Aric Chen: Beijing Design Week

The Fair's Creative Director Reveals His Top Picks from China’s Hyped Design Event

Established critic, curator and ex-New Yorker, Aric Chen leads an insider's tour of Beijing Design Week's third edition in this series by photographer Noah Sheldon. From the maze-like hutongs (narrow streets) of Dashilar to the established art district 751 and the up-and-coming arts village of Caochangdi, far-flung corners of the Chinese capital were turned into design showcases when the fair took over the city last week. Shining a light on Beijing’s burgeoning creative communities, the fledgling event includes exhibitions from both homegrown talents like architect Yung Ho Chang, and the swell of international creative émigrés such as Dutch designer Henny van Nistelrooy, working in response to the Beijing environment. Chen, who was recently appointed curator of architecture and design for M+ - a new museum for visual culture in Hong Kong due to open in 2017 as part of the West Kowloon Cultural District - initiated projects that illustrate the current preoccupations of this new generation, with themes including self-expression, the role of the internet in creating, and the interpretation of familiar Chinese archetypes. “So much progress has been made in the past few years. It’s remarkable,” he says of Beijing’s blossoming design scene. Here, Chen curates standouts from the event's itinerary.

“Village Mountains” 
An installation by architect Zhang Ke representing a traditional landscape.

“Zhang Ke's Village Mountains lighting installation shows the versatility and phenomenological, formal and material ambition that you'd expect of one of China's top emerging architects.”

This exhibition by Alice Wang showcased gathered data and conceptual designs for communication media.

“Alice is a bright, inquisitive designer who has a knack for investigating timely questions––in this case, ‘How are contemporary communications transforming love and relationships?’”

A selection of the “zines” that have been adopted as a popular form of self-expression among young creatives.

“What I really love about this exhibition is that you get a panorama of the emerging creative generation here in China––it bodes well for the future of creativity here.”

I Am a Monument
Naihan Li made furniture and objects using the familiar forms of China’s well-known architectural monuments as a starting point. 

I Am a Monument is a critique of China's obsession with bigness and flashy iconic architecture. We need such statements to happen. In a way, it is a form of protest.”

Craft & Industry
Henny van Nistelrooy’s exhibition shows alternate textile designs that use either craft or industrial production in their making.

“Designers like Henny come to Beijing to explore the craft and production here, but end up staying for the wider cultural experience.”

New installations of specially commissioned work from young Chinese fashion and furniture designers held in a concept store.

“This store is such a cohesive picture of what is going on in design in China right now, and an example of what could happen if everything works.”

Yung Ho Chang + FCJZ: Material-ism 
This substantial retrospective chronicles the multi-disciplinary work of one of China’s most influential architects. 

“Yung Ho Chang really is a pioneer. He opened a lot of doors for the contemporary generation of architects who are now getting a lot of attention. From the show you can see this is a very serious architect who, actually, just likes to play.”

The Campana Brothers [Brazilian sibling designers Fernando and Humberto Campana] designed a structure inspired by the canopy-like form of a cashew nut tree. The structure was handmade from iron rods and installed in the hutong of Dashilar where it offered the locals a place to meet and unwind.

“They have a keen eye for the unexpected beauty of places, and that is something we want to evolve here. The Dashilar area is very much like the favelas of Brazil.”

How to…?
Designers from Israel and China such as Maya Ben David and Xiao Tianyu used instruction from amateur “how to” videos to make objects. 

“I like how this group merged the physical with the internet world to subvert the position of the amateur and the professional.”

More details of all the projects can be found at

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