Design Shanghai's creative director on China's 'growing hunger' for amazing leisure architecture

Leisure is the key driver. Whether it be architects, designers or property developers, there’s a major growth in interest in this area
– Ross Urwin

There are more opportunities for leisure architects and designers working in China and Hong Kong than ever before, according to the creative director of the annual Design Shanghai event.

Ross Urwin told CLAD that “leisure is undoubtedly the area of expansion in China at the moment.”

“I have worked with different hospitality brands here, and their lifestyle offerings are changing massively,” he said. “Leisure is the key driver. Whether it be architects, designers or property developers, there’s a major growth in interest in this area. You see it all around the different hotels and resorts that are having major revamps over here.

“There is a hunger to create truly special places, and that is very different from when I first arrived here over a decade ago.”

Design Shanghai, which takes place every March, is one of Asia’s leading international design events. It showcases design brands from across the globe and provides a platform for architects and designers, particularly from Asia, to network and establish partnerships with retailers, property developers and private buyers.

Urwin revealed such collaborations have grown significantly since the event launched four years ago.

“I hate using the word ‘trend’, but the real trend over here is the collaboration between designers and clients from across the world, and the meeting of western and eastern design philosophies,” he said. “We work with emerging local designers at the show, and it’s great to see how amazing their products and ideas are, and how they’re being picked up by international brands and developers to work in both Europe and within Asia.

“Craftsmanship is key. Some designers exhibiting at Design Shanghai are given a brief for an installation, and have three months to produce something for the show. It was striking this year how many were influenced by the past and the craft of their country. Even though the end products are very contemporary, there is a story behind them influenced by the heritage of craftsmanship and technical skill. That is very appealing to retailers and developers both at home and abroad.”

Urwin said that despite a well-publicised state directive from the Chinese government banning “bizarre” architecture, the country is investing money and resources into large-scale, boundary-pushing leisure architecture, such as in cities like Shenzhen. As a result, he claimed there is a new optimism among many architects and designers working in the region.

He said: “Ten years ago I struggled to find young designers from Hong Kong and China who were excited about the future. If they had trained in Europe or America, once they came back they felt they had to comply with the norm and not be too avant garde in their designs and ideas. That has changed. Now they’re very hopeful and excited for the future. Instead of thinking they can only work abroad, they believe they can have leave their imprint here.

“Similarly, European designers are also finding a lot more opportunities to do great leisure design work in Asia. So it’s working in both directions, and that’s very exciting to see.”

Urwin and his business partners hope to expand Design Shanghai to feature more brands and designers and to host more events and talks across the city over the course of its two week running time.

“Looking forwards we will continue celebrating the city of Shanghai, celebrating great design and offering a platform to facilitate even more collaboration,” he said. “We’re developing an edge and a point of difference from the other design events out there.”

4 Chinese designers to watch, according to Design Shanghai creative director Ross Urwin

Furong Chen/ Brand Wuu

“Furong was the first winner of the emerging Chinese designer platform I launched at Design Shanghai. I wanted to set up a platform to support newcomers and homegrown talent, give them exposure to the international market and also mentor them in some way.

“I have, for the past two years, been in constant contact with Furong, supporting him on designs, PR, marketing, and pricing. It is important that talented designers anywhere in the world have some idea about how to develop a brand.

“Furong is a remarkable young talent who has, since winning, produced some great lighting. In fact, I have introduced his designs to Lane Crawford and they will be selling his collection later this year.”

Qiang Zeng

One of the 10 shortlisted for this years installation competition was Qiang Zeng. Like the other designers, he was given our brief ‘China New Vision’ and had three months to produce a piece.

“I was blown away by the furniture he produced in such a short timeframe. I also like that Qiang had a career in advertising until two years ago, but decided to pursue design. I believe this represents where China is today, in that there are endless opportunities for those with a passion for design.”

Frank Chou Design Studio

“A little more established as a designer, Frank has exhibited with us at Design Shanghai for four years and his work just keeps getting better. He is one of the designers I mentioned who has collaborated with various international brands.”

Shen Yin

“Last year’s ‘most promising new designer’ at our emerging designer platform was Shen Yin. One of the judges was Patricia Urquiola, and we both felt her work was exceptional for someone who had only graduated one year prior. I know Patricia was keen to have Shen intern with her in Italy.

“Design Shanghai creates these types of key partnerships between newcomers and leading international design icons.”

Design Shanghai  China  Hong Kong  design  architecture  Ross Urwin 
There are more opportunities for leisure architects and designers working in China and Hong Kong than ever before, according to the creative director of the annual Design Shanghai event. Ross Urwin told CLAD that “leisure is undoubtedly the area of expansion in China at the moment.” “I have worked with different hospitality brands here, and their lifestyle offerings are changing massively,” he said. “Leisure is the key driver. Whether it
Design Shanghai is thriving because of optimism and opportunity, Ross Urwin told CLAD / Design Shanghai
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