1 International Design and served as the studio’s head designer. His works include the reconstruction of the iconic National Theater and Concert Hall (NTCH) Life Square and the celebrated City Plaza in the Taiwan Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. Given Yao’s industry and academic experience, what role does he expect Taiwanese design to play in the Chinese-speaking market? How does he think design for Chinese people will develop?
As Yao indicates, if Taiwanese design can gain a firm foothold in the Chinese-speaking market, it will have the attention of the most important market in the world. For designers, China is a good place to trial new products. In China, you can improve your design capabilities, differentiate yourself, and find out how your own performance stacks up against that of your competitors. You can even create your own brand image. Given that it is an open, pluralistic society, Taiwan is an important place where designers can explore their creativity. Taiwanese design extracts and transforms elements of both Eastern and Western culture, and takes into account both the traditional and the modern. During his decade or more in Taiwan’s education sector, Yao encouraged his students to use Taiwan as a base from where they could enter the world market.
Given the rapid rise of the Chinese market, if Taiwanese designers want to secure a place in the design world, they must have the ability to “start from zero” (create something new) rather than “start from one” (innovate an existing product or idea), have a broad, international perspective, and have the ability to work along the entire design industry chain. Interior design is a highly innovative field, Yao says, because it is easier to start from the beginning. However, to start from scratch requires hard work and long-term preparation.Taiwanese designers lack a global perspective. Designers need to step outside of Taiwan and cultivate an international perspective in their designs. Design does not act independently: the industry also encompasses production, management, and marketing. It is crucial that designers understand the entire system. A platform that can connect all creative industries has not been constructed yet, and this is an area in which the government can provide assistance.
In addition to talking freely about the importance of the Chinese market, Yao also shared opinions formed during his years of experience in interior design for the Chinese-speaking market. Many of Yao’s interior design projects are built on Chinese-style design, though this focus was unintentional. “It was natural for me to feature Chinese style in my projects because I inherited Chinese culture,” he explains. For Yao, this is the most significant difference between Chinese designers and designers from the West when they are competing in the Chinese-speaking market.
Yao cites some examples from his body of work. “When we were completing the interior design of the Red Dot Design Museum Taipei, we used expanded metal mesh as the primary construction material for the exhibition space in order to preserve the original style of the historical space,” he explains. “The exhibition hall is very modern and the interior design represents the integration of the old and the new and a ‘when the East meets the West’ concept.” Most importantly, visitors to the exhibition hall will perceive the space to be much bigger than it actually is. This illusion of space is created through the use of lattice windows, screens, and beaded curtains, all of which are features that are prevalent in traditional Eastern interior design. The poetic representation of time and space is a characteristic of Chinese design, Yao says. “When I was designing the NTCH Life Square, I thought it would be very romantic to sit on the eaves of the roofs of the surrounding buildings and look out over the city,” he muses. He decided to create long park benches that in their shape mimic the curved roofs. For Yao, the design of the square symbolizes an open space full of the energy of a modern urban environment. At the same time, the design references the stylistic traditions of classic Chinese public spaces.
According to Yao, if today’s designers want to enter the multidimensional Chinese market they must have the ability to conceptualize unique projects and integrate with the local design industry, and they must possess an international outlook. “In order to design projects that are characterized by Chinese culture, we need to continue to foster a historically and humanistically focused atmosphere, so that the cultural connotations can naturally shine through.”
About Cheng-Chung Yao
Cheng-Chung Yao is currently the head designer at T1 International Design. Prior to founding this studio, Yao was working for the Department of Interior Design as Head of Department. He was also the Adjunct Associate Professor of the Institute of Architecture at both Tamkang University and Jiao Tong University. His design projects include the famed reconstruction of NTCH Life Square in Taipei, Taiwan, as well as the Taiwan Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, the Taiwan Design Center, the Taiwan Design Museum, Art Box, and the Red Dot Design Museum Taipei. Yao has been invited on numerous occasions to serve as a member of the judging panel for Germany’s Red Dot Design Award.