Beijing Design Week 2013: Creative Director Beatrice Leanza Reveals This Year’s Highlights

A scene from the Caochangdi launch of Beijing Design Week 2013.

A scene from the Caochangdi launch of Beijing Design Week 2013. (Beijing Design Week)

The third edition of Beijing Design Week (BJDW) opened on September 26, and will be continuing through to Golden Week until October 3, 2013. BJDW 2013 aims to create “a meaningful narrative across its various outlets by aggregating perspectives from current design discourse into an experiential storytelling taking Beijing as its theatre of action,” says its new creative director Beatrice Leanza. To find out more details prior to the exciting week, Jing Daily sat down with Leanza to discuss what’s new this year and what parts can’t be missed.

What is new about Beijing Design Week this year?

This will be the third installment of BJDW in its current format, with Design Hop areas in 751 D-Park, Dashilar, and Caochangdi, the Guest City program this year taken up by Amsterdam, the Design Forum and the Smart Cities-themed exhibition presented by the China Museum of Digital Arts as part of its 2012-2015 curatorial focus. This year, however, we are introducing, for the first time, a new trading platform called Design Market, which will provide a stage for designers and leaders from China’s key industries, such as construction, property development, and home furnishings. The Design Market is an enhanced substitute for a similar fair that was launched last year. This accompanies new smaller hubs across town in commercial and residential areas like Sanlitun, Gulou, and Jinbaojie.

What parts of BJDW 2013 should not be missed?

Dashilar will tackle, more decisively, issues related to design heritage covering both its spatial and cultural expanse. Overall, I am really happy with what we have achieved with the Dashilar project and the long-term initiatives that will be gradually implemented there throughout the year. We have managed to push our understanding of design—what it does or can do—within the context of a 21st century global city.

Under Pilot Dashilar, a collaboration with Guang’an Holdings and Beijing Dashilar Investment Limited, Beijing-based design and architecture studios, as well as educational institutions, have been invited to engage with the unique context of Dashilar and, subsequently, devise solutions that respond to the criticalities of this urban environment, its aging infrastructure and striated social fabric— this varying from devising parking solutions to the renovation of public toilets and cooperation with local businesses and craftsmen. We are also focusing on strategies for architectural renovation, where key buildings can be rethought to impact positively on everyday life in the local community.

Long-term projects for Dashilar will see contributions from renowned local architects such as Zhang Ke of Standard Architecture, Matali Crasset, Michael Young, Liang Architecture, and URBANUS, while proposals for the improvement of public infrastructure will be presented in Yangmeizhu Hutong by URBANUS, CAFA Media Lab, People’s Architecture Studio, Arup, Luca Nichetto, and Archea Associati. The issues that we are looking at are not necessarily unique to Beijing; next year, therefore, we hope to extend our call internationally and even launch a residency program, too.

Dashilar will also feature contemporary showcases from the likes of Ubi Gallery (contemporary jewellery and ceramics), MICROmacro, Meta Hutong, and Moscow Design Museum. The latter will present “Common Objects – Soviet and Chinese Design from 1960-1990”, where visitors will have the chance to surround themselves with iconic Soviet and Chinese designs of the 20th century. These will be shown for the first time in a new, cross-cultural context.

What is happening in 751 D-Park and Caochangdi this year?

Caochangdi will continue as a hotbed for experimental and innovation-driven research in design making and thinking, keeping in line with the international creators that are living and producing there. A brand new edition of the CCD Pavilion has been realized by renowned artist Liu Wei, while 3D technologies will take centerstage with various experimental takes presented by contemporary designers in various fields. In 751 D-Park, we will present large-scale installations as a means of approaching architecture as a language of design—design as semantics of experience and place making—and how this is particularly impacted by digital culture and interactivity. The digital realm becomes a protagonist in this sense: how it intervenes in and manipulates our spatial experience.

751 D-Park is also playing host to major Chinese educational institutions. Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), for example, in collaboration with the renowned Sandberg Institute, will present “Starting Something”, an exhibition that will initiate dialogue between alumni from Sandberg Institute, Dutch designers, and students of CAFA. Under the theme “Digital Infiltration”, Digital Architecture Design Association (DADA) will present a series of events including DADA 2013 conference hosted by Tsinghua University, and a five-part exhibition from internationally-renowned architects such as Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Thom Mayne, and Jesse Reiser, as well as student works and newly created installations.

The carriages of the 751 locomotive will host Publication × Architecture, exhibitions, and lectures in partnership with Luminous City publications by Tongji University Press. Comprising of a selection of works and drawings of his past 24 years, an exhibition will launch Atlas of Ma Qingyun (to be published this month) and continues with FCJZ’s Picture Book, an exhibition of Yung Ho Chang’s intellectual trajectory, and Made in Shanghai × A Little Bit of Beijing, the companion volume to Yoshiharu Tsukamoto’s Made in Tokyo.

There is also Swarovski Digital Crystal Beijing, a stunning exhibition exploring the concept of memory in the digital age. Designed by architect Ma Yansong of MAD Architects, the exhibition features new works by established and emerging Chinese designers Liu Feng, Shi Jianmin, Naihan Li and Song Tao, that will join pieces from the landmark London exhibition. Finally, see also the Design Hop @ UCCA programme, which will extend BJDW 2013 creative debate into the public grounds of Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA).

The Caochangdi opening for Beijing Design Week 2013. (Beijing Design Week)

The Caochangdi opening for Beijing Design Week 2013. (Beijing Design Week)

What can participating in BJDW 2013 do for emerging talent?

Overall, our program attempts to create an experiential narrative, with Beijing as the stage. We enter an already populated arena, with international design events taking place in various cities around the world. So, if we truly want to contribute to an expanded conversation we must do so from a contextualized, and not internationalized, perspective, therefore offering a chance for different communities to come together in the realm of design facing unique ‘localized’ challenges.

The Design Hop program particularly embodies a form of creative appropriation of the living environment derivative of Beijing’s secular urbanism designed by an idiosyncratic and self-propelled chemistry of molecular constituencies that have reclaimed their own right to the city over past centuries. From the vernacular vestiges of its imperial heart, to the hazardous experiments on the “rurban” fringes, design plays out here in a kaleidoscopic plot of multifaceted “social turns”. So BJDW attempts to create dialogue between these areas and the creative communities that are either already present in this context, or those who come to engage with it. One of the most important things that we offer, therefore, is the opportunity to converse beyond given or appropriated frameworks.

All in all, these hubs attempt to contextualise what design is and does, while demonstrating its potential. If Beijing wants to take the lead in presenting a singular position, we cannot let go of context—responding to the criticalities of life in an urban environment. Chinese cities are undoubtly among the most daring platforms for testing the means and tools of improving common living. And this is what design does in the end. It is important for emerging talent to understand and engage with these ideas.

What do you think BJDW 2012 did for China?

BJDW cannot speak in the past—at least not yet. If it is doing something though, it is trying to challenge the way we speak and communicate with and of design. It is pushing things, people and ideas out of their comfort zones. Everyone in this business envisions, and rightfully so, Beijing to perform assertively in easing the way for design into the local market, to boost the industry, the city, its infrastructure, its liveability, its capacity to hold onto a promise of an enlightened and better future. I think nowadays, you can achieve this only by making yourself a proponent of new ways to make urgent issues a common task. Beijing Design Week, therefore, is truly creating its own cultural syntax and discursive format. It is, indeed, more about “Beijing” than a “design week”.

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Architecture & Design, Culture