In December 2022, SUSTech School of Design, where I work as an Assistant Professor, participated in the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture, also known as UABB of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, with three projects realized by staff and undergraduate students during the fall semester. Founded in 2005, UABB is almost the world’s only Biennial exhibition focusing on urbanism and urbanization. It is a cooperative cultural event shared by the two cities under a similar theme. With “Urban Cosmologies” as the theme, this year’s UABB focuses on the sustainable and ecological development of cities under the dual-carbon goal, holding exhibitions in the main venue in Luohu and six sub-venues around the city.
SUSTech School of Design has inaugurated three installations in Dawanshiju (Dawan Ancestral Residence), one of Shenzhen's top ten ancient Hakka villages.
The Dawan Ancestral Residence is the Pingshan sub-venue of the ninth Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism \ Architecture (UABB), running through March 3, 2023.
The curators Liu Xiaodu, Gao Yan, and Richard Hsu elected “Unplugged” as the theme for Dawan venue. The exhibition brings together works from artists, architects, landscape designers, and ecology scholars who explore the relationship between history, modern life, and the future. Unplugged suggests less digital, more human touch, more social connection, and the care for the environment.
The Hakka village, built in 179, is an ancient castle-style Hakka dragon house that retains the historical and folk relics and cultural essence of the Hakkas, the most diasporic among the Chinese community groups. The Hakkas moved from Central China into Southern China, and Dawan village reflects the social and cultural characteristics of various periods and the changes of the Hakka people. It is of great historical and artistic value. In 1984, “DawanShiju” was listed as a key cultural relic protection unit in Shenzhen.
SUSTech School of Design responds to the history, culture, and future of the Dawan Unplugged UABB. Together, students and faculty explore the tangible and intangible heritage and develop narratives that connect the past to the future through artifacts, experiences, and narrations.
The exhibition Future memories recalls memories of lives in Dawan to inspire design propositions.
It is a project realized during the Undergraduate Design Studio Course in “Narrative and Branding” I ran in the fall semester as part of the UABB. The team for this project comprises Enza Migliore and Qinyuan Lei, Assistant Professors, Ran Che, Research Assistant, and six students at SUSTech School of Design, Hongyi Hu, Yuanning Han, Guo Qiu, Hanxi Yu, Wansheng Liang, and Zhennan Yao as teaching assistant.
This project is conducted during four weeks of a design studio course. The educational goal is to introduce students to the topic and skills of Narrative and Branding as part of the Design activity. We took the opportunity of participating in the UABB to develop a contextualized and reflective approach to Narrative as a method of inquiry that connects the past, the present, and the future and to Branding as an activity aimed at building visions, stories, and identities inspired by the beauty, authenticity, and simplicity of daily life.
The course brings students close to the local community of the Hakka village as an attempt to connect the young generation with cultural, anthropological, and social issues sometimes neglected or overlooked in our daily life, ruled by speediness, competitiveness, and high technology.
ZHANG Jinghong, Associate Professor at the Social Science Centre, The Southern University of Science and Technology, was invited to introduce the students to social and cultural anthropology, anthropology of food, material culture, and cross-cultural identity.
As a preliminary and primary approach to ethnographic research and cultural studies, students have spent some time with the local people listening, observing, and interacting in practical activities to gain a basic understanding of their daily life, which could inspire critical and constructive reflections about society and culture. They collected materials and objects from everyday life and the urban environment to be exploited as studying material to understand cultural issues and be inspired for design proposals. Due to the limited time, the students could only record some impressions of the journey in the village and focus on the material culture. The big challenge was interpreting their observations, understanding, and research into creative proposals for a Brand-Driven Innovation, which is any new product or service that adds value or meaning to users' lives. They designed a new story for an existing brand.
围: To break what is enclosed, Hongyi Hu proposes a fictional new album for Jiu Lian Zhen Ren, a rock band speaking of issues related to Hakka culture, whose primary language is Hakka. The concept for the new album is to explain more profoundly the situation of Hakka culture in the current social environment, with “围” as its core, to present the band’s determination to break the barriers between cultures and tell the stories of Hakka people.
Yuanning Han proposes an innovative packaging for the brand To Summer: besides the smell, we will use the tactile experience to create a narrative space through the materials and textures of artifacts, using touch to interpret unique personal stories, and evoke cultural memories. As a metaphor for resilience, moss and other life forms can grow on the packaging, whose surface will change over time, generating new narratives and deepening emotional connections with the material. She conducted some experiments on growing moss collected from the Dawan village in the class.
Ornament of Life is the proposal from Guo Qiu for the Swedish brand Byredo as a unique collection inspired by the Chinese Hakka Culture. The Proust effect refers to the unconscious recall of autobiographical memories by olfactory stimuli. Byredo will reproduce the memory through fragrance and, at the same time, will launch a limited product gift box inspired by Hakka traditional patterns. By stimulating the connection between smell and vision in memory presentation, it will show such a culture to viewers everywhere in the world. Byredo hopes that such stories will decorate your life and that this collaboration will inspire more memories and emotions.
Another project based on the power of smell to recall memories is Journey of Smell by Hanxi Yu, who envisions a joint brand strategy between Shenzhen Airlines and OCT Travel Agency. They are launching a series of tourism activities called “Journey of Smell” to guide tourists into Hakka culture.
“Journey of Smell” includes transportation, catering, and other services. Tourists will also discover Hakka culture on round-trip flights. Shenzhen Airlines will provide aroma therapy based on Hakka fragrances, from traditional food to fresh fruits and incense used in religious practices, to make the flight more enjoyable and relax through the smell.
A unique proposal is “Fresh Mind” by Wansheng Liang, who translates his inspiration from the Hakka ChaGuo hand-making into a narrative for the public welfare group “Gong Yi,” an organization dealing with the welfare of front-line workers.
The action of “wrapping (the dumpling)” inherited from ancestors thousands of years ago becomes iconic and representative of the workers.
The course also offered the students the opportunity to visit Panglossian, a design studio in Shenzhen that is an expert in Branding. The founder, Sara Biancaccio, contributed with an engaging lecture on the history and meaning of Branding and practical activities that could show young design students the challenges and nature of the design activity in the actual context.
Through objects and stories of daily life, we seek an interface to recall and express memories in the present to help ourselves orient towards the future. Valuing memories as precious resources, how could we prevent them from being wasted? Stories and objects collected from the villages are our raw material, inspiring us to seek new narratives for existing brands. How can the past meaningfully inform the future?