‘Beijing design’ embraces cultural roots

An article published at Design Week, before the 2008 Summer Olympics discusses the shift and change in Chinese design, particularly Beijing. I’m curious how things are continuing to progress and re-shape, almost 2 years later.

‘China has been gradually getting its confidence back after the fast development of its economy,’ says Hank Chao, who heads award-winning Shanghai group MoHen Design. He believes that Chinese designers are learning to value their past, but says that they still do not know how to best use traditional design elements. ‘They first learnt more from adjacent countries such as Japan, or from other Chinese provinces like Hong Kong. These places Westernised much earlier, and have learnt how to mix their own design language from the past with contemporary elements,’ he says.

Beijing design would have a strong Chinese touch, says Hong Kong designer Kinney Chan, marking the difference emerging from it and Shanghai. Chan noted it is usually larger in scale and developed from an architectural way of thinking, whereas Shanghai designs are more ‘boutique’ and smaller in scale. Hong Kong designs are more conservative and commercial.

Life for designers has not always been so rosy. Just ten years ago, according to Chan, Beijing developers used Hong Kong designers from foreign-based companies. Imported furnishings were in fashion, as local products were inferior in quality, and, due to political issues, ‘there were many restrictions in the [local] design style’. But improvements in China’s manufacturing capabilities – which is why it became the ‘factory of the world’ – has reversed the trend, so that local materials and foreign designs are now preferred.

‘Beijing has grey courtyard dwellings and the red-brick walls and glass tiles of the Imperial Palace. Various design styles live here together harmoniously,’ muses Meng En, chief executive officer of the DCB group, a non-profit-making, on-line organisation for designers. ‘It can be counted as a signature style of China. Such a unique characteristic will continue to exist, especially after China has truly connected with the world through the Olympics. Through the collision of Chinese and Western cultures, more and better works will  be produced.’

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