Interview with Vega Lee from China

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Vega Lee

Vega Lee has amassed extensive practical experience in crafting works that harmonize with the cultural, historical, and constructed environments of their projects' locations. This experience has gradually enabled Lee to develop distinctive design concepts.

1Please give us a brief bio of yourself and your design background.

Prior to establishing Lee & Yu Design Studio, I used to work as a designer at multiple internationally renowned design studios in Shanghai, and was a key designer of many space and interior design projects such as catering, retail, residential and exhibition, etc.

I have accumulated rich practical experiences in creating works that are integrated into the cultural, historical and the built environment where the projects are located, which gradually enabled me to establish my own unique design concepts.

2What made you become/why did you choose to become a designer/artist?

Since childhood, I have been deeply passionate about drawing, always eager to sketch wherever I go. I find that visual information, such as graphics and images, is much more easily recognized and remembered by me than words.

Perhaps it is my sensitivity towards color, materials and texture which has made me dream of becoming a fashion designer since childhood. When I grew up, I came to encounter a broader range of arts, e.g., architecture, art and humanity, etc.

Near graduation, I decided to use my own hands to create spaces that belong to my own imaginations, this was the original intention of why I became a space designer.

3Tell us more about your business/company, job profile, and what you do.

Based in Shanghai, China’s most Avant Garde and internationalized metropolitan, Lee & Yu Design Studio was formed by an international team of passionate members.

Since starting our business in 2019, we have established a reputation in the interior and space design category and have been recognized by several international award programs. We have built a word-of-mouth reputation and generated commercial benefits for both local and international brands, creating value for our clients while simultaneously considering human experiences and social impacts.

From a broad viewpoint, our design team excels in thinking and analyzing from different perspectives. This allows us to grasp the brand's market positioning and its project's on-site importance early on, an approach known as "early-stage brand formation."

From preliminary research and strategic planning to creative design and construction delivery, we deeply involve ourselves in the entire design and execution process. We focus not only on the quality of the design but also on its implementation, ensuring that creativity and ideas align closely with the project's realities and site conditions. This approach allows us to achieve valuable and impressive design works.

4What does “design” mean to you?

In fact, I don't adhere to a specific definition of 'design.' I believe that everyone possesses a natural inclination towards design, with the only difference being the level of ability each individual has.

As a professional designer who should have mastered the way to self-expression a lot better, we have accumulated more practical experience and summaries in practice to convey our own aesthetics, values and attitude towards way of life.

5What’s your favorite kind of design and why?

Well, I personally prefer the expression of “What kind of design attitude I adopt”. For instance, I admire Renzo Piano’s commitment to architectural and environmental integration, Giorgio de Chirico’s abstract art, and the delicate nuances in Gustav Klimt’s work.

Moreover, I value a 'human-oriented' approach to lifestyle and design, prioritizing designs that cater to human needs and perspectives.

6To you, what makes a “good” design?

Spaces with warmth, human-oriented, harmonious and coexistence with the environment.

We refuse to sensationalize. The kind of design that can express the requirements of the project in a simple language, and archive the design objectives on the basis of completely functional which is one of the principles of good design.

7Describe your design style and its main characteristics.

After nearly 20 years of precipitation, I have been involved in projects like humanities museums, art exhibitions, commercial, retail, residential, catering and so on.

Years of practice have provided us with much clearer direction in our endeavors. Art, once seemingly distant, is now within our grasp. We are committed to creating spaces that radiate warmth, evoke emotions, and inspire creativity. These principles are at the core of our current projects and will guide our future work.

8Tell us about your design process.

In every project we undertake, we prioritize closely listening to our clients and understanding the broader context. We develop both general and customized design strategies, paying keen attention to crucial factors such as geographic location, historical context, cultural background, environmental considerations, climate conditions, and consumer behaviors. This thorough analysis ensures that each project is not only unique but also surpasses our clients' expectations.

Each project is unique with its own characteristics, regardless of its scale. After careful analysis and in-depth understanding of the client’s requirements, the planning team comes into action, brainstorming to solve the “pinpoints”of the project, exploring the potential “cool points”, combining the project overview and customer requirements, finding the appropriate design theme, and stimulating creativity by the model of “storytelling”.

From the first moment upon entering the space, we strive to make the visitors feel immediately attached to the space, and avoid being too obtrusive, fancy, slow or overly obsessed. By means of storytelling, the content expressed by the space can be imperceptibly absorbed and appreciated by the visitors.

