Setting a Precedent: Design Shanghai

Setting a Precedent: Design Shanghai

Design Shanghai is one of the most prestigious international design events in the world, setting the precedent for China’s ever-growing creative community. The eighth edition welcomed over 70,000 visitors, providing a platform for established brands, galleries and emerging creatives to exhibit the latest innovations across architecture, products and interiors. Alongside the showcase, this year’s forum prompted virtual and in-person attendees to “redesign design”. In a series of talks and seminars, leading professionals present ideas and projects that embody a new mode of thought – negotiating the pressing need to restore ecosystems, generate clean energy and positively take carbon out of the atmosphere. We highlight 5 video interviews from the programme to inspire.   

Thomas Heatherwick: Design of Emotion

Multi-disciplinary practitioner Thomas Heatherwick (b. 1970) is recognised for groundbreaking structures, including the award-winning Shanghai Expo 2010 pavilion Seed Cathedral. The building is covered with 60,000 protruding, silver strands, referencing the work of the world’s first major botanical institution, Kew Gardens. In this conversation, Heatherwick sets out how human responses inform creativity, noting: “If we filled our 100m x 20m site at the Expo, we would have ended up with a letterbox proportion. By doing a smaller size, the pavilion would fit in an image and weirdly look bigger. Images are a compelling part of what makes people want to go to things.”

Michael Pawlyn: The Architecture of Possibility

“More than half of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions have occurred since 1987, which is arguably when sustainability became mainstream. Nearly everything we’re doing is part of a degenerative cycle.” Michael Pawlyn’s (b. 1967) practice embodies the theme of Design Shanghai’s 2021 talk series: Regenerative design. The biomimetic architect challenges the way we traditionally think about construction, jointly launching the ‘Architects Declare’ movement in Britain. The initiative highlights the equal urgency of the climate and biodiversity emergencies – putting biology at the centre of innovation.

Jiani Zeng and Honghao Deng: Time and Colour

MIT and Harvard University graduates Jiani Zeng and Honghao Deng (b. 1994) experiment with AIoT, soft-robotics and 3D lenticular designs. Their collaborative project Illusory Material pushes the boundaries of materiality, colour, pattern and refraction. The pioneering philosophy reconfigures existing principles, creating new materialities that derive from the digital realm. Zeng discusses the infinite possibilities of the subject, stating: “With the development of multi-material 3D printing, we can create materials from scratch, displaying multiple properties in one single print, [unlike most conventional 3D printers on the market].”

Tonkin Liu: The Architecture of Poetry

Tonkin Liu is a leading London architecture firm headed by founding partners Mike Tonkin and Anna Lio. Sculptural works, including Singing Ringing Tree, Forest of Light and Rain Bow Gate, draw on the importance of language, storytelling and the environment through restorative design. Tonkin explains: “We didn’t consciously say: ‘We’re going to frame nature, make symbols of nature and learn from nature.’ Only after looking back, we realised that is what we’ve done.” In this interview, the pair explore how their upbringings and exposure to different landscapes continue to inform their approach.

Kelly Hoppen: Designs for a Post-Covid World

The pandemic has forced people across the world to spend more time inside, reexamining the purpose of interior design. Multi-award winning creative Kelly Hoppen has been at the forefront of contemporary design for 43 years, becoming one of the most in-demand practitioners of her generation. In this conversation, she sits down to explore the renewed importance of cleanliness, practicality and zoning, stating: “For a long time, a lot of our clients in Asia have been saying: ‘How are we going to keep this clean?’ I never really understood what they meant until living through this. It wasn’t about the physical cleaning, it was about the hygiene.”

Lead image: Hetherwick Studio, UK Pavilion, Seed Cathedrale. Shanghai Expo, China, 2010. © Iwan Baan
1. Hetherwick Studio
, UK Pavilion, Seed Cathedrale. Shanghai Expo, China, 2010. © Iwan Baan
2. The Reef Biomimetic Office Building © Exploration Architecture
3. Photo: Jiani Zeng and Honghao Deng
4. Singing Ringing Tree, Burnley (photo: Mike Tonkin)
5. Kelly Hoppen, Retrospective