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Shenzhen Design Society blends museum concept into design hub

by Christopher Dewolf on Nov 7, 2017 in Architecture
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The Design Society building in Shenzhen itself is a bold statement

The Design Society building in Shenzhen itself is a bold statement

Shenzhen Design Society, the first museum of its kind in China, aims to examine the broader definition of the creative process

When Shenzhen's Design Society opens this year, China will finally have its first design museum. Except, strictly speaking, it won't be a museum. "We call it a society and not a museum because it is more than just galleries," says the institution's founding director, Ole Bouman. "It's a way to contribute to the development of Shenzhen."

The Shekou district of Shenzhen, one of China's richest cities, is the chosen venue for the museum (Photo. Design Society)

The Shekou district of Shenzhen, one of China's richest cities, is the chosen venue for the museum (Photo. Design Society)

Launched by state-owned enterprise China Merchants Group in collaboration with London's Victoria and Albert Museum – the world's oldest and largest design museum, founded in 1852 – Design Society will include a regular programme of exhibitions, along with residencies, incubators and other initiatives that tap into Shenzhen's position as a design hub and manufacturing capital.

The institution is housed in the new Sea World Culture and Arts Center in Shekou, designed by the office of Pritzker-winning Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki. When it opens its doors on December 2, visitors will be greeted by three inaugural exhibitions including Nurturing Dreams in Recent Work: Fumihiko Maki and Associates, which examines Maki's philosophy of design and looks at the structure of the Design Society building. In the Main Gallery, Minding the Digital will look at the impact of digitalisation, exploring how design can serve as a bridge between new technology and its users. In the V&A Gallery, Values of Design will draw from the London museum's vast collection of three million objects to question how social values inform design. Some 250 objects from the collection will make their way to Shenzhen.

The entrance of the Sea World Culture and Arts Center, designed by the practice of Pritzker-winning Fumihiko Maki (Photo. Maki and Associates)

The entrance of the Sea World Culture and Arts Center, designed by the practice of Pritzker-winning Fumihiko Maki (Photo. Maki and Associates)

"You don't collect something unless you think it has value," says the show's London-based curator, Brendan Cormier. "You start to see how different visions of design manifest themselves in terms of what was collected."

The exhibition explores the narratives behind those objects, setting up a series of value statements and their rebuttals. Cormier points to the "trajectory of miniaturisation" in objects like stereos, from Dieter Rams' portable record player to the iPod Nano – and then counterbalances it with Ron Arad's Concrete Stereo, a deliberately burdensome record player from 1983. Arad's piece turned out to be prescient: the transition from analogue to digital music has been accompanied by a parallel resurgence of vinyl records prized for their tactility.

The Design Museum will feature major exhibitions on a range of subjects and media, from fashion to photography (Photo. Design Society)

The Design Museum will feature major exhibitions on a range of subjects and media, from fashion to photography (Photo. Design Society)

The V&A is not just bringing objects from London to Shenzhen. "Being here and working on this project has already had an impact on the V&A," says Cormier. The museum has already acquired 52 objects from Shenzhen, including WeChat, China's most popular messaging software. That was accomplished by building a self-contained offline version of the software that can function independently, even if WeChat's servers go dark.

This is an excerpt from the “Social values" article from the November 2017 issue of Perspective magazine.

To continue reading, get your copy of Perspective.

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