9Do you think your country and its cultural heritage has an impact on your design process?

China's rich cultural heritage and historical legends have profoundly influenced me. In today's China, where the "National Style" and "New Chinese Style" are gaining popularity in the design industry, we see immense potential for innovation and creativity.

Our approach is not to simplistically adopt any available "doctrine" or blindly follow trends. Instead, we embrace a nuanced combination of Eastern and Western artistic techniques, a prevalent design philosophy in contemporary China that fosters creativity and innovation.

Design is the embodiment of the overall aesthetic taste of a country or a nation. As a design firm rooted in China, we strive to learn from the strengths from the past, as well as a combination of the west and the east.

For instance, in our recent space design project for a restaurant in Chengdu, a major city in Southwest China, we daringly incorporated the ancient Chinese architectural technique known as "mortise and tenon structure" as a form of artistic expression within the space. This choice serves as a vivid representation of ancient Chinese architectural ingenuity.

We can always trust the wisdom of the ancients, this wood construction process can raise towers from the ground without using a single nail! Although it is no longer used in modern reinforced concrete buildings, this exquisite craft which contains deep ancient Chinese traditional architectural design ideas has long been enjoying great reputations and has become one of the symbols of ancient Chinese architectural arts.

Around a thousand-year old temple in the center of the ancient city of Chengdu, such an art originated from thousands of years ago is a sublimation of the design in terms of cultural heritage and a tribute to traditional architectural art.

10Congratulations! As the winner of the 2023 MUSE Design Awards, what does it mean to you and your company and team to receive this award distinction?

Recently, one of our residential interior design projects was honored in the MUSE Design Awards, marking our inaugural victory in the restaurant category. This international recognition not only highlights our growing reputation but also solidifies our firm's esteemed standing within the catering sector.

Space design is a systematic project that includes many phases, all of our team members involved in this project are being inspired, and we are confident to create more excellent works to solidify our standings in the industry.

11Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2023 MUSE Design Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?

We built a two-storey restaurant in Hangzhou, China for the growing chain restaurant brand Gaga. The project integrates into the unique geographical environment of Hangzhou’s famous Tianmu Li Art Park to the maximum extent. The Tianmu Shan (Tianmu Mountain) region of Hangzhou is a well-known tea village in China, therefore we decided to take East China’s tea fields as a story line and design concept.

The space design forms close alignment with Tianmu Li’s natural, elegant and crystal clear architectural language. At the same time, the original architectural structure of the building has been retained. The space also comes with a large number of simple and original architectural and decorative materials.

The overall design space is harmonious and unified with the environment to a maximum possibility in terms of seating layout, color and material selection. With the design concept of Hangzhou Tea Mountain, the impressions of the mountains and tea fields is intricately restored within the design of the stairs.

Along the stairs, a sightseeing platform is created halfway which not only relieves the fatigue when climbing up the stairs, but also creates an interesting indoor “scenic spot”.

12What was the biggest challenge with this project?

The biggest challenge was how to perfectly preserve and further present the architectural details of Renzo Piano’s design without significantly tweaking the original structure, and how to seamlessly integrate the space with the art park and the adjacent Tianmu Li Art Museum.

There are also client’s requirements of being able to “cater around the clock”. The space should be able to host events and business friendly. These functions can not only create commercial value, but also showcase and emphasize the client’s brand images and concepts to the next level.

13How has winning an Award developed your practice/career?

While the MUSE Design Awards is not the first time that we have received in my career, we are extremely proud of it given the award’s international visibility and the selection mechanism. The award-wining project Gaga Hangzhou OōEli Restaurant is one of our latest restaurant design projects, and everyone in the firm has pretty high hopes for it.

We have devoted a lot of effort in the pre-planning, creative and detail design, construction and other phases. The result was satisfactory and was highly recognized by the brand owner.

Lee & Yu Design Studio has always believed that space design can be cool, eclectic, but can never be isolated from its environment. The space is highly harmonious with the location, and the overall architectural style of the site, and even the characteristics of urban culture and historical context should also be established and reinforced.

This project is a typical example of our site-specific design concept, which has been recognized by international authorities, and gives us the confidence to further explore this type of design going forward, we look forward to more brands to recognize this design idea.

14What are your top three (3) favorite things about our industry?

