Inside Shenzhen's Groundbreaking New Design Center

By Bailey Hu, December 1, 2017

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Behind the Concrete is a monthly snippet where we introduce a piece of architecture that has a unique design and/or interesting story. 

For most people, a museum opening doesn’t exactly conjure up images of a good time. Yet with Shenzhen’s first world-class design center debuting on December 2, fans of art and culture in the city have a very real reason to get excited.

The inaugural galleries of the new Sea World Culture and Arts Center, plus the building itself, boast some impressive credentials.

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An exhibit titled ‘Values of Design' features 250 carefully curated objects from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), known for its vast collection of art from around the world.

Artifacts range in age from over a millennium to practically new; originate from 31 countries; and span the fields of fashion, technology and furniture. Items as diverse as an 18th century Persian astrolabe, a 400-year-old gun mechanism and a 1998 Apple computer are displayed together, leading to unexpected connections across space and time.

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Another exhibit, ‘Minding the Digital,’ offers a more modern perspective on design with large-scale, often interactive works. Sundew, for example, melds colorful cloth filaments with ‘sensing technologies’ – as a result, its flexible structures react to changes in pitch of sound.

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Not far away, Sharevari surrounds viewers in a ring of tall metal contraptions that ‘translate’ their body movements into music, while ON/OFF turns data on the Pearl River Delta into paper sculptures, painting a bigger picture of the world around us.

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A third and final exhibit takes a closer look at the Culture and Arts Center itself as well as its architect, Pritzker Prize winner Fumihiko Maki.

Besides the main attractions, the four-story center has more surprises in store such as a new ‘Shekou Museum of Reform and Opening’ on the third floor. Said to be the first institution in China dedicated solely to post-Mao history, it documents the story of Shenzhen’s earliest ‘special economic zone.’

Another museum-inside-a-museum examines traditional and ancient Chinese culture from a design perspective: the Guanfu Museum, which already has branches in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Xiamen, gets a Shenzhen installment on the Center’s first floor.

The new complex also has a public event space, food and drink outlets and a rooftop garden, not to mention pretty sweet sea views from the small park around the building.

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All of this has, relatively speaking, been a long time coming. The Sea World Arts and Culture Center was first commissioned by the V&A and China Merchants Group in 2014, in the midst of the country’s ongoing museum-building frenzy. Since then, considerable effort has apparently gone into ensuring the Shekou center has substance as well as form.

To celebrate a successful debut, a design-centered conference, workshop and ‘funfair’ will be held in the complex from December 2-3. Special guests include the building’s architect, Fumihiko Maki, plus the deputy director of the V&A and other big names in design and architecture.

17.12-PRD-Arts-Sea-World-Culture-and-Arts-Center-drone-construction.jpgDuring construction earlier this year

The trio of events marks not only the opening of a groundbreaking design establishment in Shenzhen, but another step in the right direction for the local arts scene.

Find the website for the new center here. Exhibits open daily 10am-9pm. More about the opening events here.

See listing for Sea World Culture and Arts Center.

For more Behind the Concrete(s), click here

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