'(Un)forbidden City' project by Alessi

stamp on a tray for Alessi
Eight Chinese architects, from Zhang Lei and Urbanus to Gary Chang of Edge Design, put their own personalised stamp on a tray for Alessi. This is Ma Yansong's 'Floating Earth'
(Image credit: Alessi)

Nearly a decade ago, Alberto Alessi, head of the leading Italian kitchenware manufacturer that bears his name, assigned 22 architects the task of designing a teapot. This simple commission had the legacy of architects and designers collaborating on some of the world's most iconic industrial design. Now one of those 22 architects - Gary Chang of Hong Kong's Edge Design - has been invited to curate Alessi's latest meta-project, 'The (Un)Forbidden City', which asks eight Chinese architects to design their distinct version of a simple tray.

Why a tray, you ask? It's the archetypal Alessi offering and the most conventional of Chinese homewares. Symbolically, it represents a bridge between Eastern and Western design.

Chang and Alessi sought out China's best: Zhang Lei, Urbanus and MAD's Ma Yansong, who recently launched his iconic museum in the new Chinese city of Ordos - not to mention Chang himself. The amazing range of products reveals the potential of Chinese design and the wisdom of collaboration.

Interpretations of the brief were wildly different. Some participants reinterpreted traditional imagery (Liu Jiakun's bamboo rolling mat and Yung Ho Chang's 'A Lotus Leaf' come to mind) while Urbanus' futuristic 'Trayscape' leans toward the other end of the spectrum.

Alessi launched the designs this month at French design fair Maison & Objet after a brief showing last autumn at Beijing Design Week. In April, they will be available to buy through Alessi's 2012 catalogue.

stainless steel

The architects used undeniably contemporary materials. Gary Chang, who curated the exhibit, designed ‘Trick and Treat’, a comprehensive tea set, in stainless steel

(Image credit: Alessi)


Urbanus designed this ‘Trayscape’ in Melamine

(Image credit: Alessi)

The trays

Many of the trays reinterpret traditional imagery. ‘Jane’ by Liu Jiakun, resembles a traditional bamboo rolling mat

(Image credit: Liu Jiakun)

A Lotus Leaf

Yung Ho Chang’s version is called ‘A Lotus Leaf’

(Image credit: Alessi)

The trays

The trays explore the boundaries between thinking, designing and making. This is ‘Ming’ by Zhang Ke…

(Image credit: Zhang Ke)

Zhang Lei

…and ‘Opposition’ by Zhang Lei

(Image credit: Zhang Lei)

The Lion Grove Garden caves

The contours of ‘Cloud Root’ by Wang Shu follow the perimeter of the Lion Grove Garden caves, seen from a bird’s eye view

(Image credit: Wang Shu)