Designed In China: How One Museum Is Shining The Spotlight On Great Chinese Design

Due to open its doors in October, Design Society is a partnership between state-owned developer China Merchants Shekou Holdings and the V&A — the first of its kind between a UK museum and a Chinese group.

Super Clover, Michael Young, hand-blown glass (2017) © Lasvit. British industrial designer Michael Young created this modular system of lamps for Czech luxury brand Lasvit. Lasvit specialises in customised glass-lighting installations. The size and shape of this lamp is generated mathematically. For Super Clover, Young and Lasvit combined traditional glass-making craftsmanship with digital.

“What we are trying to do is create a gallery that asks the audience what values are important to them in design, and that is important because it helps to determine the future of the design world,” said Zhao Rong, programme director of Design Society, at an event in Hong Kong. “This is especially important in China — with China poised to become a new global leader in design — what values consumers and designers should embrace, how will these values define the future.”

The futuristic four-storey building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Tokyo architect Fumihiko Maki, will create a visually arresting landmark on the western coast of Shenzhen, looking out towards Hong Kong. The main gallery will be a gigantic 14,000 square metres, “so you can build architecture inside architecture — it lends itself to immersive art”. The building comprises three separate annexes and an imposing external staircase, with gardens and public terraces on the roof. The entrance of the concrete and steel structure will feature a triple-height glazed atrium.

The location is also significant, said Ole Bouman, director of the Design Society. “The urban context [around the museum] is in rapid redevelopment and Shenzhen has played a pivotal role as a driver for a more modern China,” said Bouman. “It comes at a time when China’s economic shift is upgrading from manufacturing to design through digital technology. There cannot be a more suitable city to talk about manufacturing than Shenzhen, that is constantly shaped by fast-moving technology.”

Polythread, Jenny Sabin, mixed materials (2016) ©Bill Staffeld

Polythread, Jenny Sabin, mixed materials (2016) ©Bill Staffeld

Jenny Sabin designed this photoluminescent and solar active yarn knitted pavilion in 2016. It is inspired by the morphology of cellular networks generated through form-finding computer programs. It is portable and lightweight, and is adaptive to different environments. It points towards a future with more and more interactive architecture that is sensitive to its surrounding environment.
Anima, Nick Verstand in collaboration with onformative, Pandelis Diamantides, Pufferfish Displays, mixed materials (2014-17) ©onformative

Anima, Nick Verstand in collaboration with onformative, Pandelis Diamantides, Pufferfish Displays, mixed materials (2014-17) ©onformative

In this collaboration with onformative, Nick Verstand explores machines’ growing emotional intelligence. Using a cutting-edge spherical projection system, the human-like machine analyses people’s movements and emotions. This installation examines how artificial intelligence can be integrated into designing interfaces that can become more emotionally reactive to humans.
Open Source House, Wikihouse, wood ©Wikihouse team

Open Source House, Wikihouse, wood ©Wikihouse team

Alastair Parvin and Nick Ierodiaconou initiated Wikihouse, a global network of open-source design and construction manuals that can be downloaded by anyone and that provide instructions that enable people to build affordable and sustainable houses within a few days. The local team previously constructed houses at Beijing Design Week.
Kung Fu Motion Visualisation, Tobias Gremmler (2016), video installation © International Guoshu Association and City University of Hong Kong

Kung Fu Motion Visualisation, Tobias Gremmler (2016), video installation © International Guoshu Association and City University of Hong Kong

Gremmler, a leading media designer, digitises Kung Fu movements in this poetic animation. The data used is 3D captured from Hakka Kung Fu masters by International Guoshu Association in collaboration with City University of Hong Kong. The video is comprised of four variations, translating the pace and spatial dimension of Kung Fu movements.
Design Society’s new building in Shekou, Shenzhen.

Design Society’s new building in Shekou, Shenzhen.

Open Source Furniture, Opendesk, wood ©Rory Gardiner

Open Source Furniture, Opendesk, wood ©Rory Gardiner

Opendesk is a platform linking designers, makers and users by re-introducing small-scale manufacturing into the community. Emerging designers are invited to contribute open-source design templates, which users can choose online. Once users have chosen a design, Opendesk helps connect them to a local manufacturer. It has opened a Chinese branch based in Shanghai.
Some of the pieces that will be included in Design Society’s inaugural exhibition.

As well as its own exhibitions, the museum will host a permanent gallery space for the V&A’s major collections of fashion, photography, furniture, products and graphic design, as well as theatre and performance. The inaugural exhibition, ‘Minding the Digital’, will reflect on the unprecedented impact of digitalisation in China and the rest of the world, said Rong.

‘Minding the Digital’ will bring the audience into a world of immersive design shaped by digital experiences, according to Rong, exploring the interplay between human and machine intelligence. On show will be a 3D-printed chair by Dutch designer Joris Laarman, digitally fabricated furniture by Chinese designer Zhang Zhoujie, and the biometric robotically fabricated Research Pavilion 2013-2014 by Achim Menges and Jan Knippers of Stuttgart University.

As well as its cutting-edge content, the museum is forward-thinking on account of its membership structure, added Bouman.

“In Chinese, the word for museum translates as ‘a place for precious objects’, which implies you have to build a collection and emphasise the heritage. So very quickly it becomes about the past, and less about playing an activating role for the future,” he said. “And that’s why we call ourselves Design Society. It shows that we aim to create an active platform with many collections. We are already establishing relationships with other major museum institutions around the world, as well as individuals, small labels, studios and architects.”

Bouman explained that for the museum, design is both a verb and a noun. “We want to design a society, as well as fostering a link between design and society.” For corporates to become sponsoring members — for example, a car manufacturer or a bank that might benefit from use of the venue and curatorial expertise — the cost could be between US$100,000 to US$300,000. For individuals and charities, Bouman said, the membership will be in line with annual memberships at most major museums.

“As far as I know this is the first time this has been done. We’re starting from scratch so we don’t have to address any vested interests that you see often in the museum world,” added Bouman. “People are looking for answers to the big issues of our time, such as climate change, the pursuit of a better life, the protection of heath, as well as ongoing urbanisation and digitisation, it is clear that human creativity will be critical.”

Design Society aims to provide a platform for designers to address at least some of these important questions.


 

BLLNR (Billionaire) is a platform for Entrepreneurs, Business Leaders and Creatives in Singapore.

 

Join Our Newsletter