Home & 100% design 2014

100% design 2014

100% design entrance tunnel created by Studio Design UK


During the London design festival, the first two stops for me were Home in Olympia and 100% Design in Earls Court. I visited our Japanese supplier Di-Classe‘s stand at Home and was glad to know that the show has generated a lot of interests for them from the trade and The Gadget show!


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Left: Home at Olympia; Di-Classe at Home


At 100% design, I did not see as much as I had hoped because I spent a fair amount of time talking to some designers exhibiting at the show. I first met husband and wife team behind Mana design at the Emerging brands section. Kung Mana Tongmee is an artist and furniture designer-maker from Thailand, but their furniture pieces are all homemade in Somerset. Inspired by his Buddhism background, Thai culture and British craftsmanship, Kung‘s designs are one of a kind and they are look more like functional sculptures than furniture pieces. I especially like the nature-inspired leaf cabinet.


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Top right: Lasvit’s ‘Ice’ by Daniel Libeskind; 2nd row: Future Pioneers by Design Council; 3rd row left: Drop umbrealla by Ayca Dundar; 3rd row right: Zi Zai Gong Fang; Bottom right: Charles Parford Plant


Most young professional Londoners live in small flats these days, but it is very hard to find cool-looking, flexible and well-made furniture if you want to look beyond Ikea. I think there is a gap in the market between Ikea and high-end designer furniture, and so I love MoModul by Belgium designer Xavier Coenen. The concept is simple, there are only 3 modules, 3 colours, 3 sets but you can create unlimited combinations without screws nor bolds. The sets are playful, functional, sustainable, and they are perfect for small flats or houses with limited space. I also enjoyed talking to both Xavier and Anouk who are from Antwerp, one of my favourite cities in Europe. They also remind me that a visit to this cool and relaxing city is long-overdue…


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Top left: Mana design; Top right: Lighting by Masam; 2nd row: Jangpanji collection by Beeeen Company; 3rd row left: Jo Woffinden ceramics; 3rd row right: Joseph Hartley; 4th row: MoModul by Xavier Coenen; Bottom: Sandro Lopez


Finally, I met and chatted briefly to Korean designer, Been Kim who has just launched her new Jangpanji collection, which is made from traditional Korean handmade paper and coated with lacquer tree oil. Meanwhile, she also showcased other collections like Dancheong bowl and mats inspired by traditional Korean patterns. Been‘s designs are contemporary and functional, and yet they also reflect traditional Korean culture and heritage, which I think makes her work stand out from the crowd.


More highlights from other design shows will follow…


Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

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Hong Kong’s future is depicted in the photo above… foggy & unclear


Originally I was going to publish further posts on the London design festival, but what has been happening in Hong Kong has prompted me to write about the city where I consider as my second home.

I was shocked and saddened by the photographs I saw over the weekend when Hong Kong’s government decided to use force (including tear gas and pepper spray) to disperse the peaceful pro-democracy protesters. Umbrellas are deployed by the protesters as the indispensable tools against the pepper spray, and this strong imaginary has inspired the media to name the protest as the “umbrella revolution” or “umbrella movement” (You can see the logos that local designers have come up with via SCMP). Ironically, this unnecessary force has escalated the protest from a relatively ‘regional’ event into a global one, gaining headline coverage from all the western media. This is what I would call a PR disaster for the Hong Kong/Chinese government.


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Marc Allante’s artwork of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest


The truth is that Hong Kong has been ‘unwell’ for a long time. A few years ago, I was talking to a Hong Kong friend about the future of the city and I said that a riot is likely to take place because of what has been happening to the city since the handover in 1997. And I didn’t need to a be a fortune teller to have predicted that. Although I only lived in Hong Kong before the handover, I still have family and friends living there and so I would visit the city almost annually. I can say that the Hong Kong I see today is almost unrecognisable from the one I knew before 1997 (and I don’t mean the cityscape). The widening wealth gap, influx of mainland Chinese migrants and tourists, unaffordable housing and commercial rentals, the suppression of free speech, the growing dissatisfaction with the incompetent government, the loss of identity, and the unclear political future etc all contribute to what is happening to this city now. If we trace back the history, Hong Kong’s citizens have never been able to elect their own leaders, so the psyche behind this protest is deeper and more complex, and I believe it is very much related to the citizens’ (esp. the young students) search for Hong Kong’s lost identity and pride.

Honestly, I don’t think the Chinese government would back down nor would they allow ‘real democracy’ in Hong Kong. And I don’t think other western countries can do much about it either because they are so dependent on China’s investments these days. £14 billion of trade and investment deals have been signed between UK and Chinese firms at the UK-China summit this year. Would the British government back up an ex-colony over the possibility of losing these deals? Highly unlikely. And unlike the “Jasmine Revolution” in the Middle East, the Chinese government is too powerful to be removed and it will do whatever it takes to demonstrate their power to control and shut people up.

Yet this does not mean that protests are pointless, and from what we have seen, the unnecessary force has united the citizens more and subsequently gained unexpected supporters worldwide. Again, social media plays an important role in this whole saga, and even though the Chinese government has banned Instagram (owned by Facebook) in China along with other western social media platforms, they are unable to ban it in Hong Kong where video footage and photographs are constantly being uploaded and shared to the worldwide audience. Most of my Hong Kong friends have changed their profile photos on Facebook to the picture of a yellow ribbon as their way of supporting the movement. We now live in an age when the people in power of our societies are the least trust-worthy, and so as ordinary citizens, we need to depend and support each other more than ever. People power can never be underestimated, which explains why the Chinese government is constantly monitoring all the movements of its citizens, and censoring anything that challenges its power.

