What you need to know
At Taiwan's annual Golden Pin Design Award forum, four renowned designers offered a checklist for using design to build sustainable societies.
Each year since 2014, Taiwan’s premier design competition, the Golden Pin Design Award, has invited a handful of top international designers to Taiwan to participate as jury members in the competition’s final selection process, and to share their knowledge with local audiences in the annual Golden Pin forum.
This year, in late November, speakers and audience members alike eagerly gathered under the industrial roof beams of a performance hall in Taipei’s Songshan Cultural and Creative Park.
Taking the stage in 2018: Dutch designer and visionary Ad van Berlo; Kashiwa Sato, Creative Director of Japanese design firm SAMURAI Inc.; U.S. based Edmond Bakos, Managing Director and Partner of luxury architecture and interiors firm Champalimaud Design; and Chris Lee, Founder and Creative Director of multidisciplinary studio Asylum in Singapore.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the four invited speakers took disparate approaches to the theme of the event-design and social responsibility. However, underlying currents of similarity pointed to trends of import for today’s design industry: countering today’s culture of disposable building design, the need for more holistic design practices that work across private and public sector, and an openness to collaborate to inspire innovation.
“More and more designers are thinking about user-oriented design and design geared toward specific issues,” Chang Chi-yi (張基義), Chairman of the Taiwan Design Center (the event’s organizing body), said in his opening address. “More are using recycled materials, and thinking about how to provide a better living environment for future generations. We are all citizens of the Earth, and we all have our responsibilities.”
With decades of experience applying a signature approach of understated luxury to the design of large-scale hospitality, residential, and commercial buildings, Edmond (Ed) Bakos stepped on stage to urge designers – particularly those in interior design and architecture – to consider the ways in which their profession is contributing to today’s disposable culture.
Bakos noted that the idea that buildings are disposable is incredibly interesting from a design standpoint – but also incredibly troubling from an environmental standpoint.
“Worldwide construction waste is predicted to double by 2025,” he explained. “The solution has to start with each of us. We need to move away from the idea that buildings are so temporary that they’re going to contribute to the landfill problem.”
More sustainable construction materials and products are being developed, but they solve just one part of the puzzle. For Bakos, a more fitting solution lies in creating spaces that serve people emotionally and provide for not just the needs or wants of today, but also those that lie in our future.
“Isn’t sustainability about designing really well, so that we can break the cycle?” he posed.
Chris Lee, the second speaker on the Golden Pin stage, confessed that his home city-state of Singapore is often perceived as architecturally uninspiring. “Everything is new in Singapore; everything is modern and boring,” he said.
As if to counter this initial statement, he introduced his studio Asylum’s oeuvre, which is full of projects that reuse, revamp or reinvent everything from t-shirts and books to Johnnie Walker flagship stores.
The opportunity arose for Asylum to take on an architectural reconstruction project: turning a century-old spice warehouse on Singapore’s Robertson Quay into The Warehouse Hotel. Lee and his team, working alongside local architecture firm Zarch Collaboratives, were inspired to use the unique history of the building as the core of the branding concept.
“The idea of reusing a building without interjection is good. You want to keep the integrity of the space, but you want to say something to the modern-day user,” said Lee. “Slowly, it will become a trend where clients say it’s not trendy to keep redoing things.”
For Ad van Berlo, the key to a sustainable society is the ability of its companies and governments to innovate – to adapt quickly to environmental and societal changes and promptly address the issues that arise from them. Design, he said, is a catalyst for innovation. “We want to infect our clients with creativity,” he said.
However, for designers and their practices to successfully lead innovation initiatives in their society’s institutions – be they public or private sector – they must incorporate key ingredients into their methodologies, according to van Berlo. They must be indispensably multidisciplinary, multicultural, transnational, and highly collaborative.
“Let’s open the doors, because there’s more knowledge outside our company than within it,” said van Berlo. “Let’s find all those smart people.”
In Taiwan, numerous design-related initiatives have been launched over the past decade, from the 16-year-old Taiwan Design Expo and the establishment of the Taiwan Design Center in 2013 to Taipei hosting the World Design Capital in 2016 and the Ministry of Culture committing US$341.6 million to a multi-year plan aimed at promoting the cultural and creative industry in early 2018.
But are these initiatives holistic enough to inspire innovation in Taiwanese society? And how do local designers work effectively within the frameworks they are setting in place?
Kashiwa Sato, who travels to Taiwan often for client projects, offered some positive encouragement for local designers. “I first came to Taiwan seven years ago when I was working on the UNIQLO contract,” he said. “The design work I’m seeing on this visit has an elevated level of quality.”
Bakos agreed, saying that Taiwan is clearly putting in place infrastructure dedicated to expanding the conversation around design. To build a city of today – a people-oriented place with green spaces, spaces for families, and institutions that support innovative education – “design needs to be an early point of that conversation,” he concluded.
Van Berlo noted that while he was impressed with the quality of the locally designed products he has come across on his visit, he also saw an abundance of Western brands. He encouraged Taiwanese designers to embrace their own culture and imbue elements of that into their designs. To do this, he encouraged more focus on design business and strategy. “Everything starts with education,” he said.
Chris Lee noted a similar focus for Taiwanese designers: “In Taiwan, you don’t have an issue because you’re very rooted in culture. Even China has a problem to dig deep. I think it’s really just about having the confidence to say that [your design work] is cool.”
Cover photo, left to right: Nina Ay; Kashiwa Sato, Creative Director, SAMURAI Inc.; Chang Chi-yi, Chairman of the Taiwan Design Centre; Dutch designer and visionary Ad van Berlo; Edmond Bakos, Managing Director and Partner, Champalimaud Design; Chris Lee, Founder and Creative Director, Asylum; presenter Lulu Hsieh.
Read Next: Taiwan’s Circular Economy: A Model for Global Sustainability?
Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)
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