China’s new cultural hub opens its doors

Nick Myall
Monday 04 Dec 2017

The opening of the Design Society in Shenzhen is the result of the pioneering collaboration between China Merchants Shekou and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London

Design Society, China's first dedicated cultural design hub, established by China Merchants Shekou (CMSK), was officially inaugurated on 1/12/17 in the presence of over 300 VIPs, dignitaries, local and international members of the media, and esteemed guests in Shenzhen. The grand launch of The Sea World Culture and Arts Center (SWCAC), designed by the legendary architect Fumihiko Maki, will welcome the public from Saturday, 2 December 2017, with a curated public program of exhibitions and events over the opening weekend aimed at encouraging audiences to engage in the global debate about the power of design.

The new collaborative platform presents the pioneering creativity and spirit of Shenzhen, highlighting the innovation and creation that lies at Design Society's core. Encompassing an evolving annual program highlighting all aspects of design, the center presents a thought-provoking experience for visitors and bolstering China's connection to the rest of the world as a global cultural player. Design Society provides a place to cultivate new talents as well as nurture and develop design opportunities, while underlining the intrinsic potential of contemporary design in China and beyond.

The opening of Design Society is also the result of the pioneering collaboration between China Merchants Shekou and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, the first of its kind between a Chinese corporate partner and an international museum. The collaboration comprises the provision of professional advice and training and the concept, development and design of a V&A Gallery devoted to international design, including the site-specific inaugural exhibition, Values of Design; and in addition, the presentation of two major touring V&A exhibitions.

"CMSK is proud to have established Design Society as an innovative platform to enhance and inspire the design industry in the region and beyond. Dedicated to ongoing urban development in Shenzhen, we aim to continue to provide opportunities and support for the rising level of talent and enterprise here," says Xu Yongiun, General Manager of CMSK.

Ole Bouman, Director of Design Society says: "Today we present a new podium for China to show its creative drive to the world and to nurture its quest for international inspiration. We are excited and eager to present Design Society, as a place dedicated to expanding and enriching the design environment of Shenzhen and China, and to offer a platform to our global counterparts. Through our vast network of likeminded cultural institutions and partners, and our programme of creative events, exhibitions and activities, we welcome and embrace a long-standing discussion and exploration to further enrich our goal to design society."

Tim Reeve, Deputy Director of the V&A says: "The opening of Design Society is a significant moment for Shenzhen, China and the wider design world. I am proud that as a founding partner of Design Society Foundation, the V&A has collaborated with China Merchants Group and colleagues at Design Society to establish this important cultural destination, and that the dedicated V&A Gallery and touring exhibitions will showcase the best of international design. Our world leading curatorial and education experts have also provided the very best training to share skills and deepen research as part of an exchange that benefits us all."

Design Society has been founded by China Merchants Shekou (CMSK), a company engaged in comprehensive urban development under the 145-year-old China Merchants Group. By committing this area of land on the harbour front in Shekou, CMSK aims to strengthen the sustainable growth of the area via further activating the local design industry throughout the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. Aligned with the ethos of CMSK's mission of urban development and community enhancement, the center promotes the growth and development of design as an industry in Shenzhen, and to strengthen the local design industry via sustainable urban growth and opportunities for local and regional industry players.

The purpose-built Sea World Culture and Arts Center (SWCAC) is operated and programmed solely by Design Society, and is the first building in China to be designed by renowned architectural studio Maki and Associates, and fosters interaction through the state-of-the-art architectural features inspired by Shekou's natural landscape and ideal for dynamic cultural dialogue. One of the three inaugural exhibitions provides a fascinating insight into the mind of Maki and hones in on his architectural principles and philosophy of design. Titled Nurturing Dreams in Recent Work: Fumihiko Maki + Maki and Associates, visitors are presented with an imaginary tour of his 60-year career plus an exclusive look of the SWCAC structure and the design process from conception to completion.

The Main Gallery presents the speculative exhibition Minding the Digital - curated by Design Society and designed by MVRDV with -  which reflects on the unprecedented impact digitalisation has had through design by exploring the role it plays as a mediator between technology and human values. Concurrently, the first exhibition at the V&A Gallery is Values of Design and examines the relationship between values and design through over 250 objects ranging from 900AD to the present day from the V&A permanent collection. Designed by Sam Jacob Studio, it will showcase objects that represent key turning points in the history of design, drawn from the V&A's permanent collections of fashion, photography, furniture, product and graphic design, theatre and performance, including some specifically acquired from Shenzhen.