It will be a struggle for Hong Kong to enjoy the democracy it once experienced (yes, I am using past tense here), and I do not want to see Hong Kong’s Central being turned into Tiananmen Square. No matter how defiant the protesters feel, they need to protect their own safety and not make unnecessary sacrifices. The entire world is now watching the events unfold, and I hope that no more violence will be witnessed as the protests continue. No matter what will be the outcome of this, there will certainly be more social and political unrest to come and the future of Hong Kong is unlikely to be clearer anytime soon.


London design festival 14: V & A Museum

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Top & bottom left: Crest by Zaha Hadid Architects; Bottom right: Carousal wall by David David and Johnson Tiles


Another year, another design festival… unlike the previous years, I didn’t have the time to do much planning beforehand, so I missed many talks especially at the V & A because they were booked up very quickly.

Judging from the ever-growing festival, it’s not hard to tell the design industry means big business (even their booklet is much bigger and heavier this year). A few years ago, media coverage focused mostly on the London fashion week (which takes place at the same time), but this year, the London design festival received almost the same amount of coverage and attention as the fashion week thanks to the marketing and PR team.

V & A museum has been the hub of the festival for as long as I can remember, and it is always interesting to see site-specific installations by international designers/artists at the museum.

One of the main attraction is Zaha Hadid Architects‘ ‘Crest’ in The John Madejski Garden, commissioned by Melia Hotels International ( the sculpture will stay there until 24th October, then it will be installed as a permanent feature within the ME Hotel in Dubai). The shell-like aluminium structure works surprisingly well with the historical architectural environment, it reflects the sky, the water and the movements surrounding it. It’s a shame that this installation will find its permanent elsewhere!


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Top and 2nd row left: Barber & Osgerby‘s ‘Double Space for BMW: Precision & Poetry in Motion; 2nd row middle: Kyouei Design’s Magnetic Field Record; 2nd row right & bottom: 3D fabric installation Dream-Land by The T/shirt issue


Another major installation is Barber & Osgerby‘s ‘Double Space for BMW: Precision & Poetry in Motion’ (until 24th October), a kinetic sculpture that creates an immersive experience for the viewers in the Raphael Gallery. The two huge mirrored panels, constructed like an aircraft wing, have one flat side and one convex side, and they would rotate slowly above the viewers. There was a lot of hype about this installation before it was revealed, but I felt slightly underwhelmed by it as the installation reminds me of some large distorted mirrors except that it costs a lot more to produce. Although it is an interesting experience to view the gallery in a new perspective, personally, I think French designers Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec‘s ‘Textile Field‘ (2011) worked better in this gallery space.


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The wish list project – Top left: Zaha Hadid & Gareth Neal’s wooden tableware; Top right: Terence Conran & Sebastian Cox’s Cocoon office; 2nd row left: Paul Smith & Nathalie de Leval’s garden shed; 3rd row left: Richard Rogers and Xenia Moseley’s special ladder; 3rd row right: Alex de Rijke and Barnby & Day’s round laminated dining table; Bottom: Norman Foster & Nori Matsamoto’s pencil sharpeners


The Wish List is a collaboration project between 10 top designers/ architects and 10 emerging design talents. Each pair would work together to design and produce something they have always wanted, but never been able to find. The final pieces can be seen at the museum until 24th October.

Elsewhere at the museum, there are also various exhibitions including Disobedient objects(until 1st Feb 2015), ‘A world to win: posters of protest and revolution’ (until 2nd Nov)and ‘Shakespeare: Greatest living playwright’ (until 28th Sept).


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Top row: ‘Disobedient objects’ exhibition; Posters from ‘A world to win: posters of protest and revolution’ exhibition; The rest: ‘Shakespeare: Greatest living playwright’ exhibition


While I was at the museum, I attended a screening and Q & A session of a digital project called ‘1000 Londoners‘ produced by Chocolate films. The aim of the project is to improve understanding and community cohesion by enabling Londoners to learn more about the people who share their city.

Each week, a profile of a Londoner is posted on their home page. The profile contains a 3 minute film that gives an insight into the life of the Londoner, as well as their own personal photos of London and some answers to crucial questions about their views on London life.
At the screening, 10 short films were selected featuring London designers/ designer makers of various disciplines. I like the concept a lot, and the fact that some of the films selected are via open submissions and competitions. If you are a Londoner, and would like to get involved in the project or learn more about other Londoners, then check out their website above to find out more.

Silent walking weekend

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As a keen hiker/walker, I have joined various walking groups and did many day hikes/walks out of London in recent years. Walking aside, these groups are sociable and provide opportunities to meet and mingle with other walkers who live in London.

Lately, however, I find some group leaders overly keen to get to the destinations (i.e pubs), so it is hard to absorb the scenery except during the picnic break. Other times, we are all just too busy chatting or taking photographs that we completely miss what is in front of us.

Hence this summer I did fewer walks than the previous years and instead booked myself onto a Silent walking weekend retreat at Gayles retreat near Eastbourne. The retreat also includes yoga and meditation sessions, so it is an ideal holistic weekend for a stressed Londoner!

The location of the retreat is situated within the Seven Sisters country park near the Birling gap coastline. The retreat serves delicious vegetarian and vegan meals with most of the ingredients grown and picked from their garden. I loved seeing their chickens wandering around the garden, very free range indeed!


