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[Primer]: Beijing Design Week 2015
Bird's-eye roundup of BJDW events you might enjoy as a layperson to the whole experience, plus a chat with BJDW's dauntless creative director, Beatrice Leanza...
By Sep 22, 2015 Arts
What is it? The biggest, best, goddamn Beijing-est art & design event of the year, my friends. Beijing Design Week's 5th edition kicks off today, and it's grown so big the organizers just said "Fuck it, we'll go two weeks."

Yes, Beijing Design Week runs from September 23-October 7 this year, colonizing virtually every crack in the hutong mortar, sending press release text snippets flying around like so many spores saturating our already dense air with pregnant talk of sustainability, local/global dynamics, design-oriented strategies for urbanization, holistic futurities, prosumer life-scapes, et al, et al.

Here's a quick roundup of some BJDW events I think you might enjoy as a layperson to the whole experience, followed up by a chat with BJDW's dauntless creative director, Beatrice Leanza, who has more insightful things to say about the overall program and some marquee exhibits connected with this year's guest city, Dubai.

Dashilar to Baitasi: gentrification as preservation


If you want to cut to the quick of what BJDW's all about — the revitalization, recontextualization, and, in some cases, gentrification of decrepit hutong zones at Beijing's architectural heart — you'll want to spend a few days wandering around Dashilar and Baitasi. BJDW more or less began in the Dashilar area south of Qianmen, and has effectively transformed that area into an economically dynamic hub. They're exporting that model to Baitasi, a hutong zone in Xicheng, for the first time this year, taking the area by storm with a broad panoply of exhibits and initiatives.

To provide a compact picture of the challenges presented by this development process, Columbia-funded, seemingly always vacant Fangjia hutong space Studio-X teamed up with Dashilar Project to put together a group exhibit called Housing In-between, addressing marginalized communities of migrants and displaced elderly within Beijing's hutong districts.

Dashilar from above (photo courtesy The Megacity Initiative)

The exhibit features the work of various hutong-based photographers, such as Matjaž Tančič, Matthew Niederhauser, and John Fitzgerald, as well as some more conceptual design work from Beijing-based urban theory magazine Concrete Flux, who've hand-picked a few articles from across their four issues to date that "peer into the curious corners of Beijing. We’ve used a maze of common domestic door screens to provide a parallel with the corridors of the city's intimate hutongs."

Dashilar: Housing In-between will be on view at #122 Yangmeizhu hutong from September 23-October 7. On September 26, participating artists will hold a forum at Dashilar's Relay Factory (#8 Dawailangying hutong) from 1-6pm. Full info here.


In Baitasi, Lava Design will crunch key numbers, giving a simultaneously quantitative and humanistic analysis of life in the Xicheng hutong district. They say: "Baitasi is new terrain for BJDW and before starting to do things, we feel it’s good to get to know the place better. Getting to know somewhere starts with walking around and collecting information. We combined these two things in this project by collecting data that could be useful for future locals. With this data we strolled around and visualized the information using objects that we found in the hutongs. In this way we hope to help you get to know Baitasi and its inhabitants; from demographics to architecture, from restaurants to transportation."

You can see the results of Lava's ad hoc research in their exhibit Data Alley, which will be on view from September 24 until the end of BJDW. More info here.

Stay fed & sauced: DRINK’N HOPe, Slo-Mo, Farm to Neighbors

Priorities. Assuming you're not in the business of art, architecture, design, or creating jargon for the aforementioned, BJDW can be a bit daunting to engage. Luckily there are a few city-wide, BJDW-affiliated events oriented toward food and drink, so you can ease your way into the whole thing and get a buzz going in the process.

One such campaign is DRINK’N HOPe, sort of a four-day, city-wide bar crawl for charity, with aesthetic concerns baked in. You pay 100rmb for your "hopping pass," a loud rubber necklace designed by Moujiti which doubles a drink holder, and which qualifies you to grab BJDW-specialty cocktails for 20rmb a piece at a wide range of Beijing bars.

