As Design Shanghai and Design China Beijing have grown, so has the Chinese design industry. When Design Shanghai first launched, manufacturing and design were unequal in importance and influence; China was the workshop of the world, but its creative industry struggled to catch up. In a few short years, all that has changed to give design and architecture the leading role – especially in the growth of sustainable design.

 

Although 10 per cent growth in GDP year on year for 30 years is a staggering achievement, it has come at great environmental cost. But in recent years both government policy and creativity in design and architecture have transformed themselves. China was investing 18bn yuan (£2bn) a year in sustainable initiatives by 2017; sulphur dioxide in the Beijing atmosphere, for instance, has reduced by 70% in four years. In this battle, all designers – Chinese or international – are on the front line. The flowering of ‘sustainable imagination’ in the new design generation is a phenomenon from which the rest of the profession can take inspiration.

 

This innovation and invention owes as much to tradition as it does to technology. Designers apply themselves to the idea of the circular economy to minimise waste and establish social as well as environmental sustainability; to making materials out of rubbish, to harnessing wind power on a minute, personal scale, to re-visiting traditional bamboo joinery techniques with a modern aesthetic, but drawing on thousands of years of craft heritage. Indeed, the old Confucian or Taoist philosophical traditions show us new ways to live. It is this marriage of ancient and modern that makes sustainable design in China so powerful.

 

The Design China Beijing Forum explores many such practical solutions, but we also raise deep questions about attitudes and states of mind by which we will not only survive, but thrive. We need entirely new economic and social models, aimed at conserving and sharing our planet’s resources rather than exploiting them for profit. And it’s design that leads the way.

 

Nowhere are these ideas, which lead to nothing less than the design of a new society, better expressed than at the Design China Beijing Forum. Be there with us, 12-16 September. You can’t afford not to.

 

Aidan Walker, Programme Director
Design China Beijing and Design Shanghai