Design Shanghai 2014

Posted on March 8, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

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The exterior of Shanghai exhibition centre


For my annual trip to Asia this year, I decided to skip Japan and opted for Singapore to visit Maison et objet Asia ( the first show outside of Paris) and Singapore design week. But I also wanted to make a trip to China to find out more about their current design scene... and I came across Design Shanghai 2014, which coincided with my dates, hence I decided to check out the event.

Before my trip, I found out that the event would be organised by Media 10 Ltd, a British company that organises 100% design, Ideal Home show and Clerkenwell Design Week etc. And judging from the show's partners and collaborations ( and the involvement of many international-renowned designers and architects), it assured me that the event would be more international than local and of a certain standard.

And then I was in for some surprises, both good and bad...


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The interior of the Shanghai exhibition centre


My first surprise came when I arrived at the venue, which turned out to be conveniently located close to where I was staying (which was not planned) near the Former French Concession area. I was quite stunned when I saw this massive Soviet-style building/ complex, it was only later that I found out about its history. It was built in 1955 as the Sino-Soviet Friendship Building to commemorate the alliance between China and the Soviet Union, and was once the tallest building in Shanghai.

My second surprise came when I was inside the building, not only everything is opulent, but each room is completely different in style (slightly schizophrenic), while showcasing incredible architectural craftsmanship (very Soviet). I could not help but be amazed by the detail of the ceilings, columns and lighting etc, and was completely distracted from the exhibitors...


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Top left & right: Design talks by Sharon Leece, Editor at large, AD China, British/Hong Kong designer, Michael Young and Rossana Hu from Neri & Hu


My third surprise came when I started to wander around the exhibition halls, all the brands seemed surprisingly familiar... it turned out that probably 60% (my rough estimate) of the designers/ brands exhibiting were British, and the rest was split between other international brands like Alessi or Flos and local Chinese ones. Judging from the name of the show, I expected to see more Chinese brands, but this was not the case. I later spoke to a British lady was one of the organisers, and was told that the show aimed to introduce high-end British designer brands to the Chinese market. And due to the craftsmanship involved, the designs could not be easily copied either. She later laughed and said that if I was there to look for Chinese designs, then I was at the wrong show. Oops.


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Top left & main: Ceramics at X+Q; Top right: Shanghai skyscrapper candles by Naihan Li; Bottom middle: a & a; Bottom right: Pearl Lam gallery


I guess it wasn't completely at a loss, as I did find the design seminars quite informative and interesting esp. the talk on Chinese design trends by Sharon Leece, the Editor at large of AD China. She spoke of the retail and interior trends in China and the new creative/ design hubs in cities like Chengdu, Dali and Guangzhou, which I did not know before the show. I also attended another seminar by Hong Kong based British designer, Michael Young and Rosanna Hu from Neri & Hu talking about their recent projects in China.


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 Ceramic work at Kaolin


The show featured mostly high-end and craft-based designs, and one of my favourite Chinese brands there was Kaolin. Kaolin is a creative studio, founded by a ceramic artist, a designer and a media expert in 2012, which aims to promote young domestic ceramic talents to a wider international audience. The ceramic designs are quite minimalistic but beautifully crafted, using traditional techniques and heritage but in a contemporary way.


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Top left: Pusu Lifetstyle; 2nd row left and bottom left: Neri & Hu; 2nd row middle & right: Zizaoshe; Bottom right: a bamboo forest installation


Neri & Hu is one of the most well-known and respected architectural design practice working in China today. The practice not only work on architectural projects, but they also design and produce furniture, lighting and tableware; and founded the high-end furniture and lifestyle store, Design Republic, one the first to introduce international designer products and furniture to China.

Neri & Hu products are hand made and often inspired by traditional and everyday objects found on the streets of Shanghai. Heritage, craftsmanship and materials are important elements in their designs (see above), and it is no surprise that their designs are one of the best representatives in the contemporary Chinese design world today.


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Crowds outside and inside of the exhibition centre in the weekends, and exhibitors had to use tapes to keep the crowds away


Finally, my last surprise took place when I tried to return to the show for a talk on Saturday. If I hadn't got my badge on the first day (even then, I had to queue for 15 minutes), I probably would have ended up queuing all day long to get in! The massive queue outside went around the block, and it was almost impossible to walk towards the seminar room ( which happened to be situated at the end of one wing). The crowds were pushing, shoving and snapping away regardless of other people around them. When I was trying to push my way out of the building via the narrow passage lined with exhibition booths, all the booths had tapes in front of them to keep the crowds away. It was something that I have never seen before at any trade or design shows!

The problem with the show was not to do with the quality of the designs or exhibitors, but the fact that the organisers did not separate the trade or press people from the public. Usually the trade or press people would get access to the show or event a day or two before the public, it seemed rather odd to use a 'free and open to all' tactic because the show was completely chaotic and out of control in the weekend. This arrangement also made it difficult for trade people to enquire information from the designers or companies (even on the first day). Meanwhile, I also received rude treatment by one of Chinese exhibitors when I tried to pick up a business card, probably because he thought I was just a random person from the public. This was really the last thing I expected from exhibitors who were there to 'sell' their work. And from what I saw, the majority of public there were not really interested in design, all they cared about was a free event where they could hang out, snap away in order to share on Weibo and seek freebies.

This is China after all, applying the British/international standard would not work here. Perhaps the organisers need more research into the behavioural patterns of the local Chinese before attempting to sell design to the Chinese market. I hope they will learn from this lesson and avoid the mishaps next year.


This post was posted in Architecture, Travel, Talks, Chinese design, Design festivals & shows, Contemporary craft, Shanghai, Design and was tagged with design show, talks, contemporary crafts, chinese design, Shanghai