Designer China

Put form in your function by checking out Beijing Design Week

What is ‘design’? It’s probably easier to define what it’s not. Anything man-made has gone through some kind of design process; ergo, that which is natural hasn’t been ‘designed’. An iPod? Yes. An arthropod? No. A computer virus? Yes. Miley Cyrus? Also yes, actually: even public images are designed to be appealing. So how do you hold a festival celebrating such a varied discipline? The answer, says Beijing Design Week (BJDW), is to throw as many creative, exciting and varied events into seven days as possible – and who are we to argue?

Go to a library, check out a... bike?
The Bicycle Library
does exactly wht it says on the tin, or – in this case – the side of a double-decker bus that drives around, preaching the power of the pedal. Ride one of their stylised bikes for up to a week (with the option to buy at the end) to remind yourself how fun and eco-friendly bikes are – and learn a bit about urban planning in the process.

In Beijing, social status is intrinsically linked to your mode of transport, and the humble bicycle has been rocking the peasant-chic look for a while, as Beijing’s nouveau riche shun bikes in favour of gas-guzzling status-mobiles. ‘The SUV is the new darling in the former kingdom of bicycles,’ says founder Karta Healey. ‘We aim to reverse that.’ How? By making cycling sexy, of course. Grab some refreshment on the upper-deck café and gallery, then browse the stylish frames and accessories downstairs – including bikes made by Gucci and Chanel, shipped in for the brand-hungry Chinese market. Take part in activities and manoeuvre around the obstacle course outside before zipping through traffic on your newly rented cycle. Two wheels good, four wheels bad!

The Bicycle Library will move between locations throughout the week. 8 Dawailangying Hutong, Xicheng District, Beijing

Get a crash course in modern design
‘Nothing useless can be truly beautiful,’ said British artist William Morris. And if you too like function with your form, spend an afternoon walking around the DE-SIGNED exhibition – a showcase for some of Europe’s top design agencies. If you know nothing about the subject, there’ll be plenty of sleek curves and striking shapes to satisfy your plebeian eyes. And if you do know your stuff, there’ll also be plenty of contemporary objets d’art to get your protractor in a spin.

DE-SIGNED offers a broad introduction to European design that aims to whet the appetites of Chinese consumers. From quirky furniture to imaginative gadgetry, there should be plenty to inflame the senses and aggravate that nagging consumerist hole in your life that can only be sated by buying shiny things.

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Take a digital stroll back in time
Discover the hidden history of some of Beijing’s oldest hutongs by night with the Augmented Reality Walk. A map and viewing device – a tablet-sized gadget that comes pre-loaded with a photo slideshow and sound clips of old Dashilar – will be your companions on this voyage through time. Navigate the hutongs to find decades-old images of the area projected on crumbling walls. Give yourself a moment to take in the changes that have occurred on the spot where you’re standing and ponder what it might look like in another 50 years. Part history walk, part statement on the pace of urban development (and probably a little bit spooky, too) this has all the makings of an episode of Scooby Doo, which has to be a good thing.


Put the ‘social’ back into social network
In the early, more innocent days of the internet, socialising online was the sole domain of teenagers in chat rooms typing with one hand. Okay, so perhaps not innocent, but at least everyone else talked to their real-life friends: people shared laughs, not LOLs; would agree, not retweet, and were capable of love, not simply ‘like’.

Italian design group Esterni (hailing from this year’s BJDW partner city, Milan) seems to share our chagrin, as it’s created an actual, non-virtual network called The Real Network – a kind of face-to-face book, if you will. The purpose is to establish a creative community in Caochangdi in which people interact in person.

Register at one of the sign-in points dotted around Caochangdi to collect your ID tag and some stickers (‘Like’, ‘Comment’, ‘Status’ and so on), used when interacting with one another – much like a traffic-light party. There’ll also be tangible ‘walls’ at the registration points – a mix of screens and blank spaces, where photos and events can be uploaded and users can affix stickers. In perhaps the most inventive reimagining, the organisers plan to float balloons in the sky – reminiscent of Google’s dropped pins – to denote the location of secret social gatherings or activities.

The project should be a quirky way to meet new people during the week. Sadly, if you want to laugh at how fat old school friends have become, you’re still going to have to go online.


Learn to think like a designer
YouTube: it’s not all about sneezing pandas and ritual humiliation, apparently. That’s what a collective of designers would have us believe with their group exhibition, How to..., inspired by the planet’s greatest procrastination tool. Each designer is allocated a ‘How to…’ clip from the video-sharing website – ranging from cooking tips to bizarre science experiments – which they must use as a loose basis for a new design.

The designers will also premiere their own video, explaining how they extrapolated ideas from the clip, showing how the apprentice became the master. The original clips are being kept under wraps for now, though as the most popular results for a YouTube search of ‘How to…’ are ‘How to be a Ninja’ and ‘How to Moonwalk’, it’s safe to say that this won’t be your typical exhibition.


Discover that design is child’s play
It’s amazing what kids can do with Lego – and equally amazing is their seemingly prescient ability to leave bricks lying around right where mum or dad are about to walk barefoot. Building Beijing Brick by Brick aims to harness this innate skill by giving children a chance to build their perfect city – out of Lego! Teams of children aged four to six will be challenged to reimagine conventional building structures and modes of transport, with prizes awarded for the most innovative designs.

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