This is the first of two photo galleries from Beijing Design Week 2015.
A simple geographical distinction coincidentally maps onto well-worn bywords for a greater hemispherical binary: East and West. In the case of Beijing Design Week 2015, it happens to be a simple heuristic for organizing the exhibition areas — upwards of a dozen in all, eight of which are presented in our photo galleries — in terms of simple geography.
Although Dashilar and Baitasi are both located in the western half of the historic city center, Xicheng, all of central Beijing is a head-spinning patchwork of low-rise/high-density residential relics of old Beijing (i.e. these two BJDW neighborhoods); Mao-era government and office blocks; and glassy 21st-century mixed-use campuses of late-modernist or Pomo persuasion. (The latter, of course, is the norm for developments on the periphery, as the city of 21.5 million and counting swells beyond its fourth and fifth ring roads.)
As targets for strategic renewal, Dashilar and Baitasi are home to "urban acupunctural" approaches, clustered throughout the labyrinthine Hutong alleyways. In addition to the pop-up shops and craft exhibitions, several of these projects will outlive Design Week as experiments in urbanism — in fact, a number of design shops and studios have actually moved to Dashilar, which has paralleled the evolution of Beijing Design Week over the last five years.
So too is it worth noting some important differences between the these two pockets of Xicheng: named for the landmarked “White Stupa Temple,” Baitasi is a new site for Beijing Design Week this year — a predominantly residential neighborhood adjacent to the capital city's Financial District, to be redeveloped over the next five to ten years. Dashilar, on the other hand, serves as a kind of precedent: As this year marks the transition between the first and second of three phases (loosely speaking, experimentation, community engagement, and implementation) of a 15-year plan, but has long been a commercial hub, due partly to its proximity to Tiananmen Square. (Backed by different real-estate developers, the two initiatives are entrusted to organizations within or related to BJDW.)
That said, many of the exhibitions in Baitasi recalled those of Dashilar, and comparisons are all but inevitable. From cramped ad-hoc galleries and refurbished cubbyhole apartments to the claustrophobic backalleys, the scale of these neighborhoods offers a stark contrast to Beijing's sky-high architecture and ever-congested avenues.
And don't miss the more formal or otherwise conventional venues of the Dongcheng and Chaoyang districts, eastern counterparts to the two exhibition areas in Xicheng.