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Sam Jacob Studio completes V&A’s first international outpost

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London-based Sam Jacob Studio has completed the V&A’s first international gallery in China – the country’s first design museum, according to the practice

The V&A Gallery in Shekou, Shenzhen, contains more than 250 objects from the museum’s permanent collection and new acquisitions from China’s Pearl River Delta.

The 770m² space is arranged in a series of bays around a central nave, which are flanked by two multiscreen installations, and includes a pavilion.

The practice claims that the curatorial narrative sets out seven ‘values’ that have ‘influenced design or that design creates’. 

Sam Jacob said: ’The design of the gallery organises space, material and media to make an intellectually rich and visceral experience, advancing a sophisticated understanding of the way design shapes the contemporary world.

’The fresh and evocative approach to the gallery’s spatial organisation and display responds to the sensation of Shenzhen as a place of new possibilities for the future of design while drawing on the rich history and collection of the V&A.’

The V&A’s next outpost, in Dundee, designed by Kengo Kuma, is set to open in 2018. 

Architect’s view 

The curatorial narrative sets out seven different ‘values’ that have influenced design or that design creates and the exhibition design animates these ideas by drawing on a rich variety of materials, processes and technologies. These provide conceptual contexts for display that are suggestive and surprising.

This strategy brings coherence to the eclectic collection, diverse in discipline and provenance, including objects from 900AD to the present day from 31 different countries, ranging from everyday items to the precious and unique.

Objects and materials are paired to create dynamic dialogues allowing us to see and understand objects in new ways. An 18th century astrolabe is displayed on a block of modern foamed aluminium; a 17th century coat of arms set against a green-screen backdrop. This approach cuts across traditional museological categorisation allowing us to imagine more open-ended relationships.

Each of the curatorial values is materially embodied. For ‘Performance’ a wall is lined with 4m-high dichroic glass, whose surface quality changes as visitors pass by it. In the ‘Cost’ section, marble and plywood are juxtaposed, referencing both the entrance halls of the V&A’s South Kensington museum and the packing crates used in the museum’s archives.

The interior of the ‘Communication’ pavilion is lined with a custom printed giant half-tone gradient pattern that recalls the common technology of printed matter. Its exterior carries an electronic frieze – a moving LED text embedded in the white wall of the architecture itself – that combines a familiar feature of contemporary Shenzhen with the informational tradition of classical architecture. This ancient-and-modern frieze forms a portico supported by a series of columns that describe the different kinds of value that the processing of raw materials creates: from a tree trunk, to a sawn timber prop and an engineered laminated timber column.

At the far end of the gallery, an arcade of niches frame a series of displays that each highlight a specific material, showing how such materials have been used and interpreted by different designers. The final section, ‘Wonder’, is defined by a chain mail curtain that hangs in a free-form shape, while the objects that it encircles are presented as singular and special in their own bespoke cases. The divisions of space vary in translucency, mood and reference that allow an overall complexity to emerge from the clarity of the layout.

Media is embedded with the physical environment to heighten the communicative power of the display. A large-format film by Alice Masters commissioned for the show introduces the idea of value and design. A second set of films show life-size Londoners and Shenzheners telling stories about how they value different personal objects.

In each section, ambient films are integrated into the architecture showing suggestive atmospheric footage supporting the display as a kind of moving wallpaper.

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