Fumihiko Maki–designed Design Society Opens in Shenzhen

Working in collaboration with London’s V&A Museum, the institution aims to be a “social space” for the local community and design professionals alike.

Shenzhen Design Society
Courtesy ©Design Society

China’s first major design complex marks the accelerating transformation of Shekou, an area at the southern tip of the nascent design city Shenzhen, from heavy-industry powerhouse into cultural hub.

Backed by the state-owned China Merchants Group in collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, the Fumihiko Maki–designed Design Society is intended to be a “social space” for the local community and design professionals from the region and abroad.

The project also highlights a move away from what Chinese president Xi Jinping calls “weird architecture”: The complex is a relatively low-slung Modernist form, hunkered down between neighboring high-rise towers. “I didn’t want to use the iconic form of architecture that is very popular today,” explains the 89-year-old Pritzker-winning Japanese architect. “I think it is very important to always consider the ordinary people, not just architects.”

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His objective was to go beyond a traditional repository of objects and Architecture House of Design encourage a wide range of activities. It seems to have succeeded for the Shenzheners lounging on the cascade of steps flanking two sides of the building and leading to a rooftop garden. Three striking cantilevered volumes also serve to maximize sea, city, and mountain views.

Inside, the meandering path through three cavernous atria avoids a shopping mall feel, Maki says, although 167,185 square feet of the 764,237-square-foot total floor space spread over six floors have been set aside for retail use.

There are six galleries of varying sizes, including a Sam Jacob Studio–designed space reserved for the V&A—an official collaborator until 2020—currently showing an inaugural exhibition of 250 design objects from the British institution’s collection. Another presentation space, the Park View Gallery, is exhibiting a retrospective of Maki’s career, including sketches and models of the initial building concept.

“Design Society is not only a place. Its name is also an appeal,” notes founding director Ole Bouman. “The duality between the name Design Society as a noun and verb is important to become more creative and allow creatives, who have already embraced creativity, to be inspired.”

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