A Glimpse of Beijing Design Week

Beijing Design Week 2012

Beijing: various locations Sept 28-Oct 6, 2012.

The initials “BJDW” (Beijing Design Week) and its signature turquoise graphics have ascended quickly to Beijing’s creative calendar since its official inception a year ago. Continuing its imperative to shift international perception from “Made in China” to “Designed in China,” the 2012 edition saw a multitude of objects, projects, stalls, commissions, talks and events spring up at various flashpoints around the city. It is a nebulous affair which sends one weaving through the packed streets south of Tiananmen in search of pop-up shops and mini-exhibitions around Dashilar, an old hutong peppered with local restaurants and souvenir shops; as of this year, Caochangdi art district has been added as a site, and the post-industrial “D Park” in 798 continues to animate the bodies of old factories with contemporary events and outdoor sculptures

BJDW posits itself not as a curated or thematic show, but as an opportunity for designers both local and international to place their work as part of an ongoing, open conversation — in the words of astute Creative Director Aric Chen, “a stage to communicate, explore and experiment.” One has the sense of a relaxed opportunity to sample the designs to be seen and to enjoy the atmosphere as the city gains temporary patches of creative texture; one of BJDW’s greatest strengths is its ability to animate the urban setting in this way, enlivening its pragmatic bulk with pockets of finely-tuned design — ideas (rather than a hurtling economy) made visible.

The impression delivered by the exhibits was necessarily variable, encompassing all from slightly doubtful (read weakly designed) t-shirts to impressive chair designs, high technology from Korea and acutely contemporary collections. The latter came in the form of furniture based on traditional Chinese pieces — an alter table, stool, folding screen, tea table and hanging lantern — rendered brilliantly in steel, glass and concrete by Beijing-based architecture/design studio Micro Macro. Also eye-catching at the Coachangdi site were the Urban Carpets made by Italian design duo Instant Hutong, whose monochrome tapestries based on aerial views of Beijing’s hutong districts are at once beautiful and of distinct local and historic character. In a more cerebral vein, a small series of booths on an elevated walkway in 751 showed students’ intelligent designs, for example a water filter by Can Wang that would assist people in flood-stricken areas, and a solar-powered vehicle.  In general, the hipster contingent of BJDW (who by now would not look out of place in Brooklyn, NYC, and indeed may have studied there) was concentrated as before in the downtown area, where small stalls infiltrated the old hutong alleys alongside homes and local restaurants with poppier pieces including vintage kit by Beijing punk band New Pants, cute ceramics, funky poster graphics and lighting pieces brought from Hong Kong by TRANS-Design company.

Thus Beijing Design Week 2012 gave stylish, un-self-conscious encouragement to a burgeoning creative industry in China for the second year in a row, with elements of environmental concern (for sustainable architecture and inventions, for example), if not yet for absolute craftsmanship.We look forward to the next edition.

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