11 min read
Putting the question with Li Xiang

Over the past ten years, architect Li Xiang, founder or X+Living, has explored interior design with her unique and rebellious style. Her many works in diverse fields such as culture, retail, parenting and commercial real estate, have frequently received phenomenal and enthusiastic feedback.

Interview: Lei Wang and Martin Vogel.

Putting the question with Li Xiang, Founder of X+Living

Dujiangyan Zhongshuge
Dujiangyan Zhongshuge: Photo Shao Feng

Lei Wang: Ms Li, what does winning the ICONIC Awards 2021: Innovative Architecture “Interior Designer of the Year” mean to you and for your work?

Li Xiang: It means a lot of things and it has a lot of perspectives. The first one is that this award is a complete surprise which make me feel that our hard work and what we have done quietly over the years has really been seen, now. It has touched me very much. I can consider myself a representative of the young architect or designer generation. This award is very thoughtful, it encourages us, it gives us a lot of recognition. And it shows that the world is very welcoming to this kind of innovation and that we are doing the right thing by being innovative all the way through.

The second aspect is that we will work harder. We have been on this road of innovation for more than ten years. It has been very difficult and painful, and there were many times when we wanted to give up. This award has given us a lot of encouragement to keep working hard on this path and continue bringing innovation to what we consider to be the best level. It has been very challenging for us to maintain innovation over the past 10 years, as we rely on our complete creativity for understanding our consumers and being sensitivity to changes in the market in order to lead design.

The third is a reminder: Since we have received such a valuable reward and attention, we should always be alert to what we are doing and reflect on whether it is right and positive. Can it be contagious to others? Because as we develop, more and more people will get to know us and more and more people will be influenced by us. If we can infect the whole society and the whole design community with better design, we will spread the positive energy. This is what we should alert ourselves to, we cannot rest on our laurels and stop moving forward.

Lei Wang: You studied architecture, a very serious subject for many people, yet your work can be full of humour and energy. What encourages you to do so? And how do you face criticism?

Li Xiang: First of all, I think architects must embrace many personalities, and I can say that there are many architects naughtier than me inside classrooms in the UK. I think architects are actually humorous and lovely! Regarding innovation, I can only say that in our Chinese culture, a more traditional and steady way is probably in our blood. We respect tradition, identify with the classics, are more conservative and rigorous. With that said, when someone like me who has studied abroad appears, some of my formal style may seem unconventional, but I think it is just a natural expression in this environment. Regarding my natural expression, I don’t pay much attention to whether people can accept such a lively architect or not, I still live more in my own world. And I don’t think I’m too humorous either, I just think that when I’m designing, my ideas can’t be questioned, I’m a rather determined designer. Actually, every architect likes to be rebellious, and I am probably the rebellious type by nature. I don’t care what the environment is like, I just want to do what I do.

Chongqing Zhongshuge
Chongqing Zhongshuge. Photo: Shao Feng

When I first started my business, there was opposition among some of my customers who would not accept my style at that time. I would in fact listen, and then make concessions, do our job of service and help the client fulfil their demands. But I also have many clients who will listen to my voice and find it refreshing, because it’s hard for them to find designers with ideas as rebellious and innovative as mine. When the rebellious works produced by rebellious people are presented on the market, this other voice will come to the fore.

There are many people who adhere to tradition, and will resist when they see some form of change. This resistance actually stems from the fact that they do not accept new things and change. It is just criticism for the sake of resistance, but sooner or later innovation has to be done, and innovation must be an inevitable act of moving forward.

Martin Vogel: How do you keep up your motivation when this happens?

Li Xiang: It’s an innate sense of mission, I guess. Because what I do is still something I love to do from the bottom of my heart. And I have already produced results. This tells us not to mind, whether the client respects or appreciates what we do: we’re not doing it only for them, we’re doing something for the city.

Loong Swim Club
Loong Swim Club. Photo: Shao Feng

Lei Wang: Regarding your many fantastic designs, does the topic of ‘escapism’, the escape from everyday life, play a role in all of your work?

