St-W #113 – Partners at home and at work, Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu can be proud of a portfolio that includes interiors, product development, graphic design and architecture. Among their clients are Selfridges, Poltona Frau, Offecct, Camper and Le Méridien.
In St-W #113, Neri and Hu reflect on how coming of age outside their native China has allowed them to translate design ideas from West to East – and vice versa.
LYNDON NERI: ‘I’m Chinese, although I was raised in the Philippines. I grew up in a very strict Chinese family, and with the expectation that I would do well in business, the sciences or maths. Art was never mentioned, but I loved to draw as a kid. I learned to draw before I could talk.’
LN: ‘My dad sent me to the USA when I was 15. When I went to college, I enrolled as an art major – all along lying and telling him I was studying engineering. When he came to visit, I panicked. I couldn’t switch from art to engineering because the requirements were so different, but I figured architecture was a happy medium that would satisfy my father and me. He was pleased, because he thought of architecture as real-estate development, and I let him think that for as long as possible. I’m a strong personality when it comes to doing what I want and making sure I’m happy doing it. I never want to compromise on what I enjoy.’
I enrolled as an art major, telling my dad I was studying engineering. When he came to visit, I panicked
ROSSANA HU: ‘I’m Chinese, and I grew up in Taiwan. My family moved to the USA when I was finishing elementary school. I was like any other kid, going to school, doing what I was told, showing an interest in a variety of subjects. One thing I never really touched on as a child was visual arts – it was considered a side subject.’
RH: ‘When I was ready for college, I knew I wanted to go to UC Berkeley, but the question was: which major should I take? I chose architecture because, I thought, it uses both sides of the brain. I started my undergraduate degree at Berkeley without really understanding what architecture is at all. When I was deciding what to do at college, I had a real conversation with Lyndon for the first time. He gave me lots of advice.’
I chose architecture because, I thought, it uses both sides of the brain
LN: ‘I had an ulterior motive. I’m three years older, so when Rossana was going through her options, I was already a junior at UC Berkeley. When she was choosing a college, I knew I didn’t want to lose my opportunity and let her go to another college and meet another man! I made my opinion clear and wooed her with my beautiful drawings – she saw those drawings and believed they were what architecture is about. When she started studying, though, she quickly realized that architecture isn’t just an artistic pursuit.’
RH: ‘In my first encounter with the design studio, I was drawing, putting what I was thinking down on paper in a different format – not just solving equations or writing. That process was new and fascinating to me. In high school, I was in a rigid, highly academic setting, but at college the creative side and the thinking side came together, and it was really amazing – like heaven, I thought. All through college I was having the time of my life.’
RH: ‘We started dating in college. Then Lyndon was off to the Harvard Graduate School of Design while I stayed on the West Coast, finishing at UC Berkeley. After that, I worked in San Francisco while he finished his degree. Then we got married, and I began graduate school at Princeton. Meanwhile, Lyndon worked for several architecture firms in New York before joining Michael Graves.’
LN: ‘Later on we worked at Michael Graves together. I was there for ten years, longer than Rossana. We always worked together, even in school; we have complementary skills. We have arguments, obviously, but they’re constructive and healthy. We have a lot of respect for each other’s ability. In many ways, we need each other. Rossana is “together” in the office and a basket case at home. I’m the opposite.’
We always worked together, even in school; we have complementary skills
RH: ‘We have different ways of looking at things and different architectural talents. We complement each other quite well, whether we’re tackling management issues at the office, pursuing a project or working on a design. We’re both very conceptual but not in the same way. Lyndon is formalistic and visual, whereas I’m theoretical and historical. At the beginning of a design concept, we brainstorm together. I use words – I like to write things down and research ideas – whereas Lyndon, even at the very beginning, is always drawing. The elements are formed by me talking and him drawing – we act like one person.’
LN: ‘Rossana is more logical, and I’m more emotional. Nothing really fazes Rossana. Everything fazes me. In terms of management and organization or thinking through a problem, she’s the rock and I’m the basket case – constantly coming up with too many ideas, changing my mind and being dissatisfied. I don’t know how to stop sometimes.’