Zhoujie Zhang is one of the best-known designers among a plethora of rising stars in China. An alumnus of Central Saint Martins in the UK, Zhang founded Zhang Zhoujie Digital Lab when he returned to Shanghai. “Possibility” and “futurism” are two words often used to describe his work; this young designer is exploring uncharted territory in an all-new field—computer-generated design.
The 21st century is the age of the computer. As a visiting researcher at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, Zhang was one of the first designers to be exposed to parametric design; it was here that he began to realize and explore the possibilities of computational design. At the school, students could simulate natural phenomena such as wind and water, and they quickly realized that nature can be digitally represented. Later, the development of computer-generated design led Zhang to realize that, with the right algorithms, computer systems can be used to design things that lie beyond human imagination.
“I am deeply influenced by Taoist thought,” says Zhang, and he explains that he uses Taoist principles in his computer-generated design. In Taoist philosophy, everything has its own path of development; the philosophy emphasizes the idea of following nature. Taoism also places great importance on independence and freedom of spirit. For Zhang, he used his time studying in the UK to get to know himself better and expand his world view. Today, his team are benefiting from this experience, and are the embodiment of a radical and experimental practice.
The Triangulation Series is widely considered to be Zhang’s most representative work. The 2009 graduation project was his first foray into parametric design. Each chair in the series was created using a computer program–a system that can shape objects on its own–and as such has unique “DNA.” He followed up the Triangulation Series with Digital Vessel, a small-scale experiment through which he further developed his ideas. Like living organisms, the designs in the series were able to form and reform themselves, and interaction with people served as a catalyst for this process of reshaping.
Zhang believes that huaren (Chinese-speaking) designers are highly innovative, but that they are also easily distracted by the temptations of contemporary society, which can limit their creativity. Western designers, by contrast, are less materialistic, and their desire for self-actualization is stronger, which leads them to focus more on innovation. The strength and ability of the huaren community lies in the application of design in the local market; huaren designers know what the market demands and how to appeal to it, and in this way they are able to find ways to expand their businesses. However, for Zhang, finding and unleashing creativity is the most essential skill for a designer.
“What makes designers great is how they serve their time. For example, the Taiwanese designers working for BenQ and Motorola in the 80s and 90s really accomplished their mission. That’s what makes them great,” Zhang explains. Contemporary huaren designers have a mission too, he continues. They need to look at the world, find the most advanced field they can immerse themselves in, and then use their entire life to explore it.
About Zhang Zhoujie
Zhang Zhoujie graduated from Central Saint Martins in the UK and was a visiting researcher at the Architectural Association. After completing his education in the UK, he returned to China to teach and founded his own digital design lab in Shanghai in 2010. The Triangulation Series is his signature work. The series is based on the concept of following nature and an exploration of new possibilities, bringing together traditional huaren artistic perspectives, Western methodologies, and cutting-edge digital techniques and craftsmanship. Zhang’s works have been sought by collectors from all over the world, and have been covered by magazines such as Wallpaper, ICON, and Vogue. His works are futuristic and experimental, and he is considered a driving force in China’s independent design scene.