Book List of the Week

Objects of Design, Sources of Knowledge: Aric Chen’s Book List—A Conversation with Zara Arshad

By Steve Kroeter April 2, 2013

Aric Chen

Zara Arshad

Design curator Aric Chen: M+ (Hong Kong)

Profile     Book List

Design writer Zara Arshad: Design China (Beijing)



The recently appointed Curator of Design and Architecture at M+, the new museum for visual culture that will be a centerpiece of Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, Aric Chen looks forward to developing a design and architecture permanent collection for the museum, which will also include a library. The design team for the museum building will be announced in summer 2013, with the opening planned for 2017. In the meantime, the museum has initiated Mobile M+, a series of pre-opening “nomadic” exhibitions. In this conversation with Design China’s Zara Arshad, Chen, who also served as Creative Director of Beijing Design Week in 2011 and 2012, talks about contemporary China and Chinese design in the context of books. (The conversation appears in Chinese at the end of this post.)

Milkywave by Aidia Studio. Lighting installation for Beijing Design Week 2012 (Creative Director: Aric Chen)

Zara Arshad: Which Chinese books or books about China should Western designers know?

Aric Chen: A good encapsulation of all that is contemporary China is China in Ten Words by Yu Hua. Though it’s not an easy read, I’ve found François Jullien’s The Propensity of Things: A History of Efficacy in China to provide an interesting theoretical framework for understanding certain tendencies in China. Liang and Lin: Partners in Exploring China’s Architectural Past by Wilma Fairbank is an excellent book about the remarkable and influential couple who were among China’s first architects and architectural preservationists to work within the chaos that existed here in the early 20th century.

ZA: And similarly, what are some of the most important Western books that Chinese designers should know?

AC: Given the extreme urbanization that China is undergoing, Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities offers some important lessons, as one could argue that China is now making some of the same mistakes that postwar U.S. made—but on a much vaster scale. Also, anything by or about the Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi. One could draw parallels between her vision of “authentic” and “moral” Brazilian design and architecture, born from the country’s actual conditions, and China’s current struggle to define its own brand of modernity.

Rhythm.Curve by Xiao Tianyu. Furniture installation created for the exhibition “How to...,” shown at Beijing Design Week 2012 (Creative Director, Aric Chen). Photo: Chelin Miller

ZA: What are your views on the state of translation between English and Chinese? Do you feel that the most important English design books have been translated into Chinese? And vice versa?

AC: The situation is quite bad. Many of the greatest hits of Western architecture and design have been translated into Chinese (sometimes in pirated form), but not nearly enough to get past a canonical approach. In the other direction, from Chinese to English, the situation is even worse.

ZA: Do you feel that, in China in the future, the medium for books will migrate from paper to e-books? How far along is that migration currently?

AC: Print is still growing in China, though so are sales of the iPad. Let’s see how things develop.

I Miss Fanta by Leung Mee-ping for the Mobile M+ exhibition “Yau Ma Tei,” West Kowloon, Hong Kong, 2012

ZA: What role will there be for design books in the permanent collection that you are developing for M+?

AC: Research will be an important component of M+, and we are now discussing how we will build our library and archive. Design and architecture will of course be well represented: we’ll be collecting books internationally, both those in print and out-of-print, as well as digital.

ZA: Where do you turn to for book recommendations?

AC: Wherever I can: word of mouth, book reviews, and so on. Designers & Books is an exciting initiative to know about.

ZA: What are you reading right now?

AC: Beijing Record by Wang Jun, a Xinhua (China’s official news agency) reporter and tenacious preservationist who has written a fascinating account of Beijing’s urban transformation over the past century.


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设计撰稿人阿飒:Design China(北京)

陈伯康(Aric Chen)是香港西九龙文化区M+博物馆新近任命的设计与建筑策展人,这座博物馆将成为西九的视觉文化中心。他将为这座博物馆建立一系列设计与建筑永久收藏,包括图书收藏。博物馆的设计方案将于2013年夏天公布,博物馆定于2017年正式开放。同时,博物馆发起了“移动M+”,用游牧展览为正式开馆预热。陈还是北京国际设计周2011和2012年的创意总监。Design China的阿飒采访了陈伯康,谈到了当下的中国,以及书籍语境下的中国设计。

图:Aidia Studio的作品“银河波”。2012北京国际设计周灯光装置(创意总监:陈伯康)


陈伯康(以下简称“陈”):一本比较有概括性的书是余华的《十个词汇里的中国》。朱利安的《势:中国的效力观》也对理解中国的一些趋势有所帮助,提供了一些有趣的理论构架。费慰梅(Wilma Fairbank)的《梁与林》介绍了梁思成与林徽因夫妇在动荡的20世纪初期,为中国建筑和古建保护作出的杰出贡献。他们是中国最早的建筑师和古建保护专家。


陈:中国当下的城市化进程非常剧烈。简·雅各布斯(Jane Jacobs)的《美国大城市的死与生》为此提供了重要借鉴,可以说中国正在重复战后美国犯过的种种错误——规模甚至更加庞大。除此之外,还有巴西建筑师丽娜·柏·巴蒂(Lina Bo Bardi)的著作和关于她的书。她眼中“原真的”“道德的”巴西设计和建筑,以及根基于本土和国情的观念,对中国目前对于自身现代性的定义有很大参考价值。

图:肖天宇的“韵。曲”,家具装置。2012北京国际设计周“how to…”展览(创意总监:陈伯康)摄影:Chelin Miller









陈:各种地方:朋友推荐,书评,等等。Designers & Books是一个相当令人兴奋的渠道。




Chinese translation by Lynn Zhang.


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