1) Finding the inspiration and brainstorming ideas in the early stages.

2) Observe the site the hear about more humanity backgrounds and the stories told by the the brand.

3) Ha-ha-ha, get the design contract concluded, of course!

15What makes your country specifically, unique in the design industry?

As mentioned above, being one of the four ancient civilizations in the world, China has a very long history and culture heritage. In Chinese history, there are countless characters, celebrities, legends and aesthetic tastes of both elegance and folklore.

Rich historical deposits and long cultural heritage provide inexhaustible resources and examples in the space design universe, providing quite unique and valued soil for Chinese designers to exert their talents.

16Where do you see the evolution of design industry going over the next 5-10 years?

As a matter of fact, the concepts of “environmental protection, health, human-oriented” have been the most important theme in the design industry in recent decades, and space design is no exception. China is committed to achieving carbon peak by 2030, and will reach full carbon neutrality by 2060, the design industry plays an irreplaceable role in this initiative.

The next decade is key to achieving these goals, we believe that complementary to the environment, harmonious symbiosis, human-centrism and the use of low-carbon, net-zero materials will become the industry protagonist for a long time.

17If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring MUSE Design Awards submitter, what advice would you give them?

Design knows no borders and boundaries. For the new Chinese designers or professional students, we suggest that both inner and outer knowledge to be studied at the same time, it means not only to master professional skills, but also by way of going through continuous learning, understanding, experiences and explorations of traditional Chinese culture, these are all crucial courses to be taken to become a successful design.

Similarly, MUSE Design Awards, being an internationally authoritative design award its original intention is to promote industry idea exchanges, encourage competition and to promote the development of the industry while taking its responsibilities.

Therefore, we believe that we can provide distinguished thoughts, ideas and concepts, while highlight the traditional Chinese characteristics and historical culture of the country, and more importantly, creating value for the client. Not matter the size of the project, it has the potential to win recognition over the judges.

18What resources would you recommend to someone who wants to improve their skills in the design industry?
I personally prefer to understand “design skills” as ideas. Ha-ha-ha, and my biggest recommendations are “to travel more in order to understand different cultures”, it will open a multidimensional way of thinking.
19Tell us something you have never told anyone else
It seems that I have no secrets to hide!
20Who has inspired you in your life and why?

My husband has been pivotal in broadening my understanding of design, teaching me that, ultimately, there are no boundaries between different design fields. He has shown me that art isn't confined to graphics alone; compelling content can also spark design inspiration.

It's important to note that as a professional editor, his deep comprehension and interpretation of various cultures have empowered me to discern nuances and glean insights beyond the surface, enriching my approach to design on a profound level.

21What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?

The key to success: Believing in the strength of teamwork. All members on the team work closely with each other, performing his or her duties towards the same goal. Listen to the client’s needs, all these will lead to a successful project.

Word of wisdom: Coming up with a creative idea is just the beginning. Strict control of the design quality, and our motto is “look into the project and think beyond the project”.

22Do you have anything else you would like to add to the interview?

“Write” your design project as if it were a script of a play. We know that it is human nature to love stories. The project planning should think about how to convey the theme to the users through the way of storytelling, so that the users can enjoy the story and finally win reputation.

An excellent design job should also be as imaginative as a good story - stimulating interest, leaving suspense, creating surprise, conflicts and aftertastes, and giving people the enjoyment of the beauty.

Due to functionality needs - such as the comfort of the house, the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant of a space design project, are all required to meet the needs of the clients on the basis of aesthetic considerations, and at the same time to express ideas, convey ideas and communicate brand image.

“Too high to be popular, or highbrow” is not our goal. Design projects should be in line with the majority of people’s aesthetic, making the space full of attractiveness, encouraging people to come back for more, this is key to making a project stand out from the crowd.

Winning Entry

Gaga Hangzhou OōEli Restaurant | 2023


Hangzhou OōEli Art Park (Tianmu Li) is designer Renzo Piano's first China project, Gaga OōEli restaurant is inspired by OōEli's architecture …
(Read more at MUSE Design Awards)

Vega Lee

Lee & Yu Design

Vega Lee has amassed extensive practical experience in crafting works that harmonize with the cultural, historical, and constructed environments of their projects' locations. This experience has gradually enabled Lee to develop distinctive design concepts.

Read more about this interview with Chenbro Micom, the Platinum Winner of the 2023 MUSE Design Awards.