Design Shenzhen & Shenzhen Design


Evening Glow at Shenzhen Bay. Photo credit: Visual China

Evening Glow at Shenzhen Bay. Photo credit: Visual China

The Shenzhen Special Economic Zone was designed to show the world its determination to reform and open up, along with its willingness to explore modernization in China. The city has won itself extensive recognition through its development over the past four decades. Transforming itself from a place occupied by swathes of farmlands and construction sites into a young, energetic city marked with rows of high-rises and vibrant dynamism, a city for people was born.

“Design Shenzhen” is a process to create cultural values in the society and the spaces of the SEZ, while “Shenzhen Design” refers to the city’s cultural strengths to support its continuous growth. Forty years ago, new institutional mechanisms, new methods and technologies, new concepts and standards, new value propositions, and other key elements were combined and adopted to ‘design Shenzhen’, including its society and the corresponding spaces. In this sense, “Design Shenzhen” can be seen as a special process of modernization and a new cultural phenomenon in China.

The institutional design of the “Special Economic Zone”. With the approval from the central government, unprecedented attempts in developing modern Chinese cities and society have been exercised in the SEZs. The reform and opening-up endeavor with pre-set values easily broke the constraints of traditional mentalities, and set free people’s imagination of a modernized China of the future.

The cultural design of an open, inclusive governance environment. The country’s decision to open the door to the outside world attracted the fine cultures of humankind and migrants from all over the world. That had forged Shenzhen into an urban society for “newcomers (or New Hakka)” where diverse cultures came across each other. The hybrid cultural atmosphere, therefore, became A “fine land” for innovation to prosper in Shenzhen, and laid a social foundation for the city to squarely champion the development of modern culture.

The spatial design of a reasonable urban layout. To preserve its ecological environment, Shenzhen has shaped itself into multi-layered, versatile urban spaces that can easily take in crowds of migrants, despite the limited land availability. It manages to coordinate the various needs for increasing urbanization, developing industries, and growing into an international metropolis. Through these, Shenzhen stands out as a modern city with its own characteristics.

The concept of “Design Shenzhen” encompasses the protection of the mountain and marine environment, urban planning, urban design, architectural design, landscaping, as well as everything else related to modern life, such as graphic design, interior design, and fashion and jewelry design. It has turned Shenzhen into the arena and the ideal venue of design practice for the best design agencies and creative minds to compete and to accomplish their ambitions. In this process, values, standards, policies and mechanisms are compared and validated. The result is that the created urban places, the activated non-governmental organizations, and the booming vitality of the city and the society have profoundly influenced people’s perception and imagination of modernization. The process resembles the countless “skin tests” performed on China’s modernization. It has given rise to a unified consensus on the city’s culture, and has become a brief history of Shenzhen’s urban civilization, as well as the confidence and example of the city’s follow-up development. 

“Design Shenzhen” is the collective behavior that serves the public interest and conforms to the trend of the times. The 40 years of “Design Shenzhen” is a credible historical fact of China’s reform and opening-up, which proves to the world the power and value of the comprehensive design that has a positive impact on modernization. It is also on this journey that “Shenzhen Design”, an urban cultural IP, has come into being.

Shenzhen’s Skyline with Colored Building Silhouette. Photo credit: Visual China

“Shenzhen Design” adopts a cultural attitude that is rational, scientific, and humanistic. It serves to design the institutions and spaces that effectively deliver on “people’s aspirations for a happy life” through promoting social progress, learning from other developed cultures, and parting ways with the deeply rooted, outdated concepts. The institutional design is to free up people’s minds and release their natural instincts, and then establish inclusive, harmonious social relationships. The spatial design is to create urban lifestyles that fit well into modern civilization. “Shenzhen Design” takes in thoughts from different individuals and gives rise to a collective consensus of modernization. We are pleased to see that the continuous iteration of “Shenzhen Design” continues to revise and enrich the existing “common sense” in our knowledge reserve, and inspire people’s imagination for the future of modernization.

Design, a practice created by humankind, shall be exercised for people and the wellbeing of people. Over the past 40 years, “Design Shenzhen” has developed itself into an approach to China’s modernization. “You are a Shenzhener once you come here”: this slogan testifies to the city’s inclusiveness, and well describes the social relationships (&) between Shenzhen and its migrants. The slogan also implies the influence of the values advocated by the modern society on each one of its visitors, indicating a special cultural bond (&) between Shenzhen and people. High mountains are to be conquered by people who seek their paths to the peak. Their day-to-day work and life continuously innovate and optimize the core of “Shenzhen Design”, which can be defined as the design for people, for the connection (&) between people, and for the bond (&) between people and their surroundings. It starts from the self-design of each individual living in Shenzhen and gradually expands to the relationships of people & nature, people & people, people & city, and city & city, and creates an example of an inclusive, credible, modern urban society in China. Archimedes, the ancient Greek philosopher, once claimed: “Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the earth!” To always bear in mind the original aspiration of reform and opening-up and seek the pivots that support the leverages of China’s modernization is exactly the mission of “Shenzhen Design”. It is also the important task of the pilot demonstration area of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

The connections with the world are the aforementioned pivots, and Shenzhen is the “bridge” for China and the world. The Shenzhen 2030 Development Strategy sets an ambitious goal of building a “pioneering global city”. The Strategy gives a clear signal that Shenzhen should attribute its success to the fact that it provided a diverse space for ambitions to take off, and thus, eclipsed ambitions would mean the end of a development miracle.

The kinetic energy driving continuous innovation in an urban society comes from people’s creativity and human nature. It integrates the city with the rest of the world, connects it with different civilizations, and bridges it to the past and the future. Spearheaded by the humanistic spirit that combines human emotions and rationality, we can once again imagine and devise a new possibility for Shenzhen to become a better place for us to live and thrive, just like we did 40 years ago. That is the “Shenzhen Design” in my eyes.

The adoption of “&” as the logo of City of Design Shenzhen is a manifesto of ingenuity that points to the very core of design: to connect, communicate, spread, and disseminate.