While the 751 D.Park (D is for Design) abides by the tried-and-true quasi-industrial gallery crawl and Caochangdi is a purpose-built artist village, Dashilar is arguably the heart and soul of Beijing Design Week, and this year's program sees the launch of an exciting new initiative to examine the future of the neighborhood, which is historically significent to the extent that it simply has not been demolished or developed. I won't pretend to know enough about the Chinese real estate boom to speak to the broader sociopolitical context of what Dashilar represents as a swath of Old Beijing, adjacent to the recklessly reinvented Qianmen area—itself a part of Tiananmen Square—but as a pocket (in shape and relative size) of an ever-expanding city, the largely residential neighborhood has become a case study for an emergent hybrid of preservation and modernization.
Which is a long way of saying that this year's exhibitors include a series of architectural proposals alongside the local makers, plus an infusion of Dutch design, courtesy of guest city Amsterdam—each contingent represented roughly equally amongst the 40+ total exhibitors. True to the spirit of Old Beijing, the topography of the streets resembles a maze drawn by a child, and Kenya Hara's quasi-3D depiction looks something like a cross between the architectural version of "Where's Waldo" and some kind of biological scan.
Beyond the numbered legend, there's no way to tell which rooftops are gaming dens and which ones are ad hoc galleries, and the neatly drawn map belies the fact that Dashilar is, in fact, a living, breathing organism, with all variety of two- and three-wheeled vehicle traveling through its arteries and various constellations of inhabitants in its tissues. But as a static representation of such, its a nicely executed piece of design work. (Pro tip: a non-local would do well to circumvent the malodorous radius around the seemingly benign restroom icons, though if nature calls while you're in the hutong, go ahead and have a cultural experience.)
We only had time for a whirlwind tour of Dashilar on day one, but rest assured we will be returning to its hutong—at once distinctive and anonymous—in short order.