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Some of my friends do not understand what ‘retreats’ mean (they think it’s some kind of luxury spa holidays) nor do they understand why I would go so regularly. As a business owner, it is hard to switch off especially if you are doing four people’s jobs at the same time, and I often need the time and space for myself. In this day and age, not only we are bombarded by information, overwhelmed by endless choices, we are also surrounded by noises all the time (outside and inside). Simplicity and tranquility is something that I long for, but I would have to consciously make time and effort for it as city and work life is always hectic. I also like to get out of my comfort zone sometimes, because it allows me to see the bigger picture and observe own my neurotic mindset or behaviour!


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Silent retreats can be hard for people who have never done it before, because in silence, we have no choice but to face our inner conflicts and cluttered mind. And at this retreat, we spent most of the time in silence, photography was also forbidden during the walks (these photos were taken after the silence ended).

Silent walking/hiking is a meditative activity. It allows your senses to open up and be as close to nature as you possible can. The only distraction is your own mind. On the first day, I was aware of my wandering mind during the walk, but on the second day, I noticed that it was much calmer and thanks to the yoga sessions, my body felt less tense too.

On the first walk, we saw skeins of wild geese from all directions gathering at a pond, it was a spectacular sight that took all of our breaths away! On the second day, we walked along the stunning coastline and spent some time on a deserted beach listening to the sound of waves and enjoying the warmth of the sun on our skin. These moments were very special and not something that I could experience often living in the city.




Although I fully appreciated the silent walks without the use of photography, I have also been wondering about the relationship between mindfulness and photography lately. Does photography really interfere with the present moment? Even though I am an amateur photographer who lacks advanced skills and techniques, I enjoy the process and often find it immensely meditative as I am so aware of what I am seeing that I would forget about everything else. Then I found an article called photography and mediation by the Buddhist teacher/author/photographer Stephen Batchelor and he addresses the query that has been bothering me for a while. In the article, he explains the parallels between photography and meditation, and I especially resonate with the last sentence, “For both paths (photography and mediation) have served to deepen my understanding of the fleeting, poignant and utterly contingent nature of things.”

Surprisingly, there are many books on the topic of photography and mediation or mindful photography, and John Suler‘s Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche is one of them. His article, Mindfulness and photography also explores the relationship between the two activities with great insights. Photography can be a mindful exercise if we understand the essence of the two activities and adopt an attitude that is open, non-judgemental and not ego-driven. And the more you are aware of your environment, the more likely you will capture THE moment for some great photography.


Myth – Deloitte Ignite 14

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Deloitte Ignite 14 at the Royal Opera House


I have attended the Royal Opera House‘s annual contemporary arts festival Deloitte Ignite for a few years now, and I think it’s a highly successful event that reflects the company’s ability to constantly evolve itself.

This year, the co-curator is Minn Moore Ede from the National Gallery and the theme focuses on two Greek Myths: Prometheus and his theft of fire, and Leda and her encounter with Zeus in the form of a swan. The festival enables artists, musicians, singers, dancers, choreographers, designers and film makers etc to collaborate and produce interdisciplinary events that take place throughout the month. Unlike other opera houses that seem inaccessible to everyone, the festival’s opening weekend at the ROH is free and accessible for all and it is packed full of events that are also children-friendly.


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Left: Crush Room; Middle: Street artists Phlegm’s art work at the ROH; Mat Collishaw‘s ‘The poisoned page’


It is interesting to see ROH collaborating with Sheffield-based street artist Phlegm, who is well know for his fine technique and detailed etchings. You can see his large painted work on the wall inside the venue (see above), and smaller prints at the entrance.

By chance, I stumbled upon the open rehearsal of Royal Ballet Soloist and choreographer Kristen McNally‘s new piece for Balletboyz the TALENT. I had already bought the ticket for the performance two weeks later, so I was quite thrilled to see the rehearsal and learned more about what went on backstage. It was also a joy to watch the charismatic Andrea Carrucciu at work.

In the evening, I saw ‘Sampling the Myth’, a mixed programme of live performances and short films exploring the modern retelling of myths through art collaboration. In the last piece ‘Unearthed’, Turner Prize-winning artist Chris Ofili painted directly onto the dancers’ bodies, transforming them into moving canvases. Unfortunately, I found the programme inconsistent and generic with some pieces better than others, and at one point there was even a technical issue when the audience had sit through a short film with only sound but no image. The much-anticipated Unearthed based on the Prometheus myth is colourful and energetic, but somehow does not live up to the hype. Disappointing show.


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Main & bottom left: open rehearsal of a new collaboration between Kristen McNally and BalletBoyz the TALENT; Bottom right: a view of Covent Garden from the terrace


Luckily, the new mixed programme performed by BalletBoyz the TALENT made up for my disappointment two weeks earlier. I have seen a show by BalletBoyz before, so I was really looking forward to this.

The company was launched in 2000 by Michael Nunn and William Trevitt of the Royal Ballet, their second-generation ensemble, The Talent, is made up of 10 male dancers. The first act ‘The Murmuringis choreographed by Alex Whitley and it is masculine, highly-energetic and even gripping at times. The second act is Kristen McNally‘s ‘Metheus’, with music by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. The piece is very different from the other two acts because it has a softer/more feminine element, and it seems more low-key and subdued.

