Design's Diffusion: Mimication and Regeneration
Since the 1960s, the expansion of the local consumer market together with increasing demands from overseas had led to the boom of the Hong Kong furniture manufacturing industry that was mainly made up of small workshops and cottage factories. At the same time, middle and upper class migrants from Chinese metropolitans such as Shanghai and Guangzhou intensified the development of Hong Kong modern culture, which was already starting to become the mainstream in 1960s’ Hong Kong. On top of that, modern design’s frequent appearances in movies and TV dramas had also cultivated its popularity. As a result, replicas based on famous European modern designs started to appear in the local market. They were no longer the privilege of the upper class, and started to appear in popular venues such as tea houses and cha chaan tengs.
Our research began with a mid-century modern design dining chair replica that was once inside one of these venues. However, we gradually found out that the form of this Hong Kong dining chair was not merely an outcome of plagiarism, but a product of design evolution. In this chair, we have found traces of Danish modern classics, such as Finn Juhl’s Chair 108 and Hans Wegner’s CH30. Moreover, the proportion and size of the chair was adjusted to suit the layout of local cha chaan tengs (which is often closely packed), and the body scale of Hong Kong people. In this process, local craftsmen had unconsciously assumed the role of designers and actively engaged in the act of design. Contrary to our contemporary perception, which often sees design as the exclusive right of the designer, the act of design could be seen as a highly diffused social activity.
If we take this mid-century modern dining chair simply as a node within the evolution and diffusion process of the design, how would the design evolve into other offsprings? While there is no singular answer to this question, we extracted the structure and form of the Hong Kong mid-century dining chair, and produced a bench using recycled timber scavenged from withered trees in Hong Kong, while speculating the future of its evolution and diffusion process.