Géraldine Borio and Caroline Wüthrich are no strangers to Asia. Having worked in China, Japan, Thailand, and their homeland Switzerland, the architects now call Hong Kong their home. The experiences of living in rather tight spaces have got them mesmerised with the innovative use of foldable furniture that serves multiple purposes. It is through their discovery of Hong Kong’s back alleys that lead to the development of Stag, a fusion of stool and bag.
While Hong Kongers just lounge around and lament on how the parks are overly regulated, the pair dug around the unplanned back alleys, making Stags for us to get out and actually use the public spaces in an innovative way. The duo clues us in to how Hong Kong people interact with the city, where the controls exerted by the developers doesn’t necessarily hinder our imaginative use of space.
Tell us more about Stag!
Stag is where Switzerland meets Hong Kong, both being obsessed with making their utensils small and multi-purpose. The concept is simple: a backpack that can double as a stool. Having said that, we wanted to maintain our attachment with the local community, and that is why every Stag is made out of what use to be advertisement billboards around town, which would have otherwise been thrown out and created unnecessary trash. Each bit we selected aims to be aesthetically pleasing, bringing together an eco-friendly and durable piece with the vibrant factors from our streets.
Every Stag is absolutely unique, being hand sewn by three local sampan shelter craftsmen from Shum Shui Po. Uncle Chan Wah and Uncle Hung Heung, both 76 years old, along with Uncle Tang Hing Fai, who is a second generation craftsman, made 120 Stags between the three of them. Inside the backpack you will find a piece of paper telling you which uncle handmade the piece especially for you, with a short story on the uncle’s lives. We gave each uncle a complimentary Stag, and they each seemed awfully pleased with it!
The structure is kept simple for practicality and costs reasons, so we used the metal structures that we found from the local shops in order to collaborate with the community, yet still being ergonomic and light-weighted. As for the straps on the backpack, we took on ones that are usually used for carrying furniture around during renovations, which is possibly why they are very sturdy. The eye-catching logo was conjured by a freelance graphic designer, Stan Diers, mixing local community efforts with international designs. Stag is a grass-root cultural project, which we hope would ignite thoughts about the spaces we live in, and that is why we only charge for their production costs, making them super affordable.
Photo courtesy of Ducky Tse
So how many different ways are there to use the Stags really?
There aren’t any set rules on how to use the Stags, so we are discovering more and more as time goes by. We worked together with local photographer Ducky Chi-tak Tse on creating a series of images reflecting his views of the project, and it was really the spontaneous shots that surprised us the most. We did try posing for shots like reading the papers in front of Landmark during rush hour, but it was the unplanned shots such as how our team spread a whole load of Stags for a quick nap in Shum Shui Po that was absolutely priceless.
Stags could really be used for a whole range of things like waiting in a queue, birds spotting in the Wetlands, something to stand on in concerts, or even an impromptu chat with a few buddies. It is really a tool for the people who strive to enjoy the public space in a more liberal way.
What plans do you have for Stag?
The beauty of this project is how we just can't plan it through to the end, since we have no control of how others would be using their Stags around town. But it is exactly how it isn’t rehearsed that makes the whole idea so interesting, creating a collective art installation in itself. We hope to lure people out of their comfort zones and rediscover their neighbourhood, which is why the Stags are only sold at our pop-up events in the back alleys, forming occasions for us to meet new friends. Some of our Stags traveled all the way over to China, Sweden, and Switzerland, and it is fascinating to see how people utilise them differently in other cities.
Our alternative hangouts included the Biennale in the Kowloon Park, a screening of Fruit Chan’s movie as well as a tea appreciation in back alley of Tin Hau, and we are looking forward to a kick-ass party in the back alley of Wanchai! We want to provide the minimum so that people can start anchoring themselves in the urban landscape and spark interesting social gatherings. Stags will actually make up part of our research on public spaces, and we have already received so many photos of different Stags in action from their proud owners, which is absolutely encouraging.
What architectural style do you admire the most?
We are both very fond of the Japanese architecture, which holds practical solutions for space, and is so much more interesting than merely matching colours with styles. We are also in awe of how Hong Kong people utilise their minute spaces, such as how the street stalls proprietors can compact everything inside their little shops.
Where is your favorite spot in Hong Kong?
We love how Hong Kong has such contrasting landscapes, from the mega hub to the rural countryside. When we had visitors over from home, we love taking them to Tin Hau and Shum Shui Po to sample the local flavours, then to the beaches and hikes for the more rugged side of Hong Kong. It is exactly the contrasting experience, benefitting from the efficient transportation system and compact urban planning, that makes Hong Kong so special.
What is a must for your ideal breakfast?
Geraldine: I love tartine, which is really just bread with jam, alongside with scramble eggs and Hong Kong style milk tea.
Caroline: I enjoy what is normally found in an all day breakfast, which is simple yet fulfilling.
Day in the Life of Caroline and Géraldine
8:30am Wait for our bus to head back to the office
9:45am Meet up with the contractors on site to check up on the construction details
10:45am Head over for a shoot on the Stag project in the back alley
12:30pm Take a moment to recharge over lunch break
2:00pm Geraldine teaches her architecture class at the Chinese University
3:30pm While Caroline tests out the Stag prototype back in the office
5:30pm Check their emails to round up the day before leaving the office
6.30pm Host a lecture at the Chinese University
8:30pm Head back home on trusty ol’ bus
10:00pm Catch up with a few friends over a couple of drinks
12:30am Finally let their hair down back home