Now in its fifth year, Beijing Design Week strengthens its presence in the city through a series of projects that become integrated with the lives of locals, while at the same time allowing visitors to experience the city’s most quintessential areas.
A design exploration that looks at innovation, cultural and social integration, architecture and urbanism within the city’s most traditional contexts, the event maintains a research-based outlook. At the core of the week are two initiatives which discreetly take over Dashilar and Baitasi, two separate hutong areas of Beijing in need of renovation. Several projects (some of which have been going strong for a few years) distributed through these two areas acted as simulators and pilots for proposed life-enhancing solutions. ‘We didn’t just want to come in and showcase things,’ says Beatrice Leanza, the Italian-born director of the event for the past four years, ‘but to simulate what new services could be needed here.’
She cites Baitasi, a developed area around the White Stupa Temple in the west part of the city centre, as the best example of her team’s work. ‘The developer of the area asked three architects to think about [a] methodology of renovation for courtyard houses that could be potentially applied on a large scale,’ she explains. The renovations suggested through these projects are not luxury transformations of the humble courtyard houses, but more realistic improvements of their current state. They propose contemporary living settings and conditions to the still very raw building in the area, which also spurred a first batch of related research programmes.
The interventions in both neighborhoods include outdoor furniture and installations in public spaces, displays of research and conceptual methodology, and some practical renovations for public and residential buildings. The latter offers a fascinating spectrum of hutong life and its potential, including People's Architecture Office’s Courtyard House Plugin in Dashilar (a mobile solution to temporarily expand the limited space of the houses’ interiors) and TAO's Split Courtyard House in Baitasi, which efficiently redesigns the house’s interior structure while offering a good quality of life and space. Other hutong-focussed initiatives include local architectural practice Urbanus’ exhibition on the history of the neighborhoods and research on various restoration solutions.
Beijing Design Week is an important series of conversations that elevate the socio-cultural role of design and offers a platform to build on, encouraging an international exchange of ideas and concepts to give new life to the city and the people that pass through it.