Local talents showcase Hong Kong’s design history in Milan

Young creatives offering Italian fair a taste of Hong Kong from afar are fearless enough to take city to the top, says curator

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2014, 11:30am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 April, 2014, 3:55am

Walking the busy streets of Mong Kok, taking the Star Ferry across the harbour and shopping under the red plastic lampshades of the wet markets - these are some of the personal experiences that can best demonstrate Hong Kong's potential as a city of design.

That's according to Nille Juul-Sørensen who, as curator of the largest presentation of Hong Kong design at this week's Milan Design Week, is tasked with showcasing the city to an expected 300,000 visitors.

Juul-Sørensen believes the city's fast-changing nature and the growing number of talented young designers who focus on creating "experiences" rather than products can make Hong Kong the leading design city in Asia in the next 10 years.

Singapore may strive to be a design hub, and mainland cities such as Shanghai and Beijing may have lots of money, but Hong Kong can lead the game.

"It's not about the money. It's about not being afraid of taking chances," he said.

Hong Kong has put itself on the world map in the past five years and its experience could provide a lesson for its European counterparts, said the award-winning architect, also CEO of the Danish Design Centre.

"In many places, design is treated as art only, but Hong Kong shows us that design is business - which is what many countries are looking for," said Juul-Sørensen, whose own work includes designing airport components for the Hong Kong International Airport.

He said Hong Kong was a fast-paced city and that a growing influence from the mainland had quickened the pace of change. While some changes could be "grotesque", they were also inspirational, and he wanted to show that to a global audience.

The exhibition "Hong Kong: Constant Change", presented by the Hong Kong Design Centre, recreates the cityscape for visitors to the fair through the works of 60 leading young designers.

The works, in a multimedia format, enable visitors to experience the buzz of Hong Kong's streets, take a ferry ride and shop at a wet market without having to board a long-haul flight.

Each activity, according to Juul-Sørensen, showcases Hong Kong's design history.

"Milan [Design Week] is the largest festival of design objects," said Juul-Sørensen. "This is not an exhibition of objects, but one about designers and the design environment of Hong Kong."

He said visitors to the Hong Kong exhibition would discover a pool of young talent whose member were into strategic and social design that could make the city a better place to live in.

"Hong Kong's young designers have been talking about 'me', but they are shifting towards 'we'," said Juul-Sørensen.

Young designers were tuning in to their environment and producing designs to answer social needs, from better hospitals to sustainable development. He praised the Octopus card for its design and how it integrated seamlessly into daily life.

"Designers can help by designing social welfare systems, smarter hospitals and better ways of treating people," he said. "Let two per cent [of them] make nice chairs and the rest of them should do something else."

Milan Design Week runs until Sunday.