Western Living Magazine
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Introducing Western Living’s 2023 Designers of the Year Award Winners
WL Architectural Designer of the Year 2023: SMStudio
Alan Hung challenges the ordinary with inspired, innovative takes on everyday objects.
The year is 2023, and we’re talking about work-life balance more than ever before: the downside of hustle culture, the value of unplugging, the importance of separating career from “reality.” But when your reality is your career—when, by simply existing in the physical world, you can’t help but consider its limitations and potential fixes—it’s almost impossible to fully clock out. In other words: designers never stop thinking about design, because design is everywhere.
That’s certainly the case for Alan Hung of Alan Hung Studio, Western Living’s 2023 Furniture Designer of the Year. “When I see something that I feel could be improved, I want to work on it,” explains Hung. His unfaltering interest in the relationship between form and function has prompted an interdisciplinary career: he’s both a furniture designer and a registered architect, and the eponymous studio he founded in 2018 has worked on everything from hair salon designs to pendant lights to prototypes for beer bottles, chess sets and licence plates.
Every object is another challenge, and anything can be built upon. “For me, design is providing a better solution,” says Hung. Of course, that doesn’t mean his projects are without whimsy or a creative wow-factor: in 2022, Hung tasked himself with redesigning one new thing every week (52 designs in a year, if you’re counting). He ended up with 32 completed designs, including a spiral plate holder, a trippy cantilevered chair and a cutlery set inspired by fish. As an exercise, his “Weekly Design Vitamin” prototype project was a success—but Hung is quick to point out that great design takes time.
His Ging chair, for example, took him three years to develop. “Chairs are particularly difficult to design well,” pointed out judge Ross Bonetti, founder and CEO of Livingspace. “The design is refined, and shows awareness of international currents.” Hung’s international flair owes in part to his architectural background (he worked for Coop Himmelb(l)au in Vienna) and in part to his upbringing. The Ging collection in particular is heavily inspired by the designer’s roots.
“I was born in Taiwan, and when I was a child there weren’t too many toys to play with,” recalls Hung. A slingshot resourcefully crafted from sticks was one of his go-to toys, and that’s the silhouette that influenced the Ging chair. The arm meets the back of the chair in a Y-shape, but there are no sharp angles: the curvilinear piece looks almost soft, despite being structurally rigid. “The form is very expressive—people want to touch it and feel it,” says Hung. Judge Thom Fougere (our 2020 Furniture Designer of the Year) agreed: “Through Alan Hung’s skillful use of technology, he brings to life creations that are physically inviting.”
The Ging table speaks the same design language: it’s minimal but precise, with the slingshot shape coming through where the legs meet the tabletop. Thanks to expert manufacturing, the table achieves a clean, smooth silhouette and the joints are practically invisible. “My designs are always very organic,” says Hung, adding that he prefers joinery techniques that are subtle, and that give nothing away through changes in colour or grain.
Then there’s the Minus One chair—an experimental marvel. In tackling this design, Hung questioned what is, for most, a basic rule of chairs: that they need four legs. Minus One, as the name suggests, has only three. “I didn’t know whether it was going to work or not,” admits Hung, who worked with a local woodworker to bring the piece to life. The result is a particularly sleek, light, double-take-worthy chair that adds a quiet element of interest to space.
Despite a portfolio that ranges from rebel dining chairs to landscape-inspired dinner plates, Hung keeps a design throughline that is at once visually delicate and physically strong. “His intricate, organic designs embody a distinct and instantly recognizable softness,” said Fougere. “It is clear that Alan Hung possesses a promising talent, and I look forward to his future work.”
It’s likely we won’t have to wait long: in Hung’s perpetual pursuit of creative solutions, there is an infinite number of problems to tackle, and an infinite number of designs with which to solve them.
What books are on your nightstand?
Currently, I have Chair: 500 Designs That Matter on my nightstand. I hope that one day my own design will make it to that list.
What’s your dream project?
My dream project is to design my own house, considering every detail, from the optimal sunlight exposure on my living wall to the comfortable oak steps where I can rest my legs.
Is there a famous project or object you wish you had designed?
I would have loved to design the SAS Hotel by Arne Jacobsen, where he not only created the architecture but also designed interior details such as furniture, lighting, carpets and cutlery.
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