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Li Naihan: Furniture as Architecture
Li Naihan: Furniture as Architecture
2:54
Video Transcript

(Original language: Mandarin)

LI NAIHAN: As architects we see furniture-making as a process of building miniature architecture. I think I’m still being educated as an architect.

The CCTV Headquarters is an iconic symbol of this era. The idea was to connect two separate structures with the same volume, like two identical towers, to each other to create a loop. At that time, I was very impressed by this ‘loop’, because it’s no longer a disconnected structure which only allows vertical movement, but a loop in which continuous circulation is possible. It is like the daily task of dressing and undressing. It’s something we do repeatedly, day after day, so I thought creating a wardrobe would fit the idea.

All of the photos and drawings of the CCTV Headquarters facades are available publicly, so we got all the information from the internet. I first did the drawing by hand. I then digitised it and created numerous 1:1 models before the final work was produced.

I think this is a manifestation of our ancient practice of converting pavilions and pagodas into home decor items, except that it’s been given a contemporary theme. With this wardrobe, I want to show people that Chinese design is concerned with the present. It represents a kind of ambition of the Chinese people. Maybe ‘ambition’ sounds more neutral in English than in Chinese. It represents a very strong desire.

Architecture is a way of streamlining our thoughts. It’s a discipline about relationship-building. It teaches you how to arrange your thoughts; how to get inspired, consolidate ideas, and be organised. It is also a people-oriented experience. From building a small piece of furniture, to a house and even a city, we are indeed establishing a logical connection and an experiential relationship.

Li Naihan was among the designers to emerge around the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, a pivotal moment of urban renewal and expansion for the Chinese capital. She was trained as an architect in London and worked in the Beijing studio of Ai Weiwei, a background that informed her approach to furniture and sculptural objects as wry responses to the rapid changes around her.

An aerial view of the CCTV Headquarters in Beijing illuminated by the setting sun. Buildings can be seen stretching off into the far distance beyond the CCTV Headquarters.

OMA. CCTV Headquarters. Photo: Iwan Baan. © OMA/Iwan Baan

I AM A MONUMENT - CCTV Wardrobe shrinks the OMA-designed CCTV (China Central Television) Headquarters in Beijing to the size of a wardrobe. The headquarters was nearing completion when Li created her work, and the architectural project had already become an icon in the urban environment. Li mobilises the building's image, appropriating it for a series of furniture pieces that also includes a scaled-down replicate of the Pentagon, outside Washington, DC, as a daybed. Built as the headquarters for China's state broadcaster, the CCTV building looms over Beijing's East Third Ring Road with its gravity-defying, cantilevered form. In part, the building's geometry was premised by architects Rem Koolhas and Ole Sheeren as a manifestation of the media cycle's twenty-four-hour loop. I AM A MONUMENT - CCTV Wardrobe cheekily brings the analogy to a prosaic level by arranging its specialised drawers and compartments designed for socks, undergarments, shirts, and so on—in a defined order so that the user is led on a continuous path or loop, as they add layers of dress.

Three images depicting a wooden wardrobe from different angles. The wardrobe is constructed in a looping configuration that borrows its form from the CCTV Headquarters building, complete with drawers and shelves.

Li Naihan. I AM A MONUMENT—CCTV Wardrobe, 2012, made 2016. Bubinga (wood), stainless steel, and mirror. M+, Hong Kong © Naihan Li

Crafted from expensive bubinga rosewood, I AM A MONUMENT - CCTV Wardrobe personalises the state power represented by its namesake project. It also reflects the official preference for gigantism, ostentation, and mediagenic architecture. The title of Li's series borrows from Learning From Las Vegas, the influential 1972 book by architects Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, in which the phrase 'I AM A MONUMENT' memorably appears in a drawing of a nondescript building with a billboard placed atop it. Li's wardrobe expounds on cultural appropriation and the human desire to possess the unpossessable while revealing the vanity that underpins this desire.

This video was originally published on M+ Stories. This text is a lightly edited version of Aric Chens essay on I AM A MONUMENT - CCTV Wardrobe from the M+ Collections Highlights book, available from the M+ Shop.

Video Credits

Produced by

M+

Producer

A Rapture Workshop

M+ Curatorial Research

Tina Pang, Jennifer Wong

M+ Video Production

Kenji Wong Wai Kin, Chris Sullivan

Special Thanks

Li Naihan, Ikko Yokoyama, OMA

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