Studio juju are a young Singapore based studio established by Timo Wong & Priscilla Lui in 2009. Apart from developing their own projects under the studio juju name they have also been an integral part of the National University of Singapore‘s d.lab project that has received critical acclaim in recent years at design fairs such as Maison & Objet in Paris and SaloneSatellite in Milan. David Harrison interviewed them at the Living Divani showroom in central Milan earlier this year and asked them about their practice.
Q: I can remember seeing your work the past two years I have visited Satellite. How many times have you actually shown there?
Timo: “We have exhibited at Satellite three times before. Last year was the last time we could present our work as exhibitors, so it was nice to win the Design Report award. This year, Marva Griffin the director of Satellite, invited us, along with fourteen other designers, to produce installations to celebrate Satellite’s fifteenth year. Each of these invited designers or studios had shown several times at Satellite and gone on to bigger things – people like Staffan Holm, Postfossil and Big Game”.
Q: Can you explain to me what d.lab is and how you are connected to it?
Timo: “d.lab is the result of projects done at the Design Incubation Centre – a small research lab at the National University of Singapore. In 2007 Pricilla and I were approached by Patrick Chia (the director of design at the University of Singapore) to become involved. The products you would have seen over the years since then are the result of explorations into materials and how products are fabricated. We established a workshop or ‘lab’, where the design students could experience and understand the machines and processes involved in realising product designs and also the ways in which different materials can be used.
Q: When did the University start exhibiting the work internationally?
Timo: The very first collection of d.lab “Objects around the Tablescape” was a result of those initial explorations. It reflected upon how materials like wood, aluminium and Corian™ can come together. We were in charge of developing the designs and getting the experiments to a finished stage so that the work could be exhibited. We first showed them at Maison & Objet in Paris, in 2008. The second collection was shown at Satellite in 2009. Subsequent collections have been shown in 2010 and 2011. It has slowly progressed and become a strong brand with a very consistent aesthetic and it now sells in a few very select stores and galleries in Europe”.
Priscilla: “What you have to understand is that some projects take a long time to come to fruition. Our Rabbit and Tortoise table designs are a good example. We showed them to Living Divani back in 2009 while we were exhibiting at Satellite. They liked the concept but our discussions didn’t amount to anything. Wallpaper featured us and some of our products a couple of years later and Living Divani got in touch with us again with a view to developing the tables for their 2012 collection. They were so fast in getting the tables to the production stage that we were curious to see how they might have changed the design to suit their manufacturing processes but in the end they changed very little”.
Timo: “You couldn’t really tell the difference between our prototype and the final version – it was just fractionally thicker in a few places and generally stronger, but that’s about it”.
Q: Your work with d.lab was highly restrained in material, shape and colour, where your own studio juju designs seem more colourful and more flamboyant in concept and shape. Why is this?
Timo: “We don’t plan to design one way or the other – it just comes out the way that feels right. We try to find the most appropriate way of designing something and follow that path. The Joey chair that we are showing in our installation at Satellite this year was a response to the fact that Satellite is a platform for young designers. Because of this we were liberated from the more commercial aspects that constrain most furniture design – we weren’t pitching it to a manufacturer. I guess this enabled us to explore how a chair could be used in a different way”.
Priscilla: “It gave us an opportunity to do something we hadn’t done before. We hadn’t done much work with fabric, so we started looking into using it differently. The chair is also about creating a 3-D object using bent pipe”.
Q: What other designs are you presenting this year?
Timo: ”We have some objects called ‘Luxury Towers’ for the Singapore brand K% which is art directed by Nendo. These are being shown in Tortona. They are clear glass blocks in very regular rectangular shapes but with black ovoid interiors. They can either be purely sculptural objects like vases or can house small precious things, like a piece of jewellery. They prototypes are in acrylic but ultimately they will be made in glass”.
Q: Given your recent success, can you see yourselves moving your studio to Europe?
Timo: “I think a major source for the way we look at design comes from our environment. We have been living in Singapore since birth so it’s where we feel comfortable. Maybe further down the track this may change but for now our studio will remain in Singapore. If you are based in Singapore many places in Asia are easy to get to – in fact a few European designers have opened offices here – Werner Aisslinger being one. The Australian designer Jarrod Lim has his studio in Singapore too”.
Q: Did the Satellite Design Report Award you received last year make a noticeable difference to the number and types of enquiries coming through to your office?
Priscilla: “Yes, definitely. The Design Report Award and the Design Miami Designer of the Future Award that we received the same year were both really important for us. It was surprising for us two receive two such awards in the same year but very nice to receive the recognition. It sort of validates what we do.