The bars are offering specialty one-off drinks for the cause, such as Aotu Studio's Roxy Autumn (white rum, ginger, lime, mint, splash of ginger ale) and Cuju's Rad Tai (crafted rum, Xinjiang almond syrup, mint, lime, dry orange liqueur). Even rock'n'roll dive bar Old What is getting in on this with the Forbidden City Rock (raspberry syrup, tequila, soda). Find the full list of participating bars + menu here. All profits go to supporting an elderly TCM health care program in Baitasi, aiming "to examine the possibilities of 'Self-Organised' health care solutions in an aging society."


Modernista's ravioli

For a bite to go with that boozing, check out the Slo-Mo Food & Craft Fair, also thematically tied to the new core area of Baitasi: "with its centuries-old traditions of art and gastronomy [Baitasi] symbolizes the perfect location for Slo-Mo, which is responsible for promoting local artisans, farmers and tradition through events such as workshops, craft trades and food and wine tasting."

Drop by their pop-up stall in Baitasi (L2, No.313 North Fuchengmen Inner St), where there will be booths featuring the work of "food artisans" from around the city. Spanish fare from Modernista, Moroccan culinary experiments from Caravan, Mediterranean fusion flare from Migas, and more. Full info here.


Farm to Neighbors veg spread

For an even slower food experience, drop by 751 D-Park, where Farm to Neighbors will temporarily abscond from their Gulou location for a bigger and better locavore/organic farmers' market on October 1-2. F2N's Erica Huang says: "Come meet Beijing’s urban organic farmers and get clean food straight from the farm to your table. Discover independent, handmade designers and pick out something unique for yourself! Be satisfied with a wide range of homemade and authentic gourmet choices, which always choose to use real food and no-additives in their cooking."

It'll be a massive spread, with 45 vendors moving locally produced fruit, veg, cheese, yogurt, rice wine, free-range meat, etc, plus activities including wood carving and DIY lip balm production. Runs from 11am-5pm on October 1 and 2. Find directions to 751 D-Park here.

Matter Matters: get your hands dirty with books & zines

If you want to reach out and touch the design, there are a few BJDW exhibits and events letting you do just that. WAI Think Tank and Geisel Cabrera will present the second annual Paper Manifestoes exhibit, showcasing standout print publications from around the world with a focus on "space in its multiple dimensions (architectural, geopolitical, domestic, utopian, urban, rural, peripheral)."

Check out The Factory in Dashilar (#8 Dawailangying hutong) from September 23-October 7 to peruse their collection of comic strips, photocopy zines, ethnographic journals, monographic surveys, and more. Full info here.


The I: Project Space curatorial team, meanwhile, focuses their energy on the format of the Artist Book: "Artists' books are their own medium. They can have a traditional book structure or they can be sculptural objects, or elaborate constructions that experiment with new forms of book design. Artists' books present artists also with a way of developing aesthetic ideas, telling personal stories or making political or social commentary."

From September 23-27, I: Project will host an artist book workshop with "upcoming Chinese artists" led by designer Sonja Zagermann in their Beixinqiao space. On October 3, the participating designers and artists will present the results of the workshop at #26 Baitasi hutong. Afterwards they'll remain on view in I: Project's growing library. More info

Interact: immerse yourself in life-as-art and art-as-life

Finally, here are a few more involved, interactive exhibits cropping up for this year's BJDW, if you want to enter the fray with your full mind and body. In Baitasi you can check out Secret Garden of Give & Take, a volunteer-built "interactive environmental art installation" running continuously from September 23-October 7, from 10am-6pm at #52 East Baitasi hutong. Secret Garden draws from curator Elizabeth Ashforth's combined love of aquaponics, DIY, and event facilitation, aiming to inspire viewers to "change their lifestyles to participate in long term environmental protection." She elaborates:

"We are a group of more than 100 environmental enthusiasts collaborating to create a vision for the future. Our community instillation, inspired by aquaponics and up-cycling, explores the concept of give and take in our everyday environment. What can you bring to the experience, and what will you take away with you?"

Secret Garden is free to view, but if you're so inclined you can also take home a small aquaponics kit for 300rmb. More info here.


Elsewhere in Baitasi: Institute for Provocation has put together a "collective art installation" in an abandoned hutong structure. The Aliens of Courtyard 23 "will present various perspectives on how to approach the strangely alluring decay of a Beijing courtyard." Curator Max Gerthel adds: "Drawing from the current conditions offered by the courtyard, a complex and highly textured environment characterised by a long series of rooms and small courtyards, this project proposes displacement and juxtaposition of contrasting artefacts, materials and actions as ways to counteract and reflect on the status of this place and others like it."

