Shanghai exhibition: Connection of people and place

18 Dec 2021

The Design School at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU) recently joined other top art and design institutions from around the globe in an exhibition at FutureLab in Shanghai.

The works in ‘Art and Design Education: FutureLab’ explored people’s interactions with places and the material world, aiming to increase an understanding of history and promote the development of sustainable cities in the future.

The exhibition brought together nearly 30 institutions, including Politecnico di Torino’s School of Architecture, Politecnico di Milano’s School of Design, Shanghai Jiaotong University’s School of Design, and Central Academy of Fine Arts.

The XJTLU Design School’s works included three parts: an exhibit about a historic area of Suzhou (Shuangta); an XJTLU Design Building exhibit; and XJTLU Department of Industrial Design student works.

Shuangta exhibition

The Shuangta exhibit was a partial recreation of the XJTLU Design School Workshop’s final 2021 exhibition titled ‘Exploring the Histories of Shuangta – Heritage and Community’.

Historically, the Twin Pagodas (Shuangta) have been familiar landmarks for local communities and citizens in Suzhou. More recently, the renovated Shuangta Market has become one of the most popular places in Suzhou for tourists.

According to Dr Yiwen Wang of XJTLU’s Department of Urban Planning and Design, Shuangta Market effectively re-fashioned traditional markets as public spaces that offer neighbourly support and social interaction.

“This area confronted us with a juxtaposition of old and new and competing uses of space between locals and tourists,” said Dr Wang, one of the exhibit’s curators. “We held a one-week workshop in summer 2021 to explore ideas and foster innovations. We wanted to prompt people to rethink the places of their everyday lives, reconnecting the present and future generations with the past.”

According to Dr Yiping Dong of XJTLU’s Design School, the workshop allowed the School to deepen collaborations with local partners. These partners include the Suzhou Conservation Institute and the Gusu District Planning Bureau, said Dr Dong, also one of the exhibit’s curators.

“In particular, we will together conduct long-term research and teaching projects related to conserving the historical city centre,” she said.

XJTLU Design Building exhibition

The XJTLU Design Building exhibition displayed the subjects an XJTLU architecture student magazine covered in 2021, with a shared focus on the University’s Design Building.

“The Design Building is a place for everyday learning and teaching for architecture students. The conversations and activities that take place in it form an important thread in the development of the Department of Architecture,” said Dr Jiawen Han of the Department and curator of the exhibition.

“The environment of the Design Building studios has a subtle effect on students. Although the studios are small cubicles, they incorporate the emotions of the students who study architecture in them,” she said.

XJTLU Department of Industrial Design student works

The XJTLU Department of Industrial Design student works included themes like preserving cultural heritage through close collaboration with local artisans; designs that propose new forms of interaction for an inclusive society; and proposals promoting sustainable development as the core of future environments.

“The design projects were developed through studio practice and making models and prototypes, where the students’ learning experience is emphasised through critical practice and reflection,” said Namuun Zimmermann of XJTLU’s Department of Industrial Design and curator of the exhibit.

“Through engaging with local communities, artisans and stakeholders, our students are able to react to real-world contemporary challenges and provide solutions and alternatives towards a sustainable future,” she said.

According to Dr Claudia Westermann of XJTLU’s Department of Architecture, curators chose a mix of topics from different departments in XJTLU’s Design School to represent several key themes relevant to the future of design education. Dr Westermann was the exhibit’s designer.

“The exhibition presents our interest in social and cultural context and in human-centred, research-based, and cross- and transdisciplinary design,” she said.

“It emphasises the School's strong interest in redefining the future of design education as a continuing cross-cultural conversation that integrates cultural heritage and traditions and the latest technological developments.”

The exhibition enabled XJTLU's Design School to showcase its values and communicate with other leading design institutions, said Dr Konstantinos Papadikis, Dean of the Design School.

“Future designers will need a systematic and multidisciplinary way of thinking. In this exhibition, our students utilised digital tools for interdisciplinary exploration to develop smart solutions for future societies, which represents the Design School’s educational philosophy,” he said.

By Yi Qian

Translated by Yi Qian

Edited by Tamara Kaup

Photos by Yifei Huang, Yiwen Wang, Zihao Chen, Yingda Sui and Claudia Westermann

18 Dec 2021