Started in 2011 to help accelerate the development of the concept of “designed in China,” the annual Beijing Design Week wrapped up its fourth iteration today after showcasing big things in store for the future of China’s design industry both at home and abroad.
With an approximately 50/50 mix of presentations by Chinese and international designers, the week gave both of these groups the opportunity to gain local and international exposure while exploring ideas about the role of design in China’s future. Taking place across the city and concentrated in the areas of the 751 D-Park, Caochangdi, Dashilar, Millennium Park, and Sanlitun, the week featured a combination of talks, exhibitions, a new film festival, and interactive experiences.
“I really think that Beijing Design Week is the only event that works as a true cultural pronouncement for Beijing internationally,” said Beijing Design Week Creative Director Bea Leanza on this year’s event. “I believe that is the only one that essentially performs this function at the moment, that has this open-endedness and that is really gathering around perspectives that come from China-based professionals and international ones.”
The event’s support of Chinese design spans from students to up-and-coming names to established designers, and featured many opportunities for young designers to gain recognition. For example, American company Kikkerland sponsored a “China Design Challenge” contest in which aspiring young designers submitted entries that were judged by a public online vote. The 10 winning designs were on display at the Millennium Monument for the week. In the architecture field, the AIM Competition exhibited works submitted by young architects as part of its 2014 Tent Hotel Competition.
The idea of “designed in China” was coined to replace the common “made in China,” stereotype which is based on the notion that China is nothing more than the “world’s factory,” and has been taking hold for several years as Chinese designers across industries gain notoriety at home and abroad. “Designed in China” is “a very nascent phenomenon,” says Leanza. “It is a very exciting beginning. From what I see, designers are taking the language of design as a form of individual and cultural expression. It’s almost something that sticks between cultural critique and autobiography. I think this is the power of it. If this is the direction, then we can expect great things.”
Beijing Design Week visitors had the opportunity to check out a massive number of exhibits by Chinese and international creatives that spanned a wide range of design-related industries, including fashion, architecture, art, jewelry, appliances, cuisine, decor, and more. Fashion highlights included 360 Fashion Network’s workshops on 3D printing, Chinese designer Vega Zaishi Wang’s collaboration with Beijing-based German furniture designer and master craftsman Christian Melz, and pop-up shops by Chinese boutiques such as Water Stone and WUHAO. Chinese culture was apparent in the wide range of decor and furniture displays as well: emerging artist and designer group Biru〇 presented pieces inspired by Tang dynasty style and the School of Urban Design Central Academy of Fine Arts presented a collection of its students’ works.
The event is instrumental in helping smaller international designers enter China. One new development this year is a design park that will serve as a platform for international designers to reach the Chinese market. Located in Chaoyang Park and staying through the Golden Week holiday, the park features items that are also made available for purchase in a store on the Tmall e-commerce platform.
According to Leanza, the week’s support for international designers looking at China is “more than just being a bridge. There is in fact co-working; it’s literally a process of co-design,” she says. “We really try to be of meaning for any counterpart that wants to come in.”
Leanza emphasizes the fact that Beijing Design Week is not just about showing new products, but about exploring ideas about what design can accomplish. “As a platform, Beijing Design Week keeps on extending and furthering its outreach. Essentially, this initiative is one that wants to create further dialogue,” she says. “Design Week is not just a celebration or a festivity of things on show. It’s literally tackling problems or issues or criticalities of making this field flourish.”
In addition to a new film festival as well a range of talks scheduled throughout the week, designers across sectors featured new creations focused on tackling many issues that ranged from challenges in day-to-day living to combating environmental problems.
Pollution and environmental protection were a major theme of many of the exhibitors this year. For example, e-commerce site Yoox teamed up with top Chinese fashion designers including Masha Ma, Qiu Hao, Sankuanz, and Xander Zhou to create a special designer pollution mask collection that will be sold on the site. Meanwhile, a group of Dutch designers unveiled a wearable suit with fabric that measures air pollution, an “upcycling” presentation focused on cutting down waste in fashion but repurposing vintage items, and one minimalist fashion pop-up shop by less was designed to make visitors question wasteful consumption.
Other designers tackled the issues of urban living with architectural presentations by heavy hitters such as MAD Architects with its “Shanshui City” exhibit as well as a presentation by standardarchitecture on how to cope with overcrowding in cities. Meanwhile, several other architects presented creative solutions for updates to houses in the city’s centuries-old hutong neighborhoods that dealt with both aesthetic and practical issues.
Leanza sees more growth in store for both the idea of “designed in China” and for Beijing Design Week, which she states has “grown with” the concept. “We have passed the three-year start-up period,” she says.“The growth of Design Week; I think it’s is very organic, together with that of the city.” According to her, this is part of the public’s growing interest in the event. “It really went from gathering groups of professionals in the field of design in conversation—it went from that to really delivering that conversation out to a larger public—both locally and internationally.”