The last act is Christopher Wheeldon’s re-choreography of Mesmerics, originally created in 2003 for Nunn, Trevitt and Oxana Panchenko. This is my favourite act of the evening, partly because it allows the dancers to shine individually and as a team. With a score by Philip Glass, the dancers are able to demonstrate their amazing flexibility or skilled classical-trained techniques like chaîné turns. It is dynamic, creative and superbly choreographed.

I have seen a few contemporary dance performances recently by well-known ballet dancers like Sylvie Guillem, and Russian ballet superstars Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev ( at the disappointing ‘Solo for Two’ at the London Coliseum in August), but I enjoyed this show the most. Although it is not perfect, it is entertaining, energetic and very promising.


BalletBoyz: the TALENT is showing at Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House until 27th September.


Museum of Broken Relationships

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Festival of love at South Bank


I am sure most of us have experienced heartaches at some points in our lives (unless you have never been in love before or have stayed with only one person all your life – well, lucky you!), but how do we deal with all those love tokens when the relationships end? Do we throw them out? Burn them? Return them? How about donating them to a museum?

In 2011, I visited the Museum of Broken relationship exhibition for the first time in London and I loved it! This summer, they were back in the city again as part of South Bank’s Festival of Love.

Set up by Croatian artists Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić in 2006 following their own break-up. The Croatian museum received the Kenneth Hudson Award for Europe’s most innovative museum in 2011, and they have since showcased their exhibits in 15 countries. The exhibitions revolve around the concept of failed relationships and the love tokens left behind donated by ex-lovers from around the world.


Heartbreak hotel

The Heartbreak hotel


The reason why this exhibition works so well is because we can all relate to the stories and empathise with the narrators/ donors behind the objects. We feel their suffering, pain, joy and bitterness; we understand their irrational behaviour and appreciate their witty afterthoughts. There are some very bizarre objects at the exhibit, but many are lighthearted and sweet. However, I was slightly surprised when I saw a wedding band being donated; I guess when vows are no longer valid, the band has reverted back to a mere piece of metal (which is essentially what it always has been).


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Museum of Broken Relationships


Although we can all donate these mementoes away, or destroy them if we prefer; we somehow cannot erase our memories even if they are tarnished or fragmented. From the stories at the exhibition, we can see that the donors are able to recollect their versions of the stories (remember that there is another side to it), and mostly importantly their feelings at the time.

Even when we think we have forgotten, a sudden song, image, place or even scent would evoke memories of certain people or incidents that we have buried for a long time. Or it might remind us of ourselves when we were young, naive and slightly foolish. This fleeting memory might bring smiles or frowns to our faces, but hopefully, we would let it to slip away and return back to reality.

Heartbreaks are part of growing up, they help us to mature, understand our needs better and appreciate the companions we eventually choose to be with. The quote by New Zealand author B.J. Harvey is one that we can live by: “Whatever happened in the past belongs in the past. Learn from it, grow, and move on. Don’t let it determine your future.”


Rooftops and outdoor dining in London

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Dalston’s Street Feast


This blog entry was meant to be published in the summer but somehow I got distracted and left it unfinished. Now that the sun has returned after the awful rainy and cold August, perhaps we can still take advantage of the rooftops and outdoor dining venues during our last days of Indian summer!

For those who don’t live in London or UK, they would never understand why sun-derived Londoners get so excited when the sun is out. We are indeed a sad bunch of people who are obsessed with our weather and the sun because our annual encounters with the sun is so brief, hence every minute spent with it is precious to us.

This summer, rooftops are THE place to hang out, from Selfridges to John Lewis to Roundhouse’s beach, the choices are endless. And thanks to the extra long heat wave in June and July (which seems like a distant memory now), all the parks, gardens, rooftops, beer gardens and outdoor dining venues were full of sun-seekers!


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Top & 2nd row: Dalston’s Street Feast; 3rd row: Granary Square in Kings Cross


Besides rooftops, the most happening outdoor dining venue is no doubt Dalston’s Street Feast (final week this weekend). Launched in 2012, the night market opens only on Fridays and Saturdays, from May until the end of September. There are 16 traders selling drinks and a variety of street food like burgers, jerk chicken, pizzas and tacos etc. The party vibe reminds you of summers in Spain rather than the slightly dodgy part of North London. I went there twice with different groups ( it’s definitely more fun to come in groups) and had a fun time even though it did get quite busy and noisy later on. The food quality is good ( esp. the pizzas from Pizza Pilgrims) but don’t expect dirt cheap street food prices. My friend and I shared a lobster roll from B.O.B’s lobster and that set us back £7 each!

A new street food destination is Kerb at Granary Square, located in the regenerated part of Kings Cross. There are more than 5 vendors selling street food at lunchtimes from Tuesdays to Fridays, and with more vendors on Saturdays (last one this weekend).


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Top & 2nd row: The Old Truman Brewery’s Elys Yard and Venezuelan ceviche Arepas; Bottom row: Camden beach at Roundhouse


Another venue that oozed an European party vibe was Camden beach on the 900 sq metres terrace at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm. With 150 tonnes of the sand, end-of-the-pier amusements, bars, pop-up fish restaurant, beach huts, ping pong and live music, again you could pretend that you were sunbathing on the beach of Brighton!


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Top left: Outddoor dining in Kingley court; the rest: John Lewis’ rooftop


Both Selfridges and John Lewis opened their rooftops to the public this summer. John Lewis had pop up cafes and film screenings, while Selfridges launched ‘On the Roof With Q’, which will end at the end of this month. Normally I would avoid going to Oxford Street as much as possible, but it was interesting viewing it from the top, seeing how long it is and the architecture around the area.


