Sneak Peek of Neri & Hu's Home Concept for IMM Cologne 2015

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By Allie Weiss / Published by Dwell
Every year at IMM Cologne, the Das Haus installation gives a designer free reign to re-conceptualize the home in a large-scale installation. This year, Shanghai-based architecture firm Neri & Hu, run by principals Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu, will bring their concept to Cologne. We recently got a glimpse of the design while it was still in progress in Shanghai, and spoke with the designers about their vision. Here, get a sneak peek of the concept and our conversation. We'll be on the ground in Cologne in January to report on the completed design—stay tuned!

On exploring the concept of the home.

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A work-in-progress model of Neri & Hu's concept for the Das Haus installation at IMM Cologne 2015.

Lyndon Neri: We often ask ourselves about the idea of the cage. The question is the bird inside the cage, is it really free? Is it being fed, does it need to go find its own food, or is it really imprisoned? People who are imprisoned today, some of them probably want to be inside rather than outside. They are fed every day so there’s no motivation to leave. The notion of freedom and the notion of being released is blurred. So when we look at the furniture we have, houses we live in, a lot of people live in opulent houses with furniture that’s not used, but that’s showcased. Do you cage yourself in those pieces that you buy? If you don’t really use them, what’s the use of all this beautiful furniture and accessories? So it’s also about questioning what are these products for, and do we really need a lot of these things.

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"The idea of the house for us has been an interesting subject of study, as architects, because the house is the beginning of building, the beginning of architecture, shelter that puts a roof over you when it rains," says Hu.

Rossana Hu: The show is called Das Haus. I don’t speak a word of German but I know it means "the house" and the idea of the house for us has been an interesting subject of study, as architects, because the house is the beginning of building, the beginning of architecture, shelter that puts a roof over you when it rains. But also, the idea of home which is marking the place, not just the space—the space is kind of anonymous but the home is a place where you grow up, where you have memories of your childhood.

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The architects say their concept is inspired by the lack of privacy in typical lane houses in Shanghai.

We will be bringing to this installation different types of materials and really exploring what the meanings are behind them. We will be using metal, wood, and other objects that are made of various different materials. We will be making up a lot of these spaces with recycled material, things that have traces of history and the past. We hope these references to the past will also bring out the different memories that people have engaging with objects. 

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"When we look at the furniture we have, houses we live in, a lot of people live in opulent houses with furniture that’s not used, but that’s showcased," says Neri. "Do you cage yourself in those pieces that you buy? If you don’t really use them, what’s the use of all this beautiful furniture and accessories?"

On how their design engages the divide between public/private. 

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Neri & Hu is responsible for a number of architecture and interiors projects, including the design of the Waterhouse Hotel in Shanghai, a boutique hotel built in a Japanese Army headquarters building from the 1930s.

Neri: If you enter [a space], someone might be looking at you from a different vantage point. Your perception is very correct, it’s very voyeuristic. Public and private is completely blurred. [In our designs we try to conjure what is] typical of lane houses in Shanghai. Where Rossana and I live, if I’m not careful in the morning, my neighbor, three meters away, can poke in and see me naked in the bathroom. In [the Das Haus design], you can enter the cage, but there will be mirrors and cameras capturing you.

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The hotel features views of the city's South Bund district.