Wonderwater Café

The Finns Serve Up Eco-Friendly Lunches at Beijing Design Week

Mercurial art director Christian Borstlap animates a sample meal from the Finnish Wonderwater Café, a pop-up restaurant launched this week at Beijing Design Week. Aimed at raising awareness of how much water is used to produce traditional Chinese dishes, the café’s menu shows exactly how much “virtual” water is used in making each dish to give the total water footprint of what is consumed. For example, a roast duck includes 6,949 liters for raising and fattening the bird, 166 liters for growing the wheat for pancakes and 137 liters for the sweet bean sauce. “Wonderwater is a fantastic project serving a public awareness function,” says Aric Chen, curator of this year’s Beijing Design Week. First staged in 2009, the eight-day event will showcase more than 2000 works of design from over 30 countries, with landmark installations across the city promoting the role of design in China's ongoing growth. “Sustainable design is a lot more complicated than simply using organic cotton or bamboo. You need to consider the entire life cycle of a product, and everything that goes into making it.” Next stop for the café is Helsinki Design Week 2012, where a wider series of Wonderwater events will take place in the Finnish capital. Here Chen shares his thoughts on the future of design in China.

How do you see Beijing developing?
Beijing is already pretty culturally enriched. The key is to create a stronger infrastructure, which is what Beijing Design Week can contribute to. Being more eco-friendly will require different patterns of development, which we can encourage with some of our projects and exhibitions.

What is China's role in the design world?
China's design scene is young and emerging—but the keyword is "emerging," in the sense that the trajectory is upwards. Design here is far from established, but that leaves a lot of space for a lot of possibilities. The desire to reach those possibilities, whatever they might be, is pretty strong.

Who will shape the future of design in China?
Big problems require big solutions, and if you look at China's skyrocketing investment in electric cars, cleaner energy and so on, the will to be environmentally responsible is certainly there. What I really like about working in China is that the future seems entirely open. There are lots of designers who are looking forward; one example is the architect Li Hu, who's been developing a radical proposal to turn one of Beijing's main arteries, the 2nd Ring Road, into a park. It seems totally farfetched—but in China, one never knows.

Film created and produced by Christian Borstlap

Photography by Qiu Yang
Sound by Jasper Boeke
Animation by Rens Wegerif

The Wonderwater Project is curated by Jane Withers and Kari Korkman, and produced by Aalto University. 

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