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Top & 2nd row right: South bank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall roof garden; 2nd row left & 3rd row: Barbican’s outdoor dining area; Bottom: Somerset house & their summer pop up stand: Churn2 liquid nitrogen ice cream laboratory


I discovered South bank‘s Queen Elizabeth Hall roof garden a few years ago, and since then, more people have discovered it, so it was heaving the last time I tried to go there. Without the crowds, this woodland garden designed by Eden project’s landscape architect is lovely and tranquil. With so much concrete around, the greenery here is much appreciated.


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Kensington roof garden and its Babylon restaurant


For years, I have wanted to visit the famous Kensington roof garden, and although I have been to their Babylon restaurant before, I never made it to the garden! Finally this summer, a friend invited me to a private event there and I agreed just to check out the garden.

The gardens were laid out between 1936 and 1938 by a landscape architect Ralph Hancock for the Derry and Toms department store (now own by Virgin). The garden is a Grade II listed site, and there are three themed gardens sprawling over 1.5 acres. Although it is free and open to public, it is often being booked for private events, so it is best to check in advance before going there. I especially like the Moorish garden based on the Alhambra in Granada, because it really makes you feel like you are on holiday in Spain. However, the drinks here are definitely NOT Spanish prices, a beer would cost around £6 and more for wine… I did not enjoy the event nor the people I met, so even the beautiful garden and lovely summer weather could not keep me there any longer. I would probably have to visit it again during a weekday to fully appreciate the historical roof garden.


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Top row: The Spaniard Inn in Hampstead; 2nd row left: Camden arts centre; 2rd row middle: Buttery cafe; 2nd row right & bottom right: Cafe at the Horniman museum and garden; Bottom left: The Driver in Kings Cross






Contemporary art & design exhibitions in Paris

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 Baitogogo by Henrique Oliveira at Palais de Tokyo


My last post on Paris is about the contemporary art and design exhibitions I visited this summer…

I have quite conflicted feelings towards contemporary art, I find some work stimulating and groundbreaking, yet others totally pointless… it is almost hard to find a middle ground. However, I always find Paris’ contemporary art exhibitions inspiring and thought-provoking, and this is probably down to the curators who seem more daring and uncompromising. In London, I noticed that galleries are more willing to take risks than the bigger and more established museums. I am bored of those big blockbuster exhibitions that tend to play safe and stay within the comfort zone. Yes, they are successful and draw huge crowds but they are hardly pushing any boundaries.


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Palais de Tokyo


I have previously written about the Palais de Tokyo (13 Avenue du Président Wilson, 75116) here, which reopened in 2012 as the largest contemporary art centre in Europe. I have visited this venue several times before it reopened, and I honestly think that it has transformed itself from an interesting contemporary art space to one of the most cutting edge art venues in Europe ( if not the world).

Not everyone is going to like this place, and many would even view some of the conceptual art pieces as ‘garbage’ but I love the fact that the curators are risk-takers who are constantly challenging the visitors’ perception. If you are looking for aesthetically-pleasing and ‘comforting’ art pieces, then stick to Musée d’Orsay and Musée du Louvre, this venue is not for the traditionalists.

I think the biggest challenge for the curators is to install different mini exhibitions within the vast and raw space. Yet the curators’ decision to dedicate a specific space for each artist’s installations works brilliantly. Unlike other museums where installations or art objects are cramped next to each other in a small room, here, all the art pieces have been carefully installed with much thought and vision.


palais de tokyoHiroshi SugimotoI have previously written about the Palais de Tokyo (13 Avenue du Président Wilson, 75116), which reopened in 2012 as the largest contemporary art centre in Europe. I have visited this venue several times before it reopened, and I honestly think that it has transformed itself from an interesting contemporary art space to one of the most cutting edge art venues in Europe ( if not the world).  Not everyone is going to like this place, and many would even view some of the conceptual art pieces as 'garbage' but I love the fact that the curators are risk-takers who are constantly challenging the visitors' perception. If you are looking for aesthetically-pleasing and 'comforting' art pieces, then stick to Musée d'Orsay and Musée du Louvre, this venue is not for the traditionalists.  I think the biggest challenge for the curators is to install different mini exhibitions within the vast and raw space. Yet the curators' decision to dedicate a specific space for each artist's installations works brilliantly. Unlike other museums where installations or art objects are cramped next to each other in a small room, here, all the art pieces have been carefully installed with much thought and vision. Hiroshi Sugimoto palais de tokyoHiroshi Sugimoto palais de tokyo  Hiroshi Sugimotopalais de tokyo

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s “Aujourd’hui, le monde est mort” include an installation inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés 


One of the exhibits that I particularly enjoyed was renowned Japanese photographer/ artist Hiroshi Sugimoto‘s “Aujourd’hui, le monde est mort (Lost Human Genetic Archive)”. Sugimoto‘s work explores the nature of time and perception, and the origins of consciousness.

This exhibition is inspired by Albert Camus’s novel L’Étranger (The Stranger) and Marcel Duchamp’s Readymade and Étant donnés, the artist has created a fictitious end of the world installations with thirty possible scenarios. Bleak, bizarre and provocative, it also highlights many issues that the planet and what the human beings have to deal with in the future.

Coincidentally, when I was in one of the rooms where a falling meteor had supposedly smashed through the skylight and concrete floor leaving a hole in the ground. The sky suddenly turned grey (it was sunny earlier) and started to rain heavily. And as I looked up, I realised that the hole up there was real and the staff had to put buckets to catch the falling rain. I never seen an incident like this in any art museum/ gallery before, it was almost comical and surreal at the same time.


