Saturday 19 March 2016 marked an important milestone in the pioneering collaboration between the V&A and China Merchants Shekou Holdings (CMSK) who jointly announced the launch of Design Society 设计互联, the new cultural hub led by its director Ole Bouman, which aims to position itself as an open and collaborative platform connecting design culture with society, industries, creative professionals and communities. Its logo, designed by Bruce Mau Design, is inspired by the Hanzi grid 米字格, a template traditionally used in China to learn how to write characters, and here translated into a metaphorical space that invites people to create and develop ideas.
Design Society will be located in the Sea World Culture and Arts Centre, designed by the Japanese studio Maki & Associates, and currently under construction in Shekou, Shenzhen. The complex, due to open in the first half of 2017, is part of a wider urban redevelopment led by China Merchants Shekou that includes the construction of residential apartments, offices and shopping areas.
Design Society will comprise a new design museum, where the V&A Gallery and other exhibition halls are located, the Guanfu Museum, presenting a collection of Chinese applied arts, a theatre, a multi-purpose hall, as well as a learning and public programme. The rest of the Seaworld Culture and Arts center will include shops and commercial activities.
At the launch Tim Reeve, V&A Deputy Director and COO, summarised the main components of the collaboration between the V&A and CMSK: concept, development and design of the V&A Gallery devoted to 20th and 21st century international design; presentation of two major touring exhibitions in 2017 and 2018; and provision of professional advice and training. The launch event gave also the opportunity to announce more details about the V&A Gallery and its main narrative, which was developed by lead curator Brendan Cormier as an exploration of design values through seven different themes: performance, cost, problem solving, materials, identity, communication and wonder. All the objects in the gallery will be drawn from the V&A’s major collections of fashion, photography, furniture, product and graphic design, theatre and performance. A few examples include a chandelier by Studio Drift that unites nature and lighting technology, a meticulously embroidered Christian Dior dress, a Braun transistor radio and portable record player by Dieter Rams, up to the latest drone technology.
In addition to 20th and 21st century objects, which represent the majority of the items on display, the V&A Gallery will also include several examples from earlier historical periods and different geographical areas, in order to explore and position design values within a much wider historical and cultural framework. Examples include an astrolabe dating from 1650-1800 in Iran, which illustrates early advances in multi-functional design, an Egyptian water filter made in 900-1200 which shows design for an environmental context, and a 17th century pocket watch documenting an early form of miniaturisation of design. They will be complemented by a number of new acquisitions of contemporary design collected especially for the gallery.
Tim Reeve, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of the V&A said: “The V&A has a long history of working in and with China, and this project is enabling us to connect with the fast moving design, manufacturing and creative scene here in Shenzhen, as well as sharing our collections, knowledge and expertise in one of the most energetic and progressive cities in the world. We support the objectives of Design Society to use the power of design to address major issues of our time and elevate the role of design in society.”
“The launch of Design Society is a great opportunity to celebrate the result of the very productive dialogue we have had with our colleagues at CMSK over the past two years. This pioneering collaboration between a UK museum and a Chinese partner is part of a new approach to our international engagement strategy. We are looking to develop new longer-term international collaborations, which enable us to engage in more creative ways, by building a global network of trusted partners with whom we can share the idea of the V&A by creating new culturally meaningful projects which we could not do alone.”
The V&A team has been developing networks with creative professionals, academics and educators, entrepreneurs and developers, as well as local communities, in order to inform the research and curatorial approach of the new gallery and its public programme. We have been exploring the unique design and creative practices in the city, including innovative models in technology and digital platforms, and in the wider manufacturing system of Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta, the area generally known as ‘The Factory of the World’ and now turning into a hub of further economic growth and innovation.
Selected case studies from its wider ongoing research were presented in the exhibition ‘Unidentified Acts of Design’ at the 2015 Urbanism and Architecture Bi-City Biennale (2015 UABB). Designed by Hong Kong based studio MIRO and curated by Brendan Cormier and Luisa E. Mengoni, the exhibition showed a series of innovative acts of design that have occurred or are emerging outside of the conventional studio context in this area. Eight short films were produced in collaboration with Hong Kong based Cpak Studio to give voice to the main actors and players of each story; we are releasing the final versions over the coming weeks on the blog. The first one is available here: (see link).
A few objects from ‘Unidentified Acts of Design’ will be displayed in the new V&A Gallery, such as Seeeduino, an open source microcontroller based on Arduino and developed by Seeed, a company providing a platform for makers, inventors and engineers to develop and prototype ideas, and examples of ‘shanzhai’, objects made within the open hardware and electronic manufacturing environment characterising Shenzhen. The research, funded by the Design Trust, challenged the notion that design in Shenzhen is limited to reproductions with little originality, and aimed to expand and redefine our understanding of design history in the region.
The research, funded by the Design Trust, challenged the notion that design in Shenzhen is limited to reproductions with little originality, and aimed to expand and redefine our understanding of design history in the region.
Stay tuned to follow up pre-opening programme and events of the V&A Gallery and Design Society, and spread the word for the opening in Shekou next year!
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We would very much appreciate receiving some information on how to join The Design Society.