Creative Network

Design Society is uniquely positioned as a platform that combines cultural and commercial expertise, which establishes the center as a sustainable entity. The collaborative structure of the platform is comprised of the Design Society Foundation and the commercial arm which ensures the model of operation as a non-profit institution.

As a creative platform, Design Society has already built an extensive network of partners, contributors and supporters from China and around the world. Enhancing these relationships is an integral part of Design Society's vision and future to strengthen the center's outreach for ongoing development and public programming with key figures in the fields of design and architecture. In addition, Design Society aims to widen this network within areas of academia, business, governmental affairs and education through collaborations with major museums, residential programmes, archival institutions and schools. With the advice of these industry experts, the growth of this network demonstrates the overlapping creative practices - closely bound to society and industry – vital to the sustainability of Design Society. An extensive membership programme will also offer exclusive industry opportunities, think tanks, b2b and career acceleration activities, elevating Design Society as a leading resource on both a local and international scale.

Covering a footprint of 26,000 square metres with 71,000 square metres of floor space over six floors, SWCAC will house exhibition spaces at the Main Gallery, V&A Gallery, Park View Gallery, Shenzhen UCCN Exchange Center, Shekou Museum of Reform and Opening, and Shenzhen Guanfu Museum; multipurpose event spaces as the Mountain View Theater and Horizon Hall; and F&B outlets including EXTRA TIME, Chunmanyuan and The Purple. In the meantime, educational institutes like Xiaoyan|NEXT and the Art Education Center of the National Ballet of China are set to launch soon, in addition to established art and design brands such as Haishang Gallery, HAMIN REMIX, Epsilon Art Gallery, RITZ and Ligne Roset.

As an enterprise, Design Society will host and support a variety of commercial partners in retail, education and professional associations, among others. Each partnership will evolve through a curated experience, each adding their unique quality and dynamics to the Design Society eco-system which encapsulates commerce, design and creativity for visitors.

Opening & Wider Programme 

A series of speaking panels and activities are planned and are open to attend on a first come, first serve basis; please refer to the for more details.

Highlights include: 

  • A one-day conference on 'How Creative Practices Design Society' will take place on 2 December to celebrate the milestone of the new design institution for China and the world. The conference will feature international speakers, such as Tim Reeve (Deputy Director of V&A Museum), John Sorrell (Chairman of London Design Week), Fumihiko Maki, Hunter Tura (CEO of Bruce Mau Design), Sam Jacob (Architect & Designer), and many others, who will discuss topics covering the global impact of creative industries.
  • Design Society will also offer creative activities during the opening weekend for the public. Visitors will have the opportunity to produce three-dimensional paper art light bulbs together with Stickyline, and join interactive artist Eric Siu in designing communication devices; Visitors can also join a handcraft workshop after exploring the V&A gallery, and gain first-hand experience as a fashion designer.
  • Design Society will cooperate with a number of local creative institutions in organizing a series of curated courses for visitors to gain a deeper understanding of design, such as the "Hand-made model of SWCAC and surroundings", "Design of general barrier-free facilities", and "Making shaving roses".
  • The "TAPIGAMI - Shaping the future of city Interactive exhibition" and "Urban farm" are among the other interactive projects which will be on offer during the opening weekend.
  • On 16/17 December, The Street Museum will be presented at Design Society as a project conceived for the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism Architecture (Shenzhen) by Yona Friedman, commissioned by UABB, The Design Society, and OCAT with the curatorial support of Fondazione MAXXI.
  • The winners of Graphic Design In China 2017 (GDC17), a leading biannual design focused competition initiated by the Shenzhen Graphic Design Association, will be announced on 9 December showcasing the works in an exhibition.
  • The Design Society store will present a curated shopping experience, providing an opportunity for visitors to interact directly with elements from current exhibitions and public programs, as well as with international designer brands and products, by up-and coming designers from China.
  • Collaborative pop-up stores and a study lab provide opportunities to connect with local design initiatives and learn more about a featured item's background, creating not just a dynamic consumer experience, but a journey of discovery. Design Society Store's first Pop Up collaborates with Maker Net to present Maywa Denki's latest electronic instrument series.

Nick Myall

News editor

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