Cover A diving helmet designed by Hong Kong-based studio Stickyline and musician Vanissa Law to simulate the experience of isolation that many people have endured during the Covid-19 pandemic

The Design Trust has invited architects, artists and designers to take part in a creative challenge that is a unique response to the times

Hands are haunting our collective consciousness this year. They star in public health campaigns around the world. Doctors rightly lecture us daily about what we should and should not do with them. Wash them this way. Don’t shake hands. Don’t touch your face, and never your eyes. If possible, wear gloves.

But to Marisa Yiu, hands are not terrifying—they’re comforting. “Making something with our hands is a core form of human expression and a creative release,” says Yiu, co-founder and executive director of Hong Kong-based charity Design Trust, a grant-funding platform that supports creative projects in Hong Kong and around the Greater Bay Area. “To make things with our hands is a universal act.”

Design Challenge

This idea inspired the Design Trust’s latest initiative, Critically Homemade, for which Yiu challenged architects, artists and designers to make a new object from home during the pandemic. She requested that the item respond to current social and environmental challenges and that it be no larger than 20 cm cubed, so that it can be cupped in someone’s hands. Otherwise, the creators had free rein. Roughly 70 of them rose to the challenge and their pieces are being shown this month on Design Trust’s website and at an exhibition at Soho House running from September 21 to October 4. 

The objects range from the practical to the conceptual, and all of them explore how the Covid-19 pandemic has rocked the world. “Some designers have taken a moment to think, ‘2020 has been an extraordinarily stressful time. What can we do to reduce stress?’” says Yiu. Michael Leung, for example, crafted a calming incense holder; Frederic Gooris made a set of eco-friendly, stress-busting gym equipment; and Clara Brito designed a pair of slippers that gently massage your feet as you walk.

Others tackled the topic of how to keep children entertained at home, which People’s Architecture Office has answered with an origami colouring book. Creative agency Constant partnered with product designer Aurelien Barbry to design a light-hearted response to how to restore human connection in an age of social distancing: they have created a handheld, analogue megaphone, so people can talk to each other from metres apart.

See also: 10 Hong Kong Art Exhibitions To See In September 2020

New Priorities

“The pandemic has really forced us to re-evaluate what we value and how we can use design to improve our daily lives. Most architects and designers constantly want to make things for a better future—that’s the heart of the discipline,” says Yiu. “This is such an emotional period of time, but I’m a perpetual optimist.”

The digital showcase, Yiu adds, might just be the start. “We are showing the prototypes, which are excellent in and of themselves as examples of creative thinking. But the hope is that some retailer or brand like Kapok or GOD might see something and say, ‘Gosh, that’s such a brilliant idea, we want to fund it.’” If any of the products are picked up commercially, Yiu hopes proceeds will go to both the designer and Design Trust.

“We can’t hold our big fundraising gala as normal this year, so as a foundation we have to devise new ways to raise money. And we also want to do as much as we can to support the design community, so maybe this will lead to a new circular fundraising model that benefits everyone,” says Yiu. “It’s just an idea, but let’s see where it goes. In the history of mankind, crisis and catastrophe have often led to innovation.”

See also: 10 Unexpectedly Revitalised Historic Sites in Hong Kong: Now and Then

Highlights from Design Trust’s forthcoming exhibition

The Learning House by People’s Architecture Office

Beijing-based People’s Architecture Office has designed sheets of paper illustrated with city streets, which children can colour in and then fold into the shape of a house—an activity that stimulates their creativity and exercises their fine motor skills.

See also: 4 Art Therapy Activities To Improve Your Wellbeing At Home

Antibacterial Door Handles by Michael Young Studio

UK-born, Hong Kong-based industrial designer Michael Young fused natural forms and cutting-edge technology to make these fluid-repellent, antibacterial door handles. Young used a laser-cutting process to engrave a pattern in the surface that mimics the qualities of water-repellent lotus leaves.

Hong Kong Brick by Studio Florian and Christine

Designers Florian Wegenest and Christine Lew scoured shops in Hong Kong that were closing due to the Covid-19 pandemic, collecting cement, glass and stone that they have given new life in the form of their terrazzo Hong Kong Brick. The designers see the brick as a hopeful symbol, an example of how we can build on the past to create something new.

See also: K11 Musea Unveils New Art & Cultural Centre And Sculpture Park

Pocket Garden by Julie & Jesse

Resembling a traditional Chinese garden in miniature form, this chess set features porcelain models of Chinese scholar’s rocks stuck to Lego bricks instead of the usual cast of characters. Scholars historically used the fantastically shaped stones as a way to connect with the natural world within the comfort of their homes—something many people have been desperate to do during the pandemic. This is the creation of ceramicists and designers Julie Progin and Jesse Mc Lin, founders of Hong Kong-based studio Julie & Jesse.

Tactile Family, NAPP Studio

After reflecting on the stress caused by the pandemic, designers Aron Tsang and Hera Lui have created a series of sensory toys—which are common in pre-school classrooms—for adults. Made from calming wood, stone, steel and silicone, these objects can reduce anxiety by shifting people’s attention from their mind to their body.

Diving Helmet by Stickyline and Vanissa Law

Almost everyone in the world has felt lonely at some point during this year’s pandemic—a feeling made physical in Stickyline's metallic diving helmet, which incorporates elements of light, sound and scent to simulate the sensation of isolation. The music was devised in collaboration with local composer Vanissa Law.

Design Trust: Critically Homemade runs from September 21 to October 4 at House Studio, Soho House Hong Kong

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