Ship Shape

Through his pursuit of Singapore-centred design, Hans Tan has put his home country on the world map.

"Design and Art are not mutually exclusive, in good design there is good art, and in good art there is good design,"

Hans Tan, designer and founder Hans Tan Studio

For someone who cannot draw, 38 year old Hans Tan is the proud winner of Singapore President Design Award (PDA) not once but three times and counting.

This year, Tan has won Designer of the Year. He has been recognised by Singapore's design industry twice prior to this: In 2012, he won the Design of the Year award for 'Spotted Nyonya', a porcelain vase. In 2015, he won the same award for 'Pour', a resin table. 'Spotted Nyonya' also gained him recognition in Paris when he exhibited it for the first time at the fall 2011 edition of Maison&Objet. "This year's honour recognizes my body of work, so it's very encouraging for me. Preparing the presentations and submissions of the jury panel gave me the opportunity to count my blessings, looking back at the output I feel very much blessed," admits the designer and founder of Hans Tan Studio.

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The 'Spotted Nyonya' collection debuted in 2011 with five items that comprised of a candleholder, big and small containers and a platter. The porcelain vessels traditionally used by Chinese Peranakans, is given an industrial re-interpretation with contemporary dots.

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Inspired by how a traditional Malay and Peranakan kueh lapis sagu pastry is made, Tan's side table 'Pour' (2015) transforms how a resin is typically used.

The Jury applauds Tan's belief to "stay authentically local and the world will come." His conceptual rigour and innovative processes have resulted in works that are at once artistic and yet firmly practical.

While it is typical for a designer to begin with a sketch, Tan prefers to actualize the 3D renderings from his mind onto the object itself through trial and error. "I use utility of an object as a pretext, or excuse, to embed narratives and concepts that lead to a visual discourse about design and its industry. I am particularly interested in the subject of heritage, consumption, and waste."

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In 'Singapore Blue' (2015), Tan looks at how the distinct blue and white colours in porcelain are iconic to numerous cultures throughout Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

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Bundled Vase (2014) is a series of vases made from flexible tubes and hoses garnered from hardware shops. Held together by a stainless steel tie used in the marine industry, each tube in a bundle is folded to form two receptacles to hold water and flowers.

Tan's works are unapologetically Singaporean. From his thoughtful reconstructions of Peranakan vases to his downloadable 3D-blueprints for the ubiquitous "coffeeshop chair"-these surprising, delightful explorations by Tan reflect Singapore's ongoing search to balance heritage and modernity, craftsmanship and mass production, local concerns and a global vision.

Wearing many hats, the designer is also an assistant professor with the National University of Singapore's Division of Industrial Design, School of Design and Environment where he has also won awards for excellence in teaching. His penchant for design pedagogy is guided by the concept of deformative inquiry, developing imaginative thinking tools that provide novel approaches to the design process based on generative deformations, use of language and systematic reflection.

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Striped Ming (2014) is a contemporary take on traditional porcelain vessels, transforming the original glazed surface into a new striped pattern, using a technique inspired by the traditional resist-dyeing technique often applied to colour fabric patterns such as Batik.

Over at Hans Tan Studio, Tan works on projects that are self-initiated, producing works that tiptoe on the boundaries between design, craft and art. He believes that design not only helps us "do", design also helps us "understand". Tan's signature design approach is to investigate traditional themes and questions archetypes. Hence, most of his works revolve around the idea of re-design in which a common, low denominator object such as a table or a chair is re-interpreted.

"Design should be assessed according to its context. If you bring a well-designed Eames Lounge Chair to a tribe in a secluded part of the world, they will not appreciate it nor understand how to use it."

For aspiring industrial designers, the future of Singapore design is promising judging from Tan's perspectives. "With the industry in Singapore recognizing design as a catalyst for innovation, there are many job opportunities with a design or innovation team now present in almost every bank and hospital. We are also reaping the benefits of design permeating into different sectors, in particular the public sector and service industry, this has led to improved experiences of public goods such as healthcare, housing, transportation and utilities."

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Hans Tan, President's Design Award Designer of the Year 2018


Hans Tan Studio,