Meet the artists…Yun Fu

An interview with Yun Fu, winner of the Scholars’ Prize in Architecture, in which he speaks about the works he has produced during his residency at the BSR in January–March 2020.

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Study of loitering in Piazza del Popolo. Photograph by Yun Fu

Can you explain your research on the concept of loitering and wandering? How are you developing it in Rome?

From the beginning, there was an awareness of the topic’s seeming elusiveness to rigidly structured research, which swayed the project towards an informal and immersive approach, perhaps more related to anthropology, to study loitering and wandering through the act itself. Large parts of each day was spent in  loitering in and wandering across the city, with loosely defined goals and destinations, if any, moving through and lingering in the spaces of the city, taking different paths to the same places, and observing both other people and ourselves. Taking a page from photographer Henri Cartier Bresson and design researcher Jane Fulton Suri, early studies were documented through candid photography, to try and capture unmediated chance encounters and interesting or common modes of exploring and occupying the city.

To represent and examine the observations, a series of study models using found objects were developed. This approach was useful and fitting as the discovery and collection of the found objects is itself part of the process of loitering and wandering. The way in which the found objects are used in the study models, imagined at vastly different scales and put to unintended uses, is also similar to the open and ‘opportunistic’ gaze of the loiterer and wanderer; akin to a process of looking for a comfortable place to sit in a public space, where all surfaces are imbued with the potential of sitting, though with different degrees of comfort, whether or not it was intended for sitting in the first place. With the observations collected and documented in study models, the aim is to develop a catalogue of broad design approaches and applicable strategies, for creating places that are pleasant and intuitive to loiter and wander in, that go beyond the anecdotal accounts typically guiding such pursuits in the design process.

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Study of loitering on Isola Tiberina. Photograph by Yun Fu

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Close up view of a study model. Photograph by Yun Fu

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Overview of study models. Photograph by Yun Fu

You and designer Wenting Guo are creating a chair together. Could you tell us more about it?

We were recently commissioned by a Beijing based furniture company to design a series of leisure chairs for production. We are of course excited by this project, particularly given the company’s interest in broader issues related to the quality and diversity of contemporary lifestyles in cities, and the lineage of designers with whom the company has collaborated before, including Alvaro Siza and Zhang Ke. The resonance between our study of loitering and wandering in Rome and the leisure chair is also apparent and interesting — we have been looking closely at the ways people occupy the city, in places that may or may not be designed for it.

For designers and architects, furniture is a particularly interesting project type. It is perhaps the most intimate with the user, both ergonomically and emotionally, and closely reflects diverse conceptions of what constitutes a good life. Engineering wise, a furniture’s structure needs to be light and strong, and resist in relative terms some of the most severe and diverse load conditions — comparable to extreme skyscrapers and infrastructural projects. It is also the most democratic and accessible design product, in the sense that the selection of furniture, and in particular the chair, is how most people improve and personalise their living environment, particularly in contemporary urban circumstances where compact, standardised apartment units are the norm.

Leisure chairs is a loosely defined category of furniture — in our mind, it could be anywhere between a dining chair and a sofa. We are particularly interested in rethinking the established image of the ubiquitous multi-piece living room sets, typically organised around one or more sofa units, a coffee table, and a TV, which seems anachronistic and poorly suited to the fluidity and diversity of contemporary lifestyles, and the compactness of modern urban housing. We are also curious to explore the possibility of moving away from the chair as a passive object for sitting, i.e. the modernist trope of a machine for sitting, with its narrowly defined functional orientation, towards a more diverse set of considerations, including whether a chair is intuitive and fun to sit in, and facilitates diverse scenarios, both planned and unplanned.

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The artist in his studio. Photograph by Wenting Guo

Interview by Marta Pellerini (BSR Fine Arts Adviser)