From 14 October - 30 November 2022, Neri&Hu presented their solo exhibition Reflective Nostalgia at Aedes Architecture Forum in Berlin. The exhibition showcased Neri&Hu's works that embrace the contradictions of modernity and explore multifaceted plot lines, imaginary pasts and prospective futures.

Neri&Hu furniture crafted by De La Espada featured in the exhibition including Commune Bench, Commune Stool, and Petit 3 Chair.

In recent decades, living and traveling extensively throughout Asia, Neri&Hu observes the alarming trend of Asia’s major metropolises becoming more and more alike: an army of glassy high-rise towers. Practicing in China, at this critical moment, Neri&Hu finds themselves caught between “the optimisation of advanced technology and the ever-present tendency to regress into nostalgic historicism.”

Nostalgia can be a problematic notion for some; it tends to be taken dismissively, as Charles Maier remarks: “Nostalgia is to longing as kitsch is to art.” But Neri&Hu feels strongly that there is a potential to be constructive with nostalgia, rather than merely reductive. As the firm formulates a strategy for how to operate within a historic context or lineage, Neri&Hu finds productivity in the concept of Reflective Nostalgia, a term coined by scholar Svetlana Boym. According to Boym, restorative nostalgia is more literal; it attempts a “trans historical reconstruction of a lost home,” and considers itself “as truth and tradition.” In contrast, “reflective nostalgia thrives on algia (the longing itself) and delays the homecoming – wistfully, ironically, desperately. Reflective nostalgia does not follow a single plot but explores ways of inhabiting many places at once and imagining different time zones. It loves details, not symbols.” In short, reflective nostalgia offers a critical distance that is less regressive than the former restorative nostalgia. 

As a genre, the exhibited projects share similar strategies: using material contrast, tectonic differentiation, formal assemblage and surgical grafting. However, each project comes with its own set of unique issues related to how one engages a tumultuous concession-era heritage, resistance to the commercialisation of faux historical relics, and the role of representation in the dialectics between past and present. One can sense the delicate balance between the contrasts of new and old, smooth and textured, refined and raw. These projects also speak to an archeological approach of peeling back the layers, working with deletions as much as additions. On all scales of design, Neri&Hu embraces nostalgia as a productive lens through which the team can consider an alternative reading of historical contexts as well as a different process of design within that context. It is a methodology that urges Neri&Hu to look closely at the details of the mundane, in hopes of achieving a deeper understanding of the heritage of those places that we want to not only participate in presently, but to extend to the future. 

Photo credit: Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk