There is a good deal of pressure that inevitably accompanies a follow-up effort. With that in mind, we eagerly headed back east to the second annual Beijing Design Week to see what its creative scene had up its sleeve. Touting a schedule of events that promised to be bigger and better than the year before, Beijing Design Week was poised to pull in the crowds for a second time running.
One of this year's big hits was the launch of a new fringe area, Cao Chang Di (CCD) - a unique village of creative and artist studios, which counts Ai Wei Wei among its many tenants. Under the curatorship of Beatrice Leanza and product designer Li Naihan, the area, which will continue to develop its design credo in years to come, delivered a strong debut, with an impressive selection of locally-based designers turning out new work especially for the event. Presentations took place within the compound's distinctive red brick buildings that are of Wei Wei's design, which are worthy of the journey to the outskirts of Beijing alone.
Among the memorable collections was the product design debut from Beijing-based architecture studio Micro Macro, run by Fuksas alumni Sara Bernadi and Andrea D'Antrati. Beijingers since 2010, the pair took inspiration from five archetypal Chinese furniture pieces - the alter table, folding screen, hanging lantern, tea table and stool - to create a contemporary collection made from construction steel, glass and concrete. In contrast to the roughness of the materials, each piece possessed a delicate quality, thanks to a fine treatment.
Another prominent collection came from Dutch transplant Henny van Nistelrooy, a Royal College of Arts graduate, who continued his explorations with woven textiles to create new geometric designs. His manipulations of fabrics are executed without a single cut so that no material goes to waste. The designer also worked with local woodworkers to develop one-off furniture frames, including a bench and a screen, to complement his handcrafted work.
Across town, there was the return of Dashilar Alley, a cluster of pop-up shops and exhibitions in a hutong located on the fringe of Tiananmen Square. Occupying a larger area in the neighbourhood than before, this area offered an eclectic mix of work, from a public pavilion created by the Campana Brothers to an exhibition showcasing the breadth of Chinese zine culture. A whimsical pop-up café by multidisciplinary studio Jellymon offered gourmet versions of classic Chinese condiments and the typical street treat, jian bing (savoury crepe).
The strongest point of Beijing Design Week, however, is undoubtedly its ability to take advantage of the varied architecture and landscape of its home, from the abandoned industrial buildings that dominate its main design hub, 751 D-Park, to the winding, more intimate alleys and factory structures of Dashilar. Beijing Design Week's union of creative past and present bodes well for its promising future.