“Nouvelles histoires de fantômes”

Nouvelles histoires de fantômes


I was also quite blown away by “Nouvelles histoires de fantômes (New Ghost Stories)”, a cinematic and imagery installation conceived by French art historian and philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman and photographer Arno Gisinger after the legendary Atlas Mnemosyne by early 20th century art historian Aby Warburg. Visitors would walk through the installation with videos and images surrounding and underneath them, it is a truly immersive experience by all means.


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Le Mur: les œuvres de la collection d’Antoine de Galbert at La Maison Rouge


La Maison Rouge (10 Blvd. de la Bastille 75012) is an independent contemporary art venue where I would pay a compulsory visit whenever I am in the city. To celebrate their 10th anniversary, the current exhibition “Le Mur: les œuvres de la collection d’Antoine de Galbert” (until 21st Sept) is the eleventh in a series of exhibitions showcasing the founder Antoine de Galbert‘s private collections.

De Galbert‘s eclectic collection ( including paintings, drawings, photos, 917 works from 458 artists in total) is on display in a random way and covers almost all the walls in the galleries. There are no labels nor descriptions next to the works, information can only be found on the computer screens in the middle of the room.

I have been to many excellent exhibitions here before, and one of the best was “My Winnipeg” exhibition in 2011 featuring many cool and creative art work from a little-known yet thriving arts scene in Canada.

Yet I was slightly disappointed with the current exhibition, partly because I felt overwhelmed by the amount of work on display. The seemingly lack of curation ( and lack of information) is a brave move but it is also hard for the brain to focus and digest the images and objects all at once. It is a shame because there are many interesting pieces here including many big names as well as many lesser known artists from around the world.


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Vivid Memories at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain


Vivid Memories ( until 21st Sept) at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain is a retrospective exhibition celebrating its 30th year anniversary. The exhibition focuses on the works that the Fondation Cartier has collected since 1984 and it includes paintings, designs, photography, films, folk art, videos and sculptures etc.


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Sculpture at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain


I was especially excited to see Congolese sculptor Bodys Isek Kingelez’s futuristic cityscape, Japanese film director Takeshi Kitano’s weird and wonderful objects and Italian designer/architect Alessandro Mendini‘s colourful objects etc. The exhibition demonstrates the foundation’s continuous effort and uncompromising approach in promoting multidisciplinary forms of art and designs for the last 30 years.


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Re-enchanting the world at Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine


Not only does Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine offer a great view of the Eiffel Tower (without the tourists), it also organises brilliant architecture exhibitions. Their current Re-enchanting the world ( until 6th October) is an impressive and compelling exhibition showcasing 40 winners (2007-2014) of the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture.

The exhibition is built around three narratives: – Architecture as a process of transforming the real – Architecture re-enchanted through knowledge – Architecture as a vision of the human establishment on earth. It questions the mission of the architect in an era of great transitions: demographic, urban, environmental, energy, industrial and so on.


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I love what the curation and design teams have done here, instead of displaying work on panels or walls, the exhibits are printed onto small and big cubes where visitors can turn, hold and interact with them. There are also glass cases showcasing sketches and collected objects that have inspired the architects. The exhibition highlights an important issue that concerns our future and those who are living the developing countries with very limited resources. It depresses me when I see commercial property developers in wealthy cities constantly hiring celebrity architects who are more concerned about style and ego than tackling the fundamental issues of architecture. Architecture is for everyone and not for just the privileged. Therefore it is encouraging to see so many smaller architectural firms around the world creating beautiful, functional and sustainable architecture that would make positive impact in people’s lives.


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Le Cent Quatre


Moving away from the centre and touristy areas,Le Cent Quatre (104 rue d’Aubervilliers, 75019) is a contemporary art space that has been creating a lot of buzz in Paris’s contemporary art scene since its opening in 2008. Housed in a massive 19th century former state funeral parlour in the dodgy north-east part of Paris, the site covers over 15,848m² with 200 artists in residence including sculptors, designers, painters, comic strip writers, musicians, dancers and even gardeners. The large facility regularly hosts concerts, performances, contemporary art exhibition, and there is a restaurant, a café, a bookstore, an eco fashion boutique, a secondhand shop, and a play area for children.

If you are want to see French contemporary artists at work, then this is the place to visit. You will also uncover a part of Paris that is completely different from the pristine and chic image that we are normally used to.



Contemporary architecture in Paris

Institut du Monde Arabe

Institut du Monde Arabe


If you were asked to think of contemporary architecture in Paris, what buildings would pop up in your head? La Defense? Pompidou Centre? Louvre’s Pyramid? Unlike London, contemporary architecture is not as visible, but they are there, slightly hidden in various parts of Paris. And the architect who contributed most to the contemporary architecture landscape in Paris is no doubt the Pritzker-winning French architect Jean Nouvel.

Although glass is often the predominate feature in Nouvel‘s architecture, he also likes to use light and nature to create a harmonious balance with their surroundings. In the centre of Paris, we can find his critically-acclaimed and groundbreaking designs for three different arts and cultural organisations:


Institut du Monde Arabe


Institut du Monde Arabe/ The Arab World Institute ( 1 Rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard, 75005) on the Left Bank by the Seine was constructed from 1981 to 1987 in conjunction with Architecture-Studio after winning the ‘Grands Projet’ architecture competitions. This beautiful glass building has a museum, a library, a shop, a cinema, an auditorium, a restaurant and offices. Inspired by the traditional Moorish screen, Nouvel designed an intricate lattice of photosensitive apertures, which open and close to modulate the light that enters. Visitors can visit the permanent and temporary exhibitions on the 5th and 7th floor.

I have always enjoyed my visits here, not only for the Islamic/Oriental theme exhibitions, but I also like the slightly futuristic interior. Normally, I am not a big fan of glass and glossy architecture, but here, the use of traditional Arabic architectural elements, geometric shapes and light sensitive apertures are original and innovative. Although the building is already 27 years old, it does not look dated, which is rare if you compare it with some of the architecture being built around the same time.


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Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain 


Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain/ Fondation Cartier ( 261 boulevard Raspail 75014) is one of my favourite contemporary art venues in Paris. Not only the exhibitions here are often highly inspirational, the architecture here is another big draw. Opened in 1994, Nouvel worked with landscape artist Lothar Baumgarten to create a very tranquil environment with use of light, space and nature.

As you approach the site, the glass and steel building is hidden behind a glass facade with trees ‘poking’ out onto the streets. The reflection of the trees on the glass creates an illusion that intrigues passerby and makes you wonder what is actually inside. And even when you are inside the building, you feel as if you are in the middle of a woodland because you are surrounded by trees and plants.

The unique garden created by Theatrum Botanicum, a term used the Middle Ages where monks would take inventory of medicinal and aromatic plants. Unlike other landscape garden, it is created to look ‘wild’ and ‘natural’ which depicts the notion of passing time, with an emphasis on seasons and years. 


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 Musée du quai Branly


At Musée du quai Branly ( 37, quai Branly 75007) near the Eiffel Tower, Nouvel continued his exploration between architecture and landscape except that glass is not used as the main material of the building. Instead we see a row of disorganised jumble of colorful boxes on the museum’s exterior. Opened in 2006, the museum is dedicated to indigenous art and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas.

Again, the museum itself is hidden from the street behind the very tall glass panelling. And beyond the glass facade is a ‘wild’ garden with very tall trees and plants that evoke a sense of a maze designed and planted by landscape architects, Gilles Clément and Patrick Blanc. The garden even extends onto the exterior of the building next door where a 200m long by 12m high vertical garden can be viewed from the street by passerby.

I like the fact the visitors have to walk up the circular ramps to get to the exhibition area and while the lighting inside is very dim, I think it adds a sense of mystery related to the subject matter. I think the artifacts and objects at this museum are absolutely fascinating, of which many are related to France’s colonial past. Personally, I think the overall project is visionary and highly commendable, and best of all, Nouvel‘s design complements the contents and concept perfectly.


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Cité de la Mode et du Design


In 2012, an intriguing and eye-catching green structure appeared on quai d’Austerlitz by the Seine. This odd-looking structure is the facade of Les Docks: Cité de la Mode et du Design ( 34 Quai d’Austerlitz, 75013), which occupies a 1907 shipping depot and now houses the Institut Français de la Mode, shops, designer’s showrooms, temporary exhibitions, cafes, restaurants, a bar lounge and a nightclub.

The building was designed by architect Jakob + MacFarlane in 2004 for a competition held by the city of Paris. The architects have kept the concrete structure mostly intact but added a glass covered steel tube green structure to the side of the building which is highly visible from the opposite side of the river. The roof top has wooden decks and grassed areas with plants created by landscape gardener Michel Desvignes.

Although I like what the architects have achieved (esp. the spacious rooftop), I found the venue itself very confusing… there are different sections on each floor but most of them were closed when I was there. I wandered around but I didn’t see a lot of fashion or design related stuff here, I honestly have no clue what this venue is about.


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The Paris equivalent of London’s Southbank undercroft at Cité de la Mode et du Design


However, the biggest surprise came when I saw a group of skaters practising in the concrete skate park full of graffiti ( and homeless people). I never realised that there is an equivalent of London’s Southbank undercroft in Paris and I love it!

I was so glad when the Southbank’s proposal to move the skate park was rejected. I am appalled by what has been happening to the landscape of London in recent years… if we don’t intervene, London will soon become a homogeneous city consisted of only Westfield shopping malls, chained coffee shops restaurants ( it is already heading towards this direction). Hence, to see a skate park created here in Paris demonstrates that the French still value arts and culture ( including sub-culture) over commerce.

N.B. If you want to support the Southbank skateboard community, you can find out more on Long Live Southbank or Save Southbank skatepark Facebook page.


 Le campus de Jussieu


Another Parisian architecture firm Peripheriques architectes has been leaving their footprints in Paris’ contemporary urban landscape in recent years. The firm won the competition to design the extension for the campus of Universitaire de Jussieu in 2002, which was eventually completed in 2006. The metal facades are glazed on the same pattern as the one on the existing building. Although I did not get the opportunity to go inside of the building, I am impressed by the photos of the interior/atrium seen on their website.

The firm was also involved in the 133-acre redevelopment project, ZAC Clichy-Batignolles by the City of Paris ( which I mentioned in the earlier post) in the 17th district. The firm has created an eco-friendly building which includes 117 housing units on Rue Cardinet in 2012. The low energy consumption building ( 50 kWh/m2 per year) has a textured metal protection as an insulating layer on its exterior and it overlooks the eco-friendly Parc Martin Luther King.


