Contemporary design on the rise in Beijing

When it comes to talking about contemporary design, China is probably not the first country that comes to mind. It’s often a place that reminds us of the past — ancient architecture, paintings, pottery, poetry. But China has a very complicated relationship with time, balancing between the new and the old, which makes it a fascinating place to see the growth of art and design culture.

One of the best places to see this is in the capital. Beijing is a vibrant city, full of exciting ideas and design buried in the haze of crazy lights and colors that make the city engaging. It’s also growing at a crazy pace, forcing the population to come up with creative ways to deal with change and expansion. In 2012 it was designated a UNESCO City of Design, awarded for the continuously growing commercial and cultural presence of design in the city, and particularly for the focus on design education.

Here we’ve collected some of the most inspiring Beijing design and art the city has to offer. Keep these in mind as inspiration when you’re looking to mix it up a bit for your next project.

Beijing design districts

798

798 Art Zone

Also called Dashanzi Art District, one of the most popular districts to pop up in Beijing is the 798 Art Zone, a small community space in Beijing dedicated to Contemporary Art — featured in renovated warehouse buildings of the old Dashanzi factory complex. It’s only about four by four by four blocks square, but has housed thousands of exhibitions by artists and organizations all over the world.

Caochangdi

This even smaller community to the Northeast of 798 that came to fame when preeminent artist Ai Wei Wei made his home and studio there in 2000. Since, it’s been growing and now hosts more than a dozen dedicated art spaces, hidden among the older buildings of the area.

Songzhuang Art Colony

Songzhuang was created to provide new space for artists rapidly being priced out of the increasingly commercial 798 Art Zone. It now houses over 2,000 of them — painters, sculptors, and photographers. It represents the avant-garde of Chinese art, and even has its own festival.

International art figure: Ai Wei Wei

Ai Wei Wei

“Cube Light”: Ai Wei Wei (via CBS News)

It’s impossible to talk about creative, contemporary China without mentioning its most famous figure: Ai Wei Wei. A politically controversial artist who has been dominating headlines for years, he continues to produce work that challenges Chinese government and culture.

See more examples of his work here.

Beijing Design Week

Beijing Design Week

Poster: Beijing Design Week

Beijing Design Week is an annual international design festival, a collection of exhibitions, events and activities centered around and celebrating design.

Here are some of the highlights from 2013:

Smart City 2013

The festival’s main project, featuring more than 70 participating artists, was in 2013 themed “Design + Information + Technology = The Dao of Being Smart,” and examined how we can use design in urban planning to build cities that are clean and sustainable.

Design Hop

An annual event, the design hop features existing art zones of Beijing focused around a single theme, in this case “Experiencing Design in Beijing” with an emphasis on the resourcefulness of design.

Common Objects: Soviet and Chinese Design 1950-1980s

A project of the Moscow Design Museum with curators Evgenia Novgorodova and Peipai Han, this exhibition explores products designed with functionality, sustainability, and durability at their core.

2014’s events will get started in September, but Beijing Design Week is currently accepting submissions for the festival.

Architecture and industrial design

CCTV Tower

Architecture

One thing Beijing is not short on is magnificent architecture. From the Olympics constructions of 2008 to the famous CCTV Headquarters, a tour around the city will show designers dozens of sites. Check out ArchDaily’s Architecture City Guide for examples.

Beijing Industrial Design Center and The China Red Star Design Awards

The goal of this design center and it’s design awards is to increase initiative for companies to create great design in industrial manufacturing in China by fostering a positive sense of competition. Ultimately, they want to promote the design industry and positively impact the way consumers are engaging with the products produced for them.

Lost & Found

In a city that’s constantly growing and changing, this store’s goal is to hold onto and preserve the elegant design of the past. They select and sell timeless pieces that are so well designed that though historically inspired they’re able to hold their own today.

Awesome Designers

It’s not just about the spaces, it’s about the people! Here’s a small gallery of wonderful Chinese graphic designer’s we’ve come across. There are thousands more, so help us discover even more of these wonderful designers by linking to any who you know in the comments.

What are some of your favorite aspects of the Beijing design scene? Tell us in the comments!

The author

Kaitlyn Ellison
Kaitlyn Ellison

Kaitlyn is part of the Community Team at 99designs.com. She grew up in Boulder, CO and went to school at Northwestern University in Chicago. When she's not blogging, she spends her time having adventures and being generally creative. She's all about having new experiences as often as possible!

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