Today, I headed for Dashilar Alley which hosted Beijing Design Week (BJDK) through the latter's Designshop series of offsite exhibitions, pop-ups stores, and workshops. This village (which I call a village but is actually in the heart of Beijing) shows visitors how Beijing's traditional "hutongs" (alleyways) and "siheyuan" (courtyard houses) could be re-envisioned by creative communities and industries.
First of all, you can't imagine how hard it is to find your way in this village without GoogleMaps (or "Autonavi” to be more local), without speaking Chinese and without looking like a Chinese Girl (no matter how many funny hats I wear). Thus I gave up my BJDW paper map and got truly lost because it is the best way to really understand what's happening here. People tend to think that Dashilar is just touristy shops and youth hostels. However, the village has this beauty quality of almost surrealistic heterogeneity. Buildings and structures are improvised wherever possible and needed. Designers, artists, pop-up store and (of course) hipster shops are mixed with traditional Chinese street food market, massage places, and families’ houses.
We could talk ages about Dashilar in terms of Architecture, Design, Communities,… I wish I could have stayed longer to really understand the issues of the redevelopment of Dashilar and the residents feelings. And no, I'm not going to depict all the brilliant design initiatives that I have seen. But above all, there is one thing which really inspired me in Dashilar: there is no frontier between Past and Future here. Innovation is not about copying here it's about looking at the past and taking the best of it with a futuristic approach.
First of all, I met Lin Lin, co-founder of the Chinese design consultancy jellymoon. In this hutong, Lin Lin presents her latest creative projects such as accessories and furniture, a new food endeavor and a sneaker branding concept. For this last project, she took inspiration from the water calligraphy practice - a staple in Beijing's public parks made by retired women - in order to re-design the well-known Chinese Warrior Shoes (which are now hip sneakers). Jellymon applied the phrase Shua Ye, which means "paint the night," in reflective ink across the shoes. This project connects a "sentimental youth culture with a Chinese heritage brand".
After hearing this story, I finally bought one pair for 250 Yuan... I'm afraid to say I'm becoming a Chinese Hipster (but at least I know the story).
Then, I entered another Hutong where a Chinese Girl presented me the Game of Rabbit God designed by Been Shen.
Rabbit God is a familiar figure in the Chinese traditional culture. I first bit 10 guans. I then picked a sticker from the wall and scanned the QR code. I received a text message from Rabbit God and followed the instructions,… I ended up with a "Tank you" (= I lost).
She explained me that a story from ancient folklore begins with a disastrous famine. According to this story, the Moon Goddess, Chang'e, sent Rabbit God to save the people. Rabbit God rode a tiger to reach Earth faster and save more lives.
The rabbit god has been digitalized in this hutong to generate more interactions between inhabitants of the Hutongs. Traditions have always aimed to connect people, there is no reason to change that in our world.
As it was 3pm and the sky was surprisingly blue, I unfortunately missed a 3D projection mapping which showcased a Qingyunge, an old shopping mall, designed by Luma Lu.
I finished my random walk at the Factory, a place for artists and entrepreneurs. It is a brick building with the alphabet printed on it.
You probably know that the so-called Great Chinese firewall makes impossible to connect to Facebook and twitter without a VPN, which is quite a nightmare when you are like me an on-the-road TweetPostLikeShareFilter #addict. But It seems that the Facebook-Instagram deal has still not impacted the success of Instagram in China. Instagram is easily available and it supports posting to overseas services like Twitter and Facebook. So, I use Instagram even more here than in Paris - so do Chinese people.
In this factory, I was not surprised to find a social initiative based on Instagram. Let me tell you more :
The Dashilaboratory which proposes new approaches for the redevelopment of Dashilar is presenting an Instagram Wall in the Factory, which showcases Instagram pictures and comments that have been gathered for a few months. As part of Dashilar redevelopment research, Beijing's Instagram Group @IgersBeijing creates a group of people from different nationalities, ages and professions. They were given the task of identifying the aspiration of Dashilar Alley thanks to Instagram. They were also encouraged to talk with residents to know their opinions. You can find these #dashanlan_redevelopment pictures here.
They have recently been awarded the third place of an architectural competition.
I see this as real perspective for Instagram which is becoming a powerful instrument for complex social project communication. The popularity of social media provides a unique platform for communication between the architect, the designers and the other key players in Hutong redevelopment. Social media can be used for soliciting developmental ideas, mobilize community action, communicating with residents, identifying problems and enhancing coordination and general interaction between all interested stakeholders.
So you understand now why I'm posting Instagram pictures in this article.
I left Dashilar Alley with the idea that Dashilar is a urban, living laboratory for social experience and for technologies that don't forget the beauty of the traditions. It's almost enough to make me want to learn Chinese.
Friday was the Opening of the Beijing Design Week. faberNovel has been invited by the CMoDA to present some of its realizations in the GeoCity Smart City exhibition that is brilliantly installed in the CMoDA (China Millennium Monument, Museum of Digital Arts). I attended today the Smart City Symposium with keynote speakers from Ars Electronica Solutions, MIT SENSEable City Lab, Orange Labs Beijing, AutoNavi, Tsinghua, CAFA, NSWU, and faberNovel.
Wherever we come from, we all share one word in our talks: DATA.
All talks were great and very inspired when it comes to Big Data, Data Visualization, Urban Planning, Telematics, Activeness of Communities and Smart map Service, Service Design.
I met Jonathan Palley founder of Brainpage. Brainpage delivers a cloud-based engine for time series data and sensors. He explained to me that he left San Fransisco 4 years ago to come to China because he wanted to be where devices (and so sensors and then data) are manufactured. It sounds obvious...
Oliver Senn from the MIT SenseableLab revealed that the Copenhagen Wheel (a connected wheel to gather environmental data) should be sold by the end of the year and that they are working on a tool to enable others to put their hands into big urban data the way they do - combining, manipulating, and visualizing large data streams, with the same approach as they used for LiveSingapore! (a set of various and crossed-data visualizations)
Prof. Fei Jun (Professor at CAFA Media Lab) presented Interactive Design Methodology, very close to our lean startup thinking at faberNovel (Make, Test, Learn and Iterate). He then explained how they applied that to a project around mobile applications and
I was the last speaker - going through some of faberNovel's projects, which are also on display there (Urban Mobs , 1.6 billion rides visualization and Autolib). I explained why applying lean startup thinking to cities (what we do at faberNovel) is exactly what cities need to meet the current challenges, while generating better strategic data and better experience.
From what I get today, Open Data is not a buzzword here, but they don't need a buzzword here to make things happen in Beijing. This year, the Government of China has just one phrase in mind: Smart City. And they think is little wonder that Apple is using AutoNavi (the China's best selling App) for iOS Map in China...
Congratulations to the CMoDA for this very rich, smart and international exhibition.
Let's now rock the Beijing Design Week 2012.