Drop by #23 Baitasi from September 23-October 7 to check out site-specific, collectivized work from thirteen of Beijing's most active and iconoclastic contemporary artists.

Don't take our word for it...

Ahead of BJDW 2015, we got the first-hand, bird's-eye overview from the one woman who'd know better than anyone, Beatrice Leanza, who's overseeing the madness as Creative Director for the third consecutive year:

Bea Leanza (image courtesy BJDW)

SmartBeijing: BJDW has grown significantly since it began, and this year is certainly the largest edition yet. Has it grown sustainably? Are you finding new sources of funding and/or institutional support year by year?

Bea Leanza: BJDW has grown contagiously! When it started in 2011, there were only two core areas for the popular Design HOP program, 751 D-Park and Dashilar. In 2015, BJDW has come to spread across four municipal districts and more than ten zones and core areas. It literally takes over the city.

With new and continuing partners and collaborators, as well as [more] sponsors and supporters every year, the BJDW family continues to grow. As an open and inclusive platform, Design HOP has become a living ecosystem of productive relations among various stakeholders, from government planners to public and private organizations as well as individual entrepreneurs.

Dashilar alley (image courtesy BJDW)

SmBJ: The artists, architects, designers, and organizers who make up BJDW's program come from all over the world, but it is crucially hosted and supported by the Beijing municipal government. Since BJDW started I've noticed similar, city government-supported offshoots, such as Tianjin Design Week, which had its second edition this past May. How does BJDW interface with the Chinese and Beijing government as it seeks urbanization solutions for the current phase of development, especially as it affects the Beijing/Tianjin/Hebei area?

Bea Leanza: Since its inception, BJDW has nurtured alternative approaches to urban development and revitalization in Beijing’s historic districts. This began with Dashilar, with the launch of both the Dashilar Project and Dashilar Platform, and Beijing Dashilar Investment Ltd’s collaboration with Beijing Design Week in 2011, and has since become an exemplar of new collaborative, consultative, research and design-led strategies for urban development in Chinese cities. The Baitasi ReMade program is certainly a concrete step in proving this commitment and continued efforts in deepening understanding on the subject.

BJDW has put Beijing on the map as part of a global creative cities network. It’s the leading design event in the PRC, and is all about nurturing a culture of design in the Chinese context.

Baitasi (image courtesy BJDW)

SmBJ: I've talked at length with Moujiti's Lulu Li about the plans for Baitasi, but can you speak a bit more about your long-term plans for the development of this area? Will you follow a model similar to how Dashilar has developed since 2011?

Bea Leanza: The Baitasi program is made possible with the support of Beijing Hurong Jinying Investment & Development Co., Ltd — developers interested in attracting new demographics to an area with both aging population and infrastructure. Collectively, the projects consider how contemporary creative entrepreneurship, aided by new production methodologies and motivated by a collaborative spirit of making, can both assist the social and structural disconnection of the area, while taking inspiration from it to serve more efficient (smart), sustainable (co-benefiting) and desirable living standards.

Projects range from data research, as in Lava Design's Data Alley, to Hua Li (Trace Architecture Office's) Split Courtyard House, re-configuring a traditional courtyard house to better suit the needs and lifestyles of young people today. Also the Our Community project developed by Interactive Beijing and Seeed Studio from Shenzhen is an unprecedented innovation platform we are launching which takes hutong living and new tech interactions as its explorative subject.

Lava's "Hutong Infographics" (image courtesy Lava/BJDW)

Bea Leanza: Dashilar has also been a speculative backdrop for these kinds of research-driven, pilot projects, but as a commercial area, it also suits pop-up stores and exhibition spaces. Baitasi is mostly residential and so its trajectory will be very different. Yet in both scenarios, designers are at the center of the conversation.

SmBJ: I know you're not in a position to choose favorites… but can you highlight two or three projects happening during BJDW 2015 that you find particularly interesting, engaging, or innovative?

