V&A joins China Merchants Shekou Holdings (CMSK) in launching Design Society

May 20, 2016

Yesterday – 19 March 2016 – marked an important milestone in the pioneering collaboration between the V&A and China Merchants Shekou (CMSK) who jointly announced the launch of Design Society 设计互联, the new cultural hub that will be located in Sea World Culture and Arts Centre, the complex designed by Maki & Associates and currently under construction in Shekou, Shenzhen.

Design Society is up
Design Society is up


Design Society, led by its director Ole Bouman, aims to position itself as an open and collaborative platform that connects 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 is located in SeaWorld Culture and Art Centre in Shekou, Shenzhen.

One of the exhibition halls of Design Society
One of the exhibition halls of Design Society


At the launch of Design Society Tim Reeve, V&A Deputy Director and COO, summarised the main components of the collaboration: concept, development and design of a 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 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 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 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 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. The V&A team has 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 developing 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. 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.


Stay tuned to follow up pre-opening programme and events.




#DesignSociety #设计互联


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