After Art 72 Rooms, Weichen Zhong is preparing a new project for 2020. With him, we talked about how China is rethinking design
China, Italy, design and art: an ideal thread connects two countries very far apart from the geographic side, and two disciplines that often interact and give life to integrated and complex projects. This is the case for Art 72 Rooms, a hospitality and sharing project curated by the Chinese architect Weichen Zhong and by the Italian architect and teacher Davide Crippa, an ideal extension of the Design Hostel, a project launched in 2017 at the Fuorisalone, in Milan.
Weichen Zhong is an architect and interior designer with a long experience, and with him we talked about design, and the relationship between Italy and China. A long conversation, in which he described how the perception of design in China is changing, and what potential it still has to express.
What role does design play in China today as a creator of value for man?
‘China today is seen in the world as a big country, producing an infinite quantity of goods, at a dizzying speed. And indeed for many years, it has been this way. Me myself, trained first as an artist and then as a designer, for a long time I worked and made projects at a fast pace, working basically only to earn money.’
When did you start to realise that design was also an opportunity to innovate?
‘Let’s say that I’ve always thought so, but I had proof of that the first time I visited Milan for Design Week, in 2013. But let’s take a step back, so everything is even clearer. In my first cycle of studies, I chose to study art, and I was admitted to a very selective art school in Shanghai. In 1995, when I came to Italy for the first time, I visited the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and I was impressed by the magnificence of the art on display there. So impressed, that I started to think that maybe I wasn’t so talented as an artist. Therefore, from that moment on, I chose to focus on architecture and design, a career that I liked and that allowed me to have a good income. For many years, I worked at the extremely tight rhythms typical of China, without asking myself too much about the deeper meaning of my job. This is a fairly common attitude in China: in general, architects carry out the projects that are commissioned, without too many questions, just trying to do it as quickly as possible. Then, in 2013, I’ve been for the first time at Design Week, in Milan, and there I’ve seen a chance to look at the project differently.’
What features of Milano Design Week mostly affected a change in the way of thinking?
‘It’s not just Design Week, it’s also the relationship with teachers, Italian universities, Italian and foreign students. It is also the contact with a different study methodology. An example: Western students, in general, tend to ask many questions. Chinese students also ask questions, but they are always related to execution, they are never questions about the reason for a project. Instead, “why” is a keyword, it’s the synthesis of a different approach; an Italian teacher never rushes a student, because the design is a thought, is a process. Something that is still hard to catch in China.’
Which areas of design are the most appealing to Chinese students and professionals?
‘Until recently, I would have said: fame and good profits. Today, however, luckily, something is changing in China too. Most importantly, we are finally getting back into the consciousness of our great culture, of our past rich in history and tradition. When the West looks at China, it seems that it sees only a large copy factory. And regretfully, for many years even the Chinese people seemed to have lost faith in their skills. On the contrary, China has a great tradition of art, and it just needs to start again to trust in its capabilities. But it’s happening. More and more designers are growing aware that design is an elaborate thought, and therefore takes longer to think and design. Design, therefore, becomes a means and a method to progress. And I must also say thank you to the projects with the Politecnico di Milano for this development.’
After Art 72 Rooms, are there any other projects in the pipeline?
‘Art 72 Rooms was a very exciting experience, between Shanghai and Milan. In Shanghai in a former Buddhist temple in Xintiandi, and Milan in Bovisa, during the Fuorisalone 2019, we managed to work with Italian artists and designers, Chinese and from other countries, on projects that highlight the great value of sharing and hospitality. Now we are preparing a new, challenging project for Fuorisalone 2020, which includes an exhibition and a workshop with students. It will be another great opportunity to work in an international context, where different cultures interact, and design takes on further value, as a process to think and rethink.’ [Text Roberta Mutti]
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