Alex Mok, founder of rising Shanghai based studio, Linehouse Design, on her past experiences, vision and design process.
Established 2013 in Shanghai, Linehouse is a design studio whose work straddles between “the poetic idea and pragmatic solution”. Founder Alex Mok grew up in Hong Kong and Thailand, before studying at the Bartlett School of Architecture where she was mentored by Niall McLaughlin and Yeoryia Manolopoulou. At Niall McLaughlin Architects, she worked on multiple projects before becoming an associate at Neri & Hu. Mok associates these as vital experiences that shaped her as a designer.
Despite being architecturally trained, to Mok, there is no difference between the interior and exterior. The designer believes that the best designs marry the best of both worlds. More importantly, every project goes through a common process of discovery, where a design solution emerges through “dialogue, investigation, drawing, cutting, and collaboration.” The studio stands by this stringent process to create new ideas and outputs.
How did your time at Neri & Hu shape your work and thinking process?
I worked at Neri & Hu for over five years and left as an associate. During my time there, I was in charge of two main projects: the Le Meridien Zheng Zhou Hotel and the Camper Showroom here in Shanghai, both from inception to completion. The hotel was an eye opener for me, I started [working on] the project during my first day. Four years later, when it was completed, I knew every millimeter of the building inside out. Even the graphics and signages. 100% of the furniture was designed or specified by the office. Being part of that Neri & Hu holistic design approach where we had architects, interior designers, furniture designers and graphic artists working together left a career long impression on me.
In China, many practices do not carry their projects through to construction drawings or finish their scope once it has been handed over to the local design institutes. I always want to offer my clients the complete picture.
Can you explain your approach?
I am actually an architect who happens to work mostly on interior projects. I do not differentiate between what is interior and exterior because the best projects marry the two. We approach every project in a very architectural and spatial manner. We are never satisfied if something is ‘decorative’ and without meaning.
How did you develop a thinking process like that?
It was shaped by years of studying, practicing architecture, being mentored by great architects, teachers, and learning from my colleagues. I studied at the Bartlett in London where we designed free of rules and constraints – the more avant garde the better.
In my working career, I was mentored by Niall Mclaughlin, as well as Lyndon Neri and Rossanna Hu [Neri & Hu] who are both great intellectual practitioners who completed a lot of built projects, yet retain a clear narrative throughout the design process. Building projects are long processes that often take years. You need to hold on to the poetic and pragmatic to create something great.
Tell us about Linehouse’s studio culture.
We actually have an unusual office, as we work within one of our built projects, which is the Factory Five bike shop. When we designed it, there was an opportunity to add a space for our first studio. I like the atmosphere of working within the shop as they design and custom make beautiful bikes and have a fully functional workshop, which we can use. Customers come in and out, making the atmosphere lively. We work hard but as most of out projects are small, we are rewarded with completed projects regularly.
What is important in Linehouse’s design process?
Developing a clear concept that can be presented as a narrative or a spatial move. The concept can come from the site, the brief, or even the client themselves. You have to find something that others would not. Once you have that, the project immediately has a set of ‘rules’ that guides every decision.
There is a sense of playfulness in your work.
We have been lucky to work with a new generation of young entrepreneurs who have very clear and unique visions of what they want to do. Every brief is different. So far we have done a bicycle shop, fishmonger’s, hot dog shop, a butchery, a street wear shop and new Food and Beverage (F&B) concepts.
For example, Lone Ranger was intentionally made playful. The brief referenced the American Wild West, which could have turned into a cliched pastiche, but it [the design] is a very modern representation. We love playing with lines – which is where our name comes from – and finding new and interesting ways to manipulate them. We always try to find new ways of using materials. In many cases, the material itself does not have to be expensive or sourced from far away. The light installation for the Lone Ranger Hot Dog shop was made out of rope, which can be found in any local builder’s market.
What has been the most fulfilling experience of your career to date?
As a small studio, we work with many clients who are doing something for the first time, whether it is retail or F&B. We enjoy developing the project with them in an organic and exploratory way. For now, many of our projects are small but we enjoy the speed of turning spaces into reality. Working in China does have its advantages. We try to focus on those and make meaningful collaborations with others, whether they are designers or construction workers.