Sunday, April 29, 2018

Design Society Shekou

The only “sightseeing” stuff we did in our long weekend in Shenzhen was a trip to Shekou on the outskirt of the city now easily accessible by metro/subway. True, our main mission to Shenzhen was to check out the new Muji Hotel, but a visit to the new Design Society complex on the coast of Shekou was also something on my to-do list for a while so I decided to hit two birds with one stone and make a slight detour there before heading home.

Shekou was probably better known as the industrial town with the container port serving as the gateway hub at the mouth of Pearl River Delta, but it has slowly transformed into an art, cultural and leisure center of Shenzhen thanks to the development of Sea World complex. From our brief encounter of this neighbourhood I was pretty impressed by it, with plenty of green space and low-density buildings of condos, shopping malls and plaza filled with restaurants offering alfresco dining options, almost with the sort of European vibe – with emphasis on “almost”. Along the coastline was a park and a long promenade where people could enjoy walking or cycling with the perfect sea view – I am sure on a good day one could see the northern part of Hong Kong too. And all it took was a quick 45 minutes on the efficient Shenzhen Metro Line No 2 from downtown.

But we were not here to shop and eat but to visit the new Design Society building which only opened to the public since late last year. While art and business partnerships were nothing new in the rest of the world, I found it rather interesting the similar trend has started in China as well, with China Merchant Group who was behind the Sea World development project spearheaded this new organization aiming to inject the cultural element to it with this new landmark building at the waterfront. The building itself, designed by Japanese architect Fumuhiko Maki whose work also included Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, was a piece of art, sculptural in appearance with natural light let into the inside of the building, completed with a rooftop garden, gallery space, museums and shops. It blended in well with the surroundings, right by the sea and along the park next door. They also collaborated with UK’s Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) which dedicated to art and design, with a series of exhibitions and projects to be revealed.

Right now it’s still work in progress so there were only two exhibitions plus the museum shop that’s open to the public. First was the first installation of the V&A exhibition called “Values of Design” which runs til 2019, with artefact from the museum collection exploring the different aspects of product design and how they relate to the its value in the area of performance, cost, problem-solving, materials, identity, communication and wonder. It’s not a particular exhibition that really “wow”, or contains any spectacular exhibit that you have never seen anywhere else, but the curator of the exhibition did raise the interesting proposition of making the connection between design and values to mankind, leaving much food for thought. And I think it’s not without irony that one section of the exhibition talked about the Shanzhai phenomenon, the fast-to-market products based on counterfeit/copycat design which China was notoriously known for being at the forefront and Shenzhen being the manufacturing center for many of those products.

On the other side of the gallery space was another exhibition, one called “Minding the Digital” organized by the internal team of Design Society. A number of commissioned creative installations were on display in various sections, many “tangiblize” the concept of digitalization in art form or showed how it transformed our society in ways that we didn’t think much of. A few work did particularly struck me – inside the gallery there’s a house built by digitally designed and cut wooden plywood which can be delivered completely flat and assembled without any screw or tools – a technique that carried from traditional craftsmanship; or an interactive exhibit called Sharevari, a gesture controlled musical instrument made of Swarovski crystal bells and motion sensors. Overall I think the exhibitions were fun, informative and inspirational, and totally worth our detour.

We used to see Shenzhen as a place where we go to buy goods at a bargain, or come for a cheap spa session or food, or a quick game of golf, but this weekend we found out there's much more to see and do. I wouldn't have imagined that we would one day come over to stay in a designer hotel, eat at fine-dining restaurant, or visit a museum. There's always the discussion or debate of whether Shenzhen will one day catch up with Hong Kong in terms of living standard, and I now think that day may come sooner rather than later with the way our neighbor was changing and evolving - that to me, was something that left much to ponder upon as we conclude our long weekend stay-cation here with a quick bus journey home.


More pictures from our Shenzhen stay-cation:

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