Architecture and Design

Italian products focus of Hong Kong Business of Design Week

Pair behind Shenzhen’s dazzling new airport terminal, and founder of Eataly dining chain, among the speakers at six-day event, with the strength of networking among artisans a topic Hong Kong designers may learn from

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 December, 2017, 6:47pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 December, 2017, 6:46pm

Business of Design Week returns this year with a focus on Italy – although design enthusiasts may remember that the Mediterranean country was BODW’s partner country 10 years ago. Why the repeat?

“When we first partnered with Italy we were interested in Italian products,” says Eric Yim Chi-ming, chairman of the Hong Kong Design Centre, which organises the week-long forum. “This time, especially after the economic crisis of 2008, we are interested in how they faced the challenge by exporting their design services. This is something Hong Kong can learn.”

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From December 4 to 9, dozens of speakers from around the world will converge on the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre to talk about architecture, products, communication design and how good design makes for good business.

Among them are 22 Italian designers and entrepreneurs who will share their work and insights. That includes husband-and-wife duo Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, who designed Shenzhen’s dazzling new airport terminal, and Oscar Farinetti, founder of Eataly, a popular chain of upscale food halls with locations in 11 countries, including Japan and South Korea.

Italy has a long design tradition – the country has nearly 150,000 architects, compared to about 40,000 in China – and Italian brands are well known around the world. The financial crisis shook up the industry and forced it to think more clearly about the value of Italian design.

“It is always searching for something new,” says designer Mario Trimarchi, who works regularly with furniture and homewares brand Alessi.

“Italian design is still in a moment of amazing and fertile creative growth,” says interior designer and artist Umberto Branchini. One of the country’s strengths is its network of artisanal workshops that produce high-end furniture and other products – a network on which designers and brands still rely.

“In Italy, design is a part of what we call ‘System Italy’, where the designers, factories, suppliers, authorities and public opinion are working together,” says product designer Giulio Vinaccia. “We [have] moved from the tradition of the 1960s, where the old masters were acting like Renaissance artists, working almost alone in their studios, to the situation where the projects are realised by multicultural design teams under the umbrella of a design brand.”

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Yim says that is particularly relevant to Hong Kong, which has many family-run manufacturing companies operating factories in China.

“A lot of industrialists and manufacturers, even though they moved their productions to southern China, a lot of their headquarters are still based in Hong Kong,” he says. With a constant stream of design graduates from institutions such as Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Hong Kong Design Institute, he thinks the opportunity is there for local companies to start working more closely with designers.

His own family did just that: after Yim returned from studying architecture at Cambridge University, he transformed his family’s steel furniture workshop into furniture brand POSH, which is now owned by American office furniture pioneer Herman Miller.

I hope to feel the spirit of the future
Mario Trimarchi

BODW will offer inspiration for Hong Kong businesspeople and creative types alike. Trimarchi, Branchini and Vinaccia will all be speaking about their respective design practices. “I will speak about the continuous search for beauty,” says Trimarchi. “I am fascinated by the poetic presence of objects, by the simultaneous presence of past, present and future their souls harbour.”

Branchini’s presentation will be more grounded. “I will speak about my multidisciplinary practice,” he says. “The ethos of my design is to creative exclusive spaces where all the elements are custom made for each client, from the door handles to the sofas, the carpets, the lamps and the finishing. I don’t like to use the same products or ideas for different people.”

Beyond the BODW forum, a variety of satellite events will take place. On December 6, Alessi’s flagship store in the Landmark Prince’s Building will unveil an exhibition dedicated to Trimarchi’s work, including the Swan kitchen tap and the Ossidiani espresso maker. At PMQ, the deTour festival brings together exhibitions, talks and workshops.

Colour Living will keep its B&B Italia showroom open late into the night to welcome extra visitors. The Ferrari Owners’ Club of Hong Kong will show off some of its supercars to the public and a variety of Italian restaurants have been tasked with creating special menus so people can “experience food and design”, says Yim.

“Hopefully in years to come, this city programme will be further expanded into a real design festival,” he says.

While Yim hopes Hongkongers can learn something from Italian designers, the Italians are eager to see what’s happening in Hong Kong. “I hope to design something here with an open eye to local traditions,” says Branchini. Trimarchi has even higher expectations. “I hope to feel the spirit of the future,” he says.

Architects to talk about their designs for Hong Kong arts hub and former Central Police Station

Business of Design Week will offer a glimpse of several major projects that will transform Hong Kong’s artistic and cultural scene. On December 7, Swiss architect Jacques Herzog will talk about his work on the upcoming M+ Museum and the Old Bailey Galleries at the former Central Police Station and Victoria Prison compound, which is now known as Tai Kwun.

The galleries will be home to a series of contemporary art exhibitions organised in partnership with institutions including the Asia Art Archive and Para Site, while the rest of the site will include a heritage museum, cultural facilities, cafes and restaurants. The project is slated to open next year, after months of delay caused when part of the complex collapsed.

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Both projects are controversial. M+ has been likened to a giant tombstone because of its wide, narrow tower, while the recently completed Old Bailey Galleries has been accused of overwhelming the Victorian-era heritage buildings that surround it. Yet both are undeniably striking works of architecture, and they will be home to two new institutions that have already made big waves in Hong Kong’s arts world.

The local branch of China’s Palace Museum is even more contentious. Announced as a surprise late last year, its design by local architect Rocco Yim has been compared to an ancient Chinese cauldron known as a ding. Few specifics are known about the design, but Yim will shed light on the project at his

BODW talk on December 9.

The same day, Canadian architect Venelin Kokalov will discuss his work on the Xiqu Centre, a new Chinese opera house slated to open next year as part of the West Kowloon Cultural District. Kokalov worked on the design with Hong Kong-born, Vancouver-based architect Bing Thom, who died unexpectedly last year. Meant to evoke a theatre curtain being pulled open, the centre will include public space, a tea house and Hong Kong’s first purpose-built venue for Cantonese opera.