Architecture, Arik Chen, Beatrice Leanza, Beijing Design Week 2014, Ben Hughes, BJDW, BJDW2014, CAFA, Caochangdi, Chen Chao, China Central Academy of Fine Arts, Chinese designers, Dashilar Alley, Design, hutong life, hutongs, Modern China, Porter, reMIX, reMIX Studio, Sai Alun, Spoonful of Sugar, standardarchitecture, Vega Wang, Zhang ke
I am a good week, ok, 10 days late on this post. I know and I am sorry. Every fall, Beijing hosts an awesome Design Week and it concluded last 3rd of october. We saw some great designs, had an amazing time and discovered some clever new concepts, notably in Dashilar where a group of chinese architects designed an affordable yet stylish housing solution for the small structures of the hutongs. Beijing historical small houses located in the center of the city. They are usually old, decrepit and particularly un-insulated for Beijing extreme weather.
BJDW is brilliantly organised notably by Ben Hughes from Beijing prestigious CAFA* in Caochangdi and Beatrice Leanza the Creative Director of the event, the italian curator that puts it all together since 2013, after Aric Chen left. *China Central Academy of Fine Arts.
My excuse for the delay is that I was simultaneously working on my first ever solo photo exhibition, well two actually, putting together the captions for the images and designing the catalog while battling a nasty bout of flu. More on that later of course, but first I need to present the great BJDW 2014 session.
The city of Beijing, various official institutions and top design schools and universities collaborate since 2009 to present the creative side of China. Every fall, just when the weather is turning from balmy to cold, Beijing invites prestigious guests from all over the world to visit the capital. Beijing opens the multiple doors of its most creative outlets both in Caochandi and in Dashilar to let people like me come and have a look. It’s truly a unique opportunity for outsiders to look at China best designers, architect and artists while having a peek inside the ‘real’ hutongs life.
The timing coincided with China National Day permitting everyone to leisurely wander the various events. What is very interesting is how diverse the crowds were. Design students and fashion kids of course, but also plenty of families, teenagers and chinese seniors, couples with young kids, chinese and foreign people are together walking in Caochangdi or Dashilar, maps in hand checking out en masse the various installations in a perfect mix of eternal and modern China. In Dashilar, locals in their PJs and hipsters were elbow to elbow to discover the propositions with the same interest.
Dashilar Alley is a popular historical strip nearby Tiananmen. The historical hutongs slither everywhere in Beijing. Behind each new modern building area, there they are with their tight communities, numerous smelly toilet blocks (most hutongs do not have running water) and tiny restaurants and commerce. In all probabilities, most will disappear to leave room for shinier slicker shopping malls or office buildings but Dashilar is so close to the very heart of Tiananmen that its ‘rehabilitation’ seems to be going more smoothly than elsewhere. Dashilar still has retained some of the historical charm of the old Beijing with plenty of stores selling nostalgic Mao calendars, delicious roasted duck restaurants and classic silk knickknacks shops but now among those, many cool designers are also proposing pies and campstools with a twist, architecture or design books and elegant cafés like Spoonful of Sugar with the Kinfolk menu. Architects are thinking about the future of hutong life which is so vital to Beijing and the true beijingers. Below, the ‘skeleton hutong’ proposed by reMIX studio. Threads of rope highlight in dark light the inside of the ghost house-to-be.
I am not a design expert, but I loved discovering those new concepts and I did spot some great Belles du Jour.
The beautiful stools designed by the team of Van Nistelrooy in the Joy Luck Pie Shop.
The Caochangdi installations were more kid-friendly. Created by CAFA professor Ben Hughes, they cleverly introduced kids and curious grown-ups to design and beauty with various games and installations from creating lanterns, badges, paper origami and sunglasses, t-shirts and selfies. Caochangdi had many attractions. One of the most popular was the too-cool-for-school ‘self-made‘ photo studio presented by UAL-Beijing* with its hilarious ‘Iconic Six’ **props gently mocking selfie-culture and the fascination of celebrities. CAFA had a hugely popular ‘shoot your T » stand where kids and adults shot colored arrows into white T-shirts creating unique splashes of colors. *Universities of Arts London. ** Marilyn, Frida Kalho, Karl Lagerfeld, Madonna, Elisabeth I and Michael Jackson.
In Caochangdi, CAFA students were also presenting intelligent and practical solutions designed to improve the lives of ordinary chinese, fixing common issues from tea makers to bike repairs. I was particularly impressed by Sail Ailun ‘courier bike’ version 2.0 (there are over 2 millions couriers in China who rain or shine drive the economy) to Chen Chao shopping cart that understood the particular needs of the Chinese homemaker.
It was particularly inspiring to see how design, when cleverly done, can improve ordinary lives, and not just the privileged few.
Belles du Jour in Dashilar
It was a lovely week and I want to thank Beatrice Leanza and Ben Hughes for putting together such an amazing event.
Vega Wang Installation.
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