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China Design Now

Exhibition design, 2008

Client: V&A
Exhibition design: Tonkin Liu
Graphic design: Hybrid
Lighting: Bruce Kirk

China Design Now, the V&A’s Spring Exhibition in 2008, was the first in the UK to explore the explosion of new design in China, and the first to attempt to understand the impact of rapid economic development on architecture and design in China’s major cities.

From the 2008 Olympic stadium, to the latest in fashion and graphics, China Design Now captured a dynamic phase as China opened up to global influences, and responded to the hopes and dreams of its new urban middle-class.

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The exhibition focussed on three rapidly expanding cities: Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, displaying the work of Chinese and some international designers, encompassing architecture, fashion, graphic design, film, photography, product and furniture design, youth culture and digital media. Around 100 designers were featured; 95% of whom are Chinese.

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Tonkin Liu’s exhibition design immersed visitors into an intense, urban cityscape. The journey passed through themed clusters of varying proportions: dense streets, with towers varying between 5 to 11m tall, to grand squares. The three cities were arranged respectively in the V&A’s three exhibition spaces.

 Visitors enter and exit through chambers of voices in local dialects, produced by sound artists based in China. Directional lighting highlights the exhibits, while the towers provide a backdrop of changing light, colour and pattern.

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The boundaries of each city were marked by a subtle shift in sound and colour to capture its unique character: the young, vibrant city of Shenzhen is portrayed at dusk; the established city of Shanghai occupies the night; the booming, cultural capital of Beijing is captured on the precipice of a change, at dawn.

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