Li Xiang: I think this summary is better than my own; the question is the answer. Because what I create is the escapism. I was inspired by Anish Kapoor’s installation design that I visited in Berlin during my study tour in Germany. Those giant installations gave me a lot to think about at the time. I found that when I connected with a person, through their actions, I could feel something deeper. It is the same with spaces. If it can have a little more temperament and story in it, when people can interact with it, apart from its beauty, there is a deeper sense of moving. Later on, I also defined my design as the escapism. I hope to share the most fantastic world in my mind with everyone to see.

Martin Vogel: I would add to that question, do you tend to change reality rather than avoiding it?

Li Xiang: Your question is actually very philosophical. I am also asking myself, maybe your question has become a new answer for me, instead. Maybe I always thought I was running away from reality but in fact I want to change it and make the current reality better.

Martin Vogel: There is supposed to be an interaction between space and people. In fact in your work I sense that it is looking to bring a better feeling and surprise to people. What is your inspiration for your work?

Li Xiang: My source of inspiration is very unique. Inspiration is the very beginning; it is like a calling for me. It calls me to change things around me, to create something beautiful inside me. And I also live in a sea of people every day, under the regular daily life scenes, where do I find beautiful things?. So, I read a lot of books, magazines and websites, and I also watch a lot of exhibitions and films to capture the moments and details that move me. Then I record the moments and details and present them.

Neobio Family Park
Neobio Family Park. Photo: Shao Feng

Lei Wang: Sustainability is a hot topic at the moment. How important is this to you? What are your views on sustainability in the field of architecture?

Li Xiang: Firstly, I think it’s important to stop superfluous building, to use all the space available at the moment and to develop each space the way it fits best. But is it actually more environment friendly to not build at all? This is a question that people might insinuate and associate, which is not true. Otherwise, we would not be able to progress any further as human beings. Designers need to make intelligent judgements, balancing whether to build a space and how to build it. From my point of view, a space for children, for example, if it is ugly and not conducive to the aesthetic cultivation of our next generation, then it is totally a waste. But if the next generation is growing up in a beautiful space that fosters their love for the natural environment and plants a seed of kindness inside their soul, I think it is worth spending at vast expense.

Besides that, there is the area of indoor greenery I have actually been looking into recently. I would suggest planting more trees and when the day comes to change the space, you remove the trees rather than destroy the place.

Lei Wang: Your projects that have caused a stir and received high acclaim abroad. Do you take on similar interior design cases abroad?

Li Xiang: We have been gradually approached to do overseas projects, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is very difficult to land foreign projects. But we are still very much looking forward to having suitable opportunities and projects to bring our designs to other countries. There are currently some talks with foreign clients.

Lei Wang: What type of projects are you looking forward to doing in the future? Is there anything in particular you would like to work on?

Li Xiang: I actually wanted to design a public entertainment installation and put it in a park. I always wanted to make more people come and experience our space. So, if I had the chance, I would prefer to make designs for swings in parks, seesaws, love seats and so on, things that are in physical contact with the user. I want to do the kind of free design that people can enjoy without spending money and I hope the design could bring warmness and joy to them.

Lei Wang: Thank you very much for the interview, Ms Li!


About Li Xiang

At the ICONIC Awards 2021: Innovative Architecture, X+Living founder Li Xiang was awarded the title of “Interior Designer of the Year”. Lei Wang, General Manager of the German Design Council China, and Martin Vogel, Business Development Director of Axor China, a brand of the Hansgrohe Group, presented the certificate to Ms Li Xiang and interviewed her for ndion.

Shenzhen Meland
Shenzhen Meland. Photo: Shao Feng

The ICONIC AWARDS 2022: Innovative Architecture

The ICONIC AWARDS 2022: Innovative Architecture honour the best international achievements and communication concepts in architecture, product and interior design.

Architects, interior designers, but also the real estate sector and the design and manufacturing industries are invited. Show that your projects and products make you one of the trendsetters in your sector! Architects, engineers, specialist planners, agencies and design offices, companies in the construction and real estate industry as well as manufacturers in the design and production industry can submit their projects until 3 June. You can benefit from the Early Bird rate until 8 April!


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