Headed up by Belgian and Portuguese architects, Bert de Muynck and M?nica Carri?o, MovingCities is a Shanghai-based think-tank investigating the role that architecture, urbanism and design play in shaping contemporary cities. Since founding the initiative in 2007, the pair have taken their lectures, research, workshops and consultancy across three continents, taking on commissions from the likes of the Netherlands Architecture Institute, Dutch Design Fashion and Architecture and the Finnish Association of Architects. The pair recently completed a couple of reports for DutchDFA - Design and Fashion in China Mappings - charting Chinese creativity and designers, and where they sit in an increasingly global arena. Featuring a bunch of interviews and independent analysis, they make for interesting reading and excellent resources, all for free and downloadable here.
Juggling ever-busy schedules, M?nica and Bert took time out to email us over the low down of who they are, what they do, and why they do it...
What is MovingCities, and how did it come about
MovingCities is an independent Shanghai-based think-thank investigating the role that architecture and urbanism play in shaping the contemporary city. We've lived in China since 2006, and in 2007 began publishing, collaborating, talking and scanning the Chinese city. We also act as consultants for and organizers of Chinese architectural international exchange programs and the so-called cultural and creative industries by writing reports, lecturing or participating in workshops. The idea behind MovingCities was to fill a gap in the architectural cultural field in China and we've been redefining our mission and scope about every two years... we see it as an experiment.
Why did you both choose China? What is it about the urban landscape here that you find so fascinating?
Seven years ago we were living in Amsterdam and came to China for a trip with friends. After a couple of days we decided to move here. Although our work-focus has changed since then, we don't regret that impulsive decision. Experiencing the Olympic times in Beijing, and pre-and-post Expo in Shanghai has given us a lot of energy.
What appeals to us is the ability to experiment with new ways of producing knowledge in the architectural field, to think about new formats to bring people together, to establish new, and sometimes unconventional, networks.
The urban landscape is of course very fascinating - and sometimes scary - especially for us architects-urbanists. We're lucky to be often on-the-move, to travel and see progress from different perspectives.
Your activities are pretty varied - can you describe the scope of what you do...
We like to say that we do everything within the scope of architecture and urbanism, with the exception of building! Once you leave out the constructing factor, we found out that there is quite some space to develop other type of projects.
Basically our activities comprise five elements: publishing in various international architecture magazines; setting up workshops and collaborative program for architecture national and/or educational institutions that want to get involved in China; acting as consultants in the field of creative industries; architectural education (Bert teaches at the University of Hong Kong' Shanghai Study Centre); and finally, maintaining a website/blog that broadcasts our work, writing and activities.
From Urban China#33
Your most recently published projects are Design in China Mapping + Fashion in China Mapping - what are they, and how were they produced?
Early 2011 we were approached by Dutch Design Fashion and Architecture program [DutchDFA], to conduct research on fashion and design subjects, tendencies, media and networks in China. This resulted in a double report, entitled 'Design + Fashion in China Mappings' published this summer as hardcopy, but also a free download.
The objective was to deliver a document that differs from ordinary consultancy reports on China - which mainly consists out of vague rewritings of policy-documents, obscure numbers and generalist market tendencies. We were interested in understanding the new mindset and ways of production of Chinese designers and scholars. During the first half of 2011 we conducted a series of interviews in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou with 30+ acclaimed Chinese interior, product and graphic designers as well as specialists; and with 15 leading Chinese fashion designers.
To us, it was important to create a document that looks from the inside of the Chinese creative industries, rather than forcing an outsiders' reading of China. What we discovered was shifting ground, new chains of production, the importance of branding, as well saw some high-quality products that designers are working on.
Were there any surprises in your findings? Did you reach different conclusions from your initial assumptions?
Basically the kind of designers we are most interested in are the one's that are able to plot an individual course, and do this with a dedication to modern ways of production, paired with a deeper sense of understanding of their own culture and limitations.
We discovered the work of designers such as Lv Yongzhong (Shanghai), Liu Feng (Beijing), Tom Shi (Guangzhou) or Feng Yu (Shenzhen); and had great conversations with fashion designers such as Vega Wang, Xander Zhou (Beijing), Uma Wang, Jenny Ji (Shanghai) and Liang Zi (Shenzhen), amongst many more. Every interview was a surprise in itself, not only to see the designer's products and lines, but also to understand a certain geographical diversity, and to see the disparities in ambitions between a young generation and an already established group.
Important findings were related to the modes of production, the way to do business, the importance of establishing platforms, the visions of the post-1980s generation, and the fact that we perceived a certain fatigue amongst designers for design-weeks or fairs, award winning ceremonies and the media.
What's next for you both? Back to architecture, or has your latest research in fashion led you to want to try to find projects in that particular area of design?
We do not yet have plans to build anything at all, but of course that could change. Basically we are continuing to establish relations within China and internationally in the form of workshops, seminars, and publications, hopefully exhibitions and multimedia platforms too.
Glimpsing on Chinese fashion got us excited to test grounds in that direction. But one has to innovate on collaborative formats - with fashion designers, seldom do we see collaboration, or any other path except for the storefront and catwalk. Maybe there is another model possible that combines this with a broad critical attitude. We are always open for suggestions/interactions in those directions.
In terms of architectural exchange programs we would like to broaden the scope of interaction, beyond a specific national agenda. As Europeans from different countries, we feel there should be more space and opportunities for a collective and diverse approach in engaging with China.
Much of your portfolio focuses on Chinese cities - how are they changing? Are there any nation-wide trends to observe?
Of course there are big trends - enhancing urban environments via environmental upgrading and restoration, investments in social housing and infrastructural expansion - that are crucial for the development of Chinese urbanity. But what we often notice is that international experts in the field immediately hijacking them, implementing specific agendas or forcing them upon this context. It would be interesting to have more developers/clients and designers that want to take risks, believe in quality, and have a desire to make things better.
We're very interested in what the world can learn from China. This will be a big question for the future and a reverse of the trend of importing expertise in the past few decades.
To find out more or contact the team, check MovingCities.org here