At Beijing Design Week

When you live all the way around the globe, visiting China for the first time for any reason — even for work, even for an international design fair, even to a sprawling modern metropolis like Beijing — is going to be mostly about visiting China for the first time. The way the pollution shocks your system, the deliciousness of the food: These are the kinds of experiences you begin eagerly tracking the moment you leave the airport. It’s no wonder, then, that I enjoyed Beijing Design Week so much; almost all of the work, whether international or Chinese in origin, was presented in ways that made you feel like you couldn’t have been anywhere else. The fair’s two main venues were an enormous weathered gas-power plant recently converted into the 751 D-Park creative campus, and a maze-like, centuries-old hutong neighborhood called Dashilar Alley that — despite its authentic charm and appealingly human scale — is so endangered by the city’s love for all things shiny and new that its very existence was partly dependent on the success of its Design Week intervention. Viewed among the crooked, paint-peeled rooms of Dashilar’s empty buildings, it felt like the work had a reason to be there, and so did I.

The slideshow at right catalogs some of the sights I captured during Beijing Design Week, which took place September 26 to October 3 under the creative direction of our visionary friend Aric Chen. If it’s a bit heavier on the ambience than it is on actual objects, that’s because I’ll be reporting on a few of the more interesting Chinese talents I spotted there in an upcoming issue of Surface magazine. Promoting the country’s design chops, after all — not its production capabilities, or in my case, its amazingly cheap spa massages and odd Lost in Translation moments — was what the event was all about.