Dixon Street has welcomed a pair of new inhabitants as part of the City of Sydney’s 2023 Lunar New Year Festival. Two giant rabbit lanterns have illuminated Sydney’s Chinatown throughout this year’s celebrations, greeting visitors with their warm, welcoming glow.
The lanterns were designed by University of Sydney alumni Meilun Gao and Yuxiao Wang of Studio Yu & Mei. Both originally from China, Meilun and Yuxiao relocated to Sydney in 2013 to pursue studies in Architecture at the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning.
Standing at 2.7 metres tall and 3 metres long, the large rabbits incorporate modern design techniques and materials, while paying homage to the designers' cultural heritage through traditional symbols and colours.
Named "A-hong"(阿红) and "A-zi"(阿紫), the rabbits represent the luck and prosperity associated with the Lunar New Year. A-hong is named for the colour red, a traditional symbol of luck, happiness, and prosperity, while A-zi is named for the colour purple, symbolising good fortune and wealth. The two colours are a nod to Wu Cai Xiang Yun (五彩祥云) and Zi Qi Dong Lai (紫气东来), Chinese proverbs that inspire the colour palettes of traditional Chinese paintings and decorations.
The colour palette also draws on the philosophy of Wu-Xing, or the five elements. The interplay of green for wood, red for fire, orange for earth, gold for metal, and purple for water symbolises harmony, peace, and abundance for the year of the water rabbit.
Drawing on the design duo’s childhood memories of hand-cut fluffy rabbit paper lanterns, colourful Perspex tiles have been used to recreate the texture on a larger scale. The material allows light to glow from within, creating a sense of depth and movement as the light travels between layers.
“This personal inspiration has been incorporated into the design of the artwork, giving it a sense of warmth and nostalgic sentiment, bringing back memories of the joy associated with the festivals,” remarks Yuxiao.
Connection to cultural identity plays an important role in Meilun and Yuxiao’s design practice, who share the experience of moving from tight-knit Chinese communities to live independently in multicultural Sydney. Both designers find a deep connection to culture through their passions - Meilun is an avid enthusiast of traditional Chinese Literature, Feng Shui and Ba-Gua theory, while Yuxiao maintains a lifelong practice in traditional Chinese calligraphy and seal engraving.
The pair met while studying the Bachelor of Design in Architecture, remaining classmates throughout their undergraduate and postgraduate studies.
“The two of us became close friends after going on exchange studies in the Netherlands in 2018 through the university's exchange program. While in Europe, we spent quite some time travelling together and had lots of late-night conversations through which we shared views on design, food and life in general” recalls Yuxiao.
After graduating from the Master of Architecture, Meilun and Yuxiao went on to forge successful careers – Meilun now leads architectural projects at Fuse Architects, while Yuxiao works with Studio Chris Fox on various public art and research projects.
Their personal relationship continued and developed, with Meilun and Yuxiao eventually committing to each other as life partners. Collaborating as Studio Yu & Mei, the pair also work together across architectural design and public art installations. The 2023 Lunar New Year lantern project was a natural fit for their multi-layered and sentimental approach to design.
Reflecting on their time at the University of Sydney, both Meilun and Yuxiao recognise the value of exposure to industry-leading educators and hands-on studio experience.
“We are deeply grateful for the high-quality architecture and design education we received at the University of Sydney, where we were taught and guided by leading academics and experienced design professionals,” says Yuxiao.
“Besides the thorough technical and professional components of the architecture program, the most inspirational aspect of the design education is the creative edge that we developed through years of studio-based design learning - the courage to stand up against a difficult brief, the ability to think outside of the box, and the confidence in presenting the ideas and realising it.”
Meilun and Yuxiao will be taking part in an artist talk at Darling Square Library on Friday 3 February, speaking about their design process and the influence of cultural interchange on their work. Register here to attend.
Want to pursue a career in design? Explore your study options at the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning.
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