Bea Leanza: It's impossible to choose, but I am really excited about People's Architecture Office's large-scale façade installation at the entrance of the Baitasi Info Hub and creeping inside the Hub space. It takes over a former publishing house office building with a piping system that blurs indoor and outdoor spaces — a new landmark for Baitasi. Not far from there is Spark Architects' giant "Jianzi Box" (referring to the traditional Chinese game), a large-scale installation that reclaims an unused plaza in the area. The installation will deconstruct, over time, as visitors are allowed to take the Jianzi away, and the residents will use the remains as a public resting area.

studio O's "Symphony of Blues" (image courtesy studio O/A4 Studios/BJDW)

Bea Leanza: At Parkview Green, BJDW and LCD — Laboratory for Creative Design — are behind the biggest indoor architectural 3D-printed pavilion in the world and at Indigo, I’m looking forward to getting lost in studio O’s "Symphony of Blues" installation comprising over 400 pieces of fabric. At Dashilar, the collaborative Housing In-Between forum will be particularly engaging, looking at current and future housing conditions for marginalized communities globally.

SmBJ: What would your recommended route/schedule be for someone who wants to experience as much of the BJDW 2015 program as possible?

Bea Leanza: I would spend whole days exploring different areas and avoid getting stuck in Beijing traffic! There will be bikes for rent at the Baitasi Info Hub, a great way to spend a day navigating an area that will be new to many audiences.

At Dashilar, start at Dashilar Project and Dashilar Pilot Project Exhibitions (#120 Yangmeizhu), which explain the theory, research, and practice in transitioning from the Experimentation to Community Building phase of the project, and then grab a map from the Information Center and take your time wandering through the endless hutongs.

All of the areas feature great food-focused projects to keep refreshed, like Slo-Mo Food & Craft Fair at Baitasi and Drink’n HOPe fundraising bar hop route curated by Moujiti — a project funding traditional Chinese medicine clinics for the elderly at Baitasi.

Hua Li's Trace Architecture Office in Baitasi (image courtesy TAO/BJDW)

SmBJ: This year's guest city is Dubai. What events or exhibits will this year's program offer between Dubai and Beijing? How do these two cities overlap in architectural or design terms?

Bea Leanza: At the core of the program is the Guest City Dubai exhibition, Wasl, featuring leading and up-and-coming designers in the UAE. Wasl translates to "connection" in Arabic, and refers to Dubai’s former name. The exhibition is mounted in the newly refurbished Factory at Dashilar and is a rare opportunity for Beijingers to encounter design objects and ideas from one of the world’s most vibrant creative centers.

For the exhibition’s curator, Moza Almatrooshi, Dashilar Alley holds a high resemblance to a historical neighborhood in Dubai called Al Fahidi district; both have a human-centered layout and mimic the flow and movement of the people occupying their spaces. The courtyard and use of bamboo within architecture is another thread between them, as the courtyard is a central element in Emirati traditional houses, and the palm tree was heavily utilized in architecture. Dashilar resiliently sits in place while the city continuously develops and rises around it. Al Fahidi neighborhood, as well as other older areas in the United Arab Emirates, are in a parallel situation. The works selected for the exhibition react to these comparable conditions.

"Dashilar holds a high resemblance to a historical neighborhood in Dubai called Al Fahidi district; both have a human-centered layout and mimic the flow and movement of the people occupying their spaces."

"Constructed Feast" (image courtesy Tinkah and BJDW)

SmBJ: You've been at the helm of BJDW for three years now. Will you stay on for the foreseeable future? How do you think BJDW will evolve over the next one year/five years/decade?

Bea Leanza: Beijing as a city and a community has plenty to contribute to ongoing discussions on global issues relevant to urban development and sustainability, this is certainly a conversation I personally will always want to remain engaged with. BJDW has made itself a prime conduit for this transnational, multidisciplinary encounter. Whatever its future, these dialogues are rooted in the city’s creative context, and thanks to what we have built over the years, they will continue well beyond the momentum of BJDW. This is the most important contribution a temporary event can ever offer to its participants and publics.

Baitasi map (image courtesy Lulu Li/Moujiti)

Dive into the full Beijing Design Week 2015 program at, meta-designed by the fine folks at Lava

Cover/top photo: Vector Architects, Hybrid Courtyard rendering, Baitasi (courtesy Vector Architects/BJDW)
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