What do an aerospace engineer, an architect, a business student, a martial artist, a neuroscientist, a fashion student, and an industrial designer have in common? They teamed up for our student-tip to Hong Kong past December – here’s a peek into our experience:
Hong Kong has a vision – a vision to conquer the lands of design and innovation. Creative hubs, co-working spaces and incubation platforms are springing up like mushrooms in the concrete forest.
Hong Kong is on its way to a new self, a substantial rebranding, and stakes everything on one card: design-driven innovation. The fringes of this large undertaking can be found all over the city – even in academia. With programmes such as Social Design, Urban Environments Design or Entertainment Technology, the Polytechnic University Hong Kong School of Design (PolyU Design) presents itself on the cutting edge of knowledge and design – and does not fail to stage itself in an equally innovative setting. Just recently, the PolyU School of Design found its new home in the Jockey Club Innovation Tower, a sculptural landmark designed by celebrity architect Zaha Hadid.
Tailored incubation programs, such as The Cage, an ignition program for early stage start-ups within fashion and retail technologies, enrich the start-up ecosystem of applied innovation and creative industries in Hong Kong. The Mills Fabrica, a business incubation program at the intersection of fashion, textile and technology, is scheduled to open in 2018 and presents an eager mission that appears representative of the city as a whole:
“The Mills Fabrica aims to become a catalytic hub for techstyle startups and ecosystem partners, where new ideas spark and game-changing collaboration takes off. Fabrica will be a destination for applied innovation that propels Hong Kong forward as the best place in the world to build a techstyle business.”
The portrayed image of Hong Kong is future-oriented, one step ahead, a gigantic makerspace and playground for designers and entrepreneurs. At the heart of it all is the Hong Kong Design Centre, and its annual flagship event: The Business of Design Week. In gathering global design talents and business leaders, the Business of Design Week (or “BODW”) explores a broad scope of themes around brands and innovation, fuelled by strategic collaborations, such as this year’s partner, the “design power house” Italy.
Hong Kong is still a youngster – only in 1997 it gained independence from the British Crown and is now finding its path between mainland Chinese and Western traditions. Polished, luxurious skyscrapers align with endless concrete apartment blocks kissing the blue, but at times smoggy sky. In between, you find both temples and small convenience shops with racks packed to the limits. “Heritage” is a concept hard to define in a city like Hong Kong. Thus, making strategic collaborations with countries such as Italy is an essential part of the Business of Design Week. “Italianicity”, to use the words of French linguist and semiotician Roland Barthes, is a profound step of Hong Kong’s making of a design authority. In drawing upon Italy’s long tradition and heritage in design and the arts, its emergence of creators and artisans, from Da Vinci, Versace to Cuccinella, Hong Kong adopts traditional western notions of heritage as a way to establish legitimacy. “Made in Italy” stands for quality and heritage – a connotation that Hong Kong is eager to establish on its own.
What is heritage in an innovative city like Hong Kong? A question that Hong Kong is posing itself and aiming to explore with the introduction of a Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile (CHAT), set to open in Spring 2019. The Centre – a former cotton spinning mill housing exhibitions and co-learning programmes on the history and legacy of Hong Kong’s textile industry – is one of many landmark revitalization projects in Hong Kong. Also the PMQ, a former policer quarter, was turned into an open space for creative happenings and lifestyle experiences, housing experimental retail platforms, while bringing heritage and “create-preneurs” together.
Clearly, Hong Kong is only at the very beginnings of finding its own identity, of juggling innovation and heritage, of owning these. However, this vibrant process and the omnipresent feeling that Hong Kong and its identity are in its most literal sense “under construction”, make it such a unique and exciting place to explore.