By Amy Qin

The 6th edition of the annual Beijing Design Week (BJDW) wrapped up on October 7. The two-week long event featured events and exhibitions scattered across a handful of neighborhoods in China’s bustling capital, sending visitors crisscrossing this gritty city of 21 million to take in some of the newest, most exciting projects by local and international designers. Here are PIN-UP’s five highlights from this year’s Beijing Design Week…

THE GLOBAL SCHOOL — The smell of raw meat still lingers in the former market of the historic Baitasi hutong neighborhood. In its latest incarnation, the market has been repurposed as a temporary “knowledge-making hub” of Baitasi Remade, a long-term “urban regeneration project” as well as one of Beijing Design Week’s main partner programs.

Taking its name from a hulking white Tibetan Buddhist temple in the neighborhood, the Baitasi or “White Stupa Temple” area is, in the words of Beatrice Leanza, “one of the last unplanned and undeveloped hutong neighborhoods in Beijing.” According to Ms. Leanza, who recently left her post as creative director of Beijing Design Week this year to lead the Baitasi project, the goal of Baitasi Remade is to avoid the top-down, ill-planned development that has bedeviled most of Beijing’s historic neighborhoods by integrating “soft strategies of development” based on culture-making and educational empowerment.

Examples of these soft strategies are on display in The Global School, a “theater of happenings” designed by the Beijing-based reMIX studio. The school offers a wealth of information and prototypes for objects designed with the everyday needs of the neighborhood in mind. Look for the red-and-blue swing luge prototype designed by Central Academy of Fine Arts student Kim Mary. A riff on the outdoor exercise equipment dotted throughout Beijing’s neighborhoods, the “swing luge” encourages local residents to get excited about the upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics – a subtle tongue-in-cheek nod to previous government-led efforts to boost spirit for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

THE DYE ROOM — Just a few steps away from The Global School in Baitasi is The Dye Room, a project which explores the natural indigo dying and textile traditions of the Dong and Miao ethnic minority groups in China’s southern Guizhou province. From smog-choked, hyper-urban Beijing, the description of how Dong women make a white-ish textile seems to have been lifted from an ancient fairy tale: “The rain-bleached cloth achieves its brightness and softness over time from the ambient dew that gathers in the early morning fields where it hangs to transform…” Led by Ahti Westphal, Jenny Chou, and Catherine McMahon of Beijing-based ATLAS studio working together with The Global Heritage Fund and The Shepard’s Family Textile Co-op, the Dye Room showcases designs that extend these traditions beyond the fairy tale into the real world: lichen-cloth covered chairs, indigo-dyed table runners, woven pillows, and more.

FOUR YARDS IN BAITASI — China’s breakneck growth over the last three decades has resulted in a thorough re-making of the country’s urban fabric, particularly in Beijing’s traditional hutong, or alleyway, neighborhoods. Entire hutong neighborhoods have been razed but the Baitasi area remains a tabula rasa of sorts for development. This year, Beijing Design Week unveiled three new renovated traditional courtyards designed by local Chinese architects which showcase how Beijing’s courtyards might be repurposed within the local context and brought forward in the modern era. Don’t miss the “Courtyard Hybrid” designed by Dong Gong (Vector Architects), the “Co-Living Courtyard” designed by Zhang Ke (ZAO/standard architecture), and “Courtyard with a View” designed by Xu Tiantian (DnA), for a peek into the future of what Beijing’s iconic hutongs could become.

HUTONG CHILDREN’S LIBRARY AND ART CENTER — On a recent afternoon, the sound of children’s laughter radiated from this small, renovated traditional courtyard space in Beijing’s Dashilar neighborhood, just south of Tiananmen Square. Designed by architect Zhang Ke, winner of the 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture, and his studio ZAO/standard architecture, the center is an effort to reinterpret vernacular architecture – informal add-on structures and all – to create a community space where neighborhood children can stop by after school, read a book, and play. An overgrown ash tree provides shade in the courtyard, which also features a children’s library and a small art-space. The exterior of the art-space, built with Zhang Ke’s signature black ink mixed into concrete bricks, doubles as a newfangled tree house.

SMOG FREE TOWER — With China’s head-spinning economic transformation has come record levels of air pollution. The Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde’s “Smog Free Tower” seeks to address this issue, now one of the most pressing concerns of local residents. The seven-meter tall metal tower is located in 751 D-Park, a decommissioned industrial zone that has emerged in recent years as the center of contemporary art and design in Beijing. Described by the designer as “an inspirational experience for a clean future,” the tower is said to clean 30,000 cubic meters of air per hour on a small amount of green energy.

Text by Amy Qin.