V&A at Design Society, Shekou

In December 2017, Design Society opened in Shenzhen’s Shekou district in southern China. The V&A partnered with China Merchants Shekou Holdings to open this new cultural hub dedicated to design, that features the V&A’s first international gallery, alongside several other exhibitions and cultural spaces. The collaboration is the latest and most ambitious initiative to result from the V&A’s long-standing relationship with China.

Design Society is housed at Sea World Culture and Arts Centre, a large multi-purpose building designed by renowned Japanese architect, Fumihiko Maki.

In April 2024, the V&A and Design Society launched a new design award in China, showcasing contemporary Chinese design.

The biannual award reflects an ongoing commitment to excellence and cultural exchange. An exhibition, showcasing the winning designs will debut in late 2025 at the Sea World Culture and Arts Centre in Shenzhen – with a selection of the winning works to also be displayed at V&A South Kensington, in London.

The Sea World Culture and Arts Center, designed by Fumihiko Maki and operated by Design Society, which houses the new V&A Gallery. © Design Society

Values of Design: China in the Making

On 18 January 2020, Values of Design: China in the Making opened at the V&A Gallery at Design Society. It is the first exhibition in China to explore the growing field of Chinese design and the first to attempt to understand how changing and evolving values are helping to shape what we design, produce and consume. Initiated and curated by Design Society, in collaboration with the V&A, the exhibition continues the success of the institutions’ long-term partnership. This exhibition is a follow-up to Values of Design, the inaugural V&A Gallery exhibition produced by the V&A in collaboration with Design Society in 2017.

Values of Design at V&A Gallery, Design Society. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Values of Design

The initial Values of Design exhibition, that opened in December 2017, presented more than 250 objects drawn from the V&A’s extensive permanent collection. It offered local audiences a unique opportunity to explore the historical and geographical diversity of its objects, while exploring critical issues about design. The exhibition touched on and highlighted some of the most important design movements from the past, giving a global perspective on the subject through seven themed sections: performance, cost, problem solving, materials, identity, communication and wonder.

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Research in action

Southern China is one of the fastest growing design and technology hubs in the world. Across the Greater Bay Area, cities like Shenzhen have fostered a vast manufacturing ecosystem to respond to global demand. Today a decisive shift is occurring, as entrepreneurs, designers, and policymakers seek to take that manufacturing infrastructure and know-how, cultivated over the years, and turn it into a robust design economy. In 2008, Shenzhen was designated a UNESCO City of Design, explicitly signalling its ambition to compete with other design capitals around the world.

Unidentified Acts of Design at the Shenzhen Urbanism Architecture Bi-City Biennale, 2015. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Since the project was initiated in 2014, the V&A has worked extensively in close collaboration with Design Society to build a local network and engage with creative practices, museum professionals, educators and the wider community. V&A and Design Society staff have worked with university design schools, local and international schools, makerspaces, museums and designer studios in Shenzhen and across China.

As part of its research activity, the V&A presented the exhibition Unidentified Acts of Design at the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Bi-city Biennale (UABB) in 2015. Unidentified Acts of Design profiled a series of cases where design plays out in the region, outside of the conventional designer studio. Each of the cases built on the region's unique eco-system of rapid growth, bounding ambition, and easy access to supplies and know-how.

The exhibition also featured at the V&A as part of London Design Festival in 2016.