China dominates World Interior of the Year shortlist

The World Interior of the Year shortlist has been announced, bringing together 2017’s best-designed hotels, restaurants, offices and retail spaces.

But while the nominees hail from around the globe, there is one clear winner: China. More than a third of the 78 finalists are based in Greater China, including 19 from the mainland, five from Hong Kong and four from Taiwan. Among the nominees are a coworking space in Shanghai, a minimalist Beijing comic store and a sleek Japanese restaurant in the southern city of Shenzhen. At least one Chinese interior was shortlisted in each of the award program’s nine categories, which encompass residential, commercial and public spaces.

Changing attitudes toward design

At the time of the inaugural World Interior of the Year awards in 2011, fewer than 10 percent of the finalists came from China. And all of those projects were based in Shanghai. Fast-forward six years, and cities less familiar to the international design circuit — like Hefei and Baoding — now appear on the shortlist.

Half of the nominated projects in this year’s Bars and Restaurants category can be found in Greater China. Among them is Big Small, a 366-square-foot coffee shop and a guest house designed by the Beijing-based firm Office AIO. According to the company’s co-founder, Tim Kwan, the shortlist reflects changing attitudes toward design in China. “We noticed the drastic changes happening in the architectural and design landscape around the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics,” said Kwan, who co-founded Office AIO in 2012. “And we wanted to get ourselves involved in these opportunities.

“The market is becoming more sensitive to the idea and values of ‘design’ — both the clients and the public are now seeking innovation and uniqueness.”

China’s growing prominence at the awards is partly the result of organizers’ efforts to reach more corners of the world.

But it also reflects the changing interiors market, according to Paul Finch, program director at Inside World Festival of Interiors. “The Chinese architectural community is on a bit of a roll at the moment,” he said over the phone. “When we started, entries from China were more likely to come from international practices that happened to have been commissioned to do buildings in Shanghai, Beijing or Shenzhen.

“But that’s starting to change. The number of (local) Chinese practices has increased (and) Chinese architects are starting to find their own voice. On one hand, you have Chinese practices doing big shopping centers and commercial buildings like any commercial architect anywhere around the world,” he said. “On the other you have people like (Pritzker Architecture Prize-winner) Wang Shu saying that there’s an indiginous Chinese architectural language waiting to come out, that’s not a replica of historical styles but certainly owes quite a lot to them.”

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