Q&A with Clement Zheng, One of Asia's 20 Rising Furniture Designers

Can computation logic and design go together? This Atlanta-based Singaporean designer shows us how.

Updated on June 09, 2017 11:06 am

Jerni Camposano

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In the cutthroat industry of design, one needs to find a way to stand out from the competitive pack. Using his expertise in mathematics and algorithm, National University of Singapore alumnus and Industrial Design instructor Clement Zheng is set out to conquer the world of design. A self-proclaimed digital craftsman, Clement's works are characterised by the intersection of design, craft, and industrial fabrication.

So it didn't come as a surprise when he bagged the grand prize in the Designer Category in the 2014 Furniture Design Award (FDA). His design on the Torus Lamp—a series of digitally fabricated pendant lights assembled from paper modules—earned him the nod of the FDA judges and the honour to be part of International Furniture Fair Singapore 2015's Asian Star Showcase: 20 Rising Furniture Designers in the Region.

"Preparing for the Furniture Design Award pushed me to refine the design as well as the communication of the concept. I think the entire process has really made me a lot more sensitive to the multiple facets one needs to consider in developing a piece of furniture (for that matter, any commercial product)," shares Clement.

Shelf H35 is a shelving system with a modular logic abstracted from industrial scaffolding.

How did you get started with designing furniture?
I was exposed to furniture design throughout my undergraduate studies in NUS Industrial Design—from numerous tries at the FDA student category to interning at a local furniture design firm. Throughout this journey, I was trying to find my personal trajectory in not just furniture design, but design at large. When I was in my final year, one of my mentors exposed me to the field of algorithmic design or parametric design. That was the turning point for me; I became very interested and engrossed in the processes surrounding product individualisation, digital fabrication, and creative coding. This eventually led me back to the field of furniture design, where I decided to apply my penchant for digital design and fabrication in a series of lamps, which led to the FDA 2014 winning entry.

What was the very first piece that you designed and created?
I have developed many prototypes throughout my career as a designer, but I would say the first complete market-ready piece was in fact Torus Lamp. It was the most holistic piece I have designed, considering not only form and function, but it could also be produced locally, and was very material efficient.


The Torus Lamp is a pendant lamp digitally fabricated from sheet materials.

What is the most memorable furniture item you designed?
Torus Lamp. It was the first piece that brought all my skills as a designer together—from designing a custom software, to material and machine experimentation, to the handcrafting processes.

Where do you get inspiration from?
My creative process is highly logical and empirical. I get my inspirations from everyday life, and most usually from other products. I love deconstructing the form and function of things, and usually try to extract the logic behind an object. Then I experiment with how the object can be created differently, or even customised. As such, my end outcomes are typically quite "raw," so that the logic behind the design can shine through.

Comfort food when conceptualising and designing
Coffee

The Sine bowl was inspired by basket weaving, which is essentially formed from waves.

Stitched Metal Bowls: A series of vessels crafted by hand from laser-cut brass sheets.

Traditional or contemporary?
Contemporary

Morning or evening person?
Morning

Favourite place in Singapore
My grandparent's house

Design rule you love to break
Isn't design about breaking and bending rules?

Interior design trend you're glad that happened
The IKEA culture. Furniture should be democratic and affordable.

If you could live in a famous person's home, whose would it be and why?
Charles and Ray Eames. I would love to experience the energy in such a creative household.

If you would be reborn in another country, where would it be and why?
Taiwan. The mix and tension of nature and bustling city-life is a great attraction to me.

Three must-have items in every Singaporean home
Knowing that we live in this tiny, tropical, humid country, there are a few furniture items that people would certainly find useful.

1. Sturdy, stacking stools.With our small homes, I believe stools are very appropriate. When guests are in the house, the stools can be pulled out; if not, then they can just be tucked away neatly in a closet. Not to mention they can double up as a side table or ladder.

2. Rattan chairs/ couches/ lounges. Woven rattan is a great material for our country as it does not warm up even after prolonged sitting. Throw in a few cushions and it's as comfortable as any sofa.

3. Ceiling or wall mounted fans. Rather than turn up the air conditioning, I have always preferred using fans and natural ventilation to cool the house down. Not to mention they are also a lot more energy efficient.


Mode Lamp: The boundary this lamp shuttles between the role of reflector and diffuser; transforming the quality of light across the boundary.

The Furniture Design Award (FDA) has been a springboard for many aspiring designers to launch their careers and showcase their skills. An annual furniture design competition organised by the Singapore Furniture Industries Council, FDA aims to discover new design talents and be a reputable showcase for the unique creations of the most creative minds. The 2016 edition is now open for entries submission until 10 August 2015. For more information, visit its website.

Clement muses, "The FDA win certainly inspired me to continue my research on product customisation and digital fabrication. Furthermore, the news attracted investors who were willing to help me push the product to market. I think it has also boosted my confidence in my design trajectory, and I am driven to dive deeper in that direction."

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