Beijing Design Week: Caochangdi Enters the Fray

Caochangdi's the Strip, also known as the "Red Bricks"

Caochangdi's the Strip, also known as the "Red Bricks"

For the second time in history, Beijing Design Week (Sep 28-Oct 3) successfully launched a weeklong series of live talks, pop-up shops and exhibitions across the city, from Dashilar to 798, this year with Caochangdi joining in on the festivities for the very first time.

For the past few months, I have been lucky enough to work with CCD-The Community, the creative incubator representing the Caochangdi artists. In case you need an introduction to this artist rural village, the press release reads:

"Tucked away on the outer edge of the 5th ring road, Caochangdi itself is one-of-a-kind among the 300 so-called 'villages in the city' that epitomize Beijing's spontaneous reforms of 21st century urbanism. It has become a space of convergence that has grown organically around the life of its inhabitants: here, life goers, migrant workers, farmers, entrepreneurs and taxi drivers sit with designers, artists, collectors and dealers. The area is quickly becoming known as the alter ego of 798 Art District, hosting a self-motivated group of contemporary galleries, artists' studios and independent creative and educational ventures in art, design and architecture."

With main organizer BAO Atelier and production partner RAWR! Labs at the helm, CCD presented over 30 exhibitions distributed among three different sections: 1) the Strip, also known as the "Red Bricks," 2) the Pavilion, a temporary structure which played host to the opening and closing parties and was designed by one of China's most famous artists (cough, Ai Weiwei), and 3) Around CCD.

Caochangdi's opening ceremony at the Pavilion

Caochangdi's opening ceremony at the Pavilion

The main driver behind CCD's involvement has undoubtedly been Naihan Li, the furniture designer whose "Crates" project (a series of foldable furniture on wheels, in response to the threats of demolition to Caochangdi that have been going on for the last couple years) was the hit of BJDW 2011. Besides coming up with a brand new collection for this year, she is also co-founder of both BAO and RAWR. So yeah, she keeps herself pretty busy.

Naihan Li's latest series, I Am a Monument, reproduces architectural monuments in miniature scale

Naihan Li's latest series, I Am a Monument, reproduces architectural monuments in miniature scale

Candles, also by Naihan Li

Candles, also by Naihan Li

An unfinished wardrobe by Naihan Li, inspired by one of China's most iconic buildings

An unfinished wardrobe by Naihan Li, inspired by one of China's most iconic buildings

Memories of the Future by Noumenon: The step-by-step process of a designed seat in its packaged form transforming into its desired shape

Memories of the Future by Noumenon: The step-by-step process of a designed seat in its packaged form transforming into its desired shape

Perhaps my favorite exhibitor was the Belgian-based company Noumenon, who developed a new memory material with the potential to revolutionize the future of furniture. You start out with a block of what feels like foam, turn on a supply of heat which activates this shape-memory attribute, and voila! You have a chair. A chair that can shrink and reassemble itself upon command, and requires no packaging or assembly.

From Yuhang by INNOVO

From Yuhang by INNOVO

The public's top picks were undoubtedly INNOVO and CONtradition. The INNOVO team have spent the last two years doing extensive research on Yuhang district's natural and traditional materials, including bamboo, water silk floss, porcelain and bamboo paper, and finding a way to reinterpret them in a modern design language.

CONtradition by MICROmacro Lab

CONtradition by MICROmacro Lab

CONtradition shared the Chambers Fine Art space with INNOVO, complementing their delicate, wispy pieces with screen doors, stools and lamps made from tough construction materials such as concrete and reinforced steel. The designer, Sara Bernardi of MICROmacro Lab, explains that she wanted to initiate a dialogue between "the roughness and strength of the materials with the elusive elegance of traditional Chinese design motifs."

Craft & Industry by Henny van Nistelrooy: Fabricate (an industrially-woven light-shade collection, front) and Shelter (industrially-woven fabric unraveled by hand and rearranged in new geometric forms, back)

Craft & Industry by Henny van Nistelrooy: Fabricate (an industrially-woven light-shade collection, front) and Shelter (industrially-woven fabric unraveled by hand and rearranged in new geometric forms, back)

Light-shades by Henny van Nistelrooy

Light-shades by Henny van Nistelrooy

Dutch-born Henny van Nistelrooy, on the other hand, was more interested in the relationship between craft and industry. His two works, Fabricate and Shelter, played with DIY and manufacturing processes to come up with new ways to use textiles. 

Radical Materiality by ILIVETOMORROW

Radical Materiality by ILIVETOMORROW

The Radical Materiality exhibition was made up of a conglomeration of objects, "non-objects" and installations by artists and architects from across the globe, all of whom were asked to explore "the physical limitations of form and materials."

Shanzhai Biennial by Babak Radboy and Cyril Duval

Shanzhai Biennial by Babak Radboy and Cyril Duval

Shanzhai Biennial: Is "Hollsister" the next big brand?

Shanzhai Biennial: Is "Hollsister" the next big brand?

But of course, the exhibition that received the most international media attention was Shanzhai Biennial by Babak Radboy and Cyril Duval. The concept of "a multinational brand posing as an art-project; posing as a multinational brand; posing as a biennial" appeals to a Western audience for obvious reasons. But the designers were quick to assert that their goal was not to reinforce assumptions about the Chinese market, but to challenge the notions of originality and design itself. 

Other media coverage on CCD:

*Photos by Eric Gregory Powell.