Design Society began as a collaborative project between the Chinese state-owned enterprise China Merchants and a major British museum, the V&A. I began working to turn this into reality in 2015. At the end of 2017 it opened as a creative ecosystem of civic, cultural and commercial activities, located first in an iconic building designed by Fumihiko Maki, then proliferating through other projects as a design platform for general and professional audiences. By abstaining explicitly from the term “museum” and choosing “Design Society” as a creative platform instead, the mission was defined as never-ending, and open participation by all. Towards the end of 2020, Design Society operates its venue, hosts countless events, collaborates with schools, museums and professional associations, and has begun to proliferate its practice throughout China.
bruch mau design
The logomark inspired by the Hanzi grid, template for handwriting practice, is a new framework built upon tradition, but demonstrates a new way forward. It creates a space for action that invites people to create and make the future.
the making of a new design platform
When my work as Founding Director of Design Society began, the conditions were great: SOE China Merchants’ pioneering engagement with a new industry, design, had just taken off and the Victoria and Albert Museum was planning its innovative and collaborative flagship project for China. The architect Fumihiko Maki was using his vision to amplify the best qualities of the museum’s location in Shekou, by designing an urban landmark. Speaking for myself, there was the fresh experience of working as the 5th Shenzhen Urbanism/Architecture Biennale’s creative director, in one of the most vibrant cities I have ever worked for. Grateful for the opportunity, I began by mapping out the work that needed to be done to transform these conditions into an actual institution. The result was a founding document describing a vision and the actions needed to realize it.
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how to build a new museum
Museum Review, Vol 1, Number 2
Design Society might also be indispensable as a platform in the midst of an incredible social-economic transformation. In Shenzhen, there are so many historical dynamics interacting with each other, that an institution that maps it, exposes it, and provides a platform to translates it into new concepts, products, collaborations, formats, pilots, prototypes and models, is extremely useful. Either the energy and cultural tolerance that comes from the status of Shenzhen as a migrant and arrival city, or the collective ingenuity that comes with its reputation as maker city, or its rapidly developing cultural infrastructure and government support program that comes with its name as City of Design, as all providing tremendous conditions for experimentation and new ideas. But above all that, there is the historical force of transforming an industrial society into a new one. There is a widespread believe that this should be a “creative society”, but how exactly that should happen, how exactly that translates into real actions, how exactly that will improve lives, needs to be tested and demonstrated. Design is a perfect medium for that.
World's Greatest Place
time magazine 2018
In the late 1970s, Shenzhen was a small town and the centerpiece of China’s economic liberalization. Today it’s one of the country’s wealthiest cities, and this sprawling, coastal arts center symbolizes its coming-of-age. Of note is the unique collaboration with the U.K.’s Victoria and Albert Museum that sees exhibitions on the power of design, including pieces from the V&A’s permanent collection, take center stage. —Suyin Haynes
a new creative platform in action
Every founding director must become witness, or better be the agent of her or his own re-invention. At first there are the careful preparations: understanding the situation; conceiving of a mission; building a team; coining a brand; developing a program, creating a narrative to promote the whole endeavor. Especially for establishing a cultural institution, these steps are crucial to provide common ground for everyone to stand firm and stay the course towards, towards…
Towards a successful opening. Design Society could open its 70.000sqm venue on December 1, 2017, having all these things in place to start receiving its first visitors. We were relieved that we made it, and ready to make it.
And that’s were the metamorphosis kicks in. Whatever visionary plan + executive scripts + operational manuals you may have, to prepare such project behind the scenes is a completely different ball game from actually running it, maintaining it, sharing it with the thousands of visitors ever since. Time has come for public scrutiny, but also for the consolidation of a flow of ideas to keep solid and apace the flow of activities that builds not only excitement among the public, but slowly but surely, its loyalty.
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