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Eco-friendly housing on Rue Cardinet, part of the ZAC Clichy-Batignolles regeneration project


When the entire project is completed, it will provide 3,400 housing units with at least 50 percent dedicated to public housing, 30 percent of units for sale, and 20 percent set aside for rent. Other firms involved in the project include many big names like Renzo Piano ( Palais de Justice is due to complete in 2017), Jean-Paul Viguier architecture, Babin+Renaud, Scape and MAD etc. This regeneration project is Paris’ most ambitious ad exciting one in recent years, and if we look at the success of London’s regeneration of Kings Cross, then there is much to look forward to.

Paris Asiatique


Musée Guimet


Aside from the Japanese gardens in Albert Kahn‘s museum and gardens, there are many other places in Paris for Asian culture enthusiasts because the French have always had a passion/interest in Asian arts and culture, much more so than the English. Although London is a multicultural city with many great museums, it does not have museums that are dedicated to Asian arts only, but there are two of them in Paris!

The most well-known of the two is Musée Guimet ( 6, place d’Iéna, 75016), which has one of the largest collections of Asian art outside Asia. Founded in 1879 by an industrialist, Émile Étienne Guimet, the museum’s collection is splendid and you would need a good few hours to wander and examine the vast historical artifacts and art work spanning over five millenniums and covers the entire region including Afghanistan and central Asia. This museum is not to be missed!


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Musée Guimet


Just round the corner from the museum, the museum has a hidden annexe called Galeries du Panthéon Bouddhique/ The Panthéon Bouddhique (19 Avenue d’Iéna). The gallery is located within a former private mansion of banker Alfred Heidelbach (1851–1922), built in 1913 by René Sergent. The entire gallery is dedicated to Buddhist art, with over 250 works from Japan and some from China gathered in 1876 by Émile Étienne Guimet.

To mark the museum’s 10th anniversary in 2001, a Japanese pavilion was added in the garden where tea ceremony would be performed. This is probably one of the most tranquil spots in the city, and if you don’t have the time to visit the Japanese gardens at the Albert Kahn‘s museum and gardens, then this garden would be ideal if you want to spend some time to reflect or even meditate.


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Galeries du Panthéon Bouddhique and its Japanese garden


For a long time, I have wanted to visit UNESCO’s Headquarters ( 7 Place Fontenoy 75007) partly to see the architecture and excellent art collection (including Angel of Nagasaki and works by Le Corbusier, Joan Miro and Henry Moore etc ). But the highlights here are the Japanese garden, Garden of Peace created by Japanese-American the acclaimed artist and sculptor Isamu Noguchi in 1958, and the ‘Meditation space’ designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Unfortunately, a group tour ( 30 mins long) of the building and garden must be made well in advance via email and I was never organised enough to do so, hence I will have to leave this for my next trip.





The second museum dedicated to Asian art is Musée Cernuschi ( 7 avenue Vélasquez 75008) next to Parc Monceau. The museum was founded in 1898 by Henri Cernuschi (1821–1896) and is located in the small mansion which used to be his home. The permanent collection here is mostly ancient Chinese, while others are from Japan and Korea, including a large prominent Buddha of Meguro, a Japanese bronze from the 18th century, collected by Cernuschi.

The museum also some contemporary collection by Asian artists and temporary Asian art exhibitions are held in the galleries on the ground floor. This museum is now one of the 14 City of Paris museums and offers free admission ( another gem is the Musée Zadkine near Jardin du Luxemburg). There many wonderful museums in Paris, but this one is a must if you are interested in Asian art.


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 Musée Cernuschi


If you are looking for the most unusual and beautiful cinema in Paris, then you must visit the Cinéma Étoile Pagode/ La Pagoda ( 57 bis, rue de Babylone, 75007). This dance-hall turned independent cinema is replica of an antique Japanese pagoda designed by architect Alexandre Marcel in 1896. It was built as a gift from Monsieur Morin, owner of Le Bon Marché department store to his wife probably to save a failing marriage, though it didn’t work because she left him a year later for his associate ( so I guess a beautiful cinema is not enough to save a marriage).

The cinema officially opened in 1931 and has screened many premieres including Jean Cocteau‘s Testament d’Orphée in 1959 and from films The New Wave directors. The cinema was saved from demolition in the 1970s, and now you can still enjoy watching films in the two screening rooms including the exuberant ‘Japanese room’, or have tea/cocktails in the tranquil and leafy Japanese garden.


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Cinéma Étoile Pagode 


Interestingly, there is another pagoda near Parc Monceau, and it is simply called The Pagoda/ La Maison Loo ( 48 rue de Courcelles, 75008). Originally constructed as a hôtel particulier in the French Louis Philippe style, the building was bought in 1925 by Mr. Ching Tsai Loo (1880-1957), a celebrated collector and dealer of Chinese and Asian art and antiques.

With the help of prominent architect Fernand Bloch (1864-1945), the building was transformed into the Pagoda, aiming to be build a cultural bridge between France and China. It is now a private museum, offering exhibitions and shows throughout the year.


A Japanese Zen rock garden at the entrance of Maison Européenne de la Photographie


Last but not least, Maison de la culture du Japon /Japanese cultural centre ( 101 bis, quai Branly 75015) is a good venue for those who love the Japanese culture. This massive glass building near the Eiffel Tower has a concert hall, theatre, cinema, exhibition area, library and a pavilion dedicated to tea tradition. There is also an interesting bookshop on the ground floor that sells books related to Japanese arts and culture as well as stationery.