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Soft City Project in Baitasi for Beijing Design Week 2016



Beijing Design Week 2016

September 23 – October 7

Baitasi ReMade

For Beijing Design Week 2016 Institute for Provocation in collaboration with Tectonicus and Max Gerthel Studio presents SOFT CITY, a project that opens up a discussion around critical and cross-over methodologies that can be characterised as "Soft".





Beijing is both hard and soft. It is marked by extensive physical infrastructure - ring roads, mega blocks, and institutional edifices, and yet it also supports a host of informal, nomadic, spontaneous systems. These include everything from mobile food carts, Weixin payment nodes, and migrant practices, to the atmospherics of air pollution and data collection. Nowhere is this more evident than in hutong areas such as Baitasi, where complex entanglements of historic infrastructure, social and cultural networks, and mobile technologies overlap with unexpected, often innovative results.

Drawing on contributors from a wide range of disciplines, the Soft City platform will explore how these various systems and practices can be mobilized to address the significant challenges and anxieties facing the contemporary city.

The Soft City platform will engage the public through a series of events and installations in the Baitasi neighbourhood during the Beijing Design Week. These will include: the Soft City Forum, a roundtable discussion exploring aspects of soft design in the city; the Soft City Exchange, a series of workshops, performances, community events, and a web presence, exploring new systems of knowledge and sharing; and the Octopus Pavilion, an interactive, inflatable structure, that will serve as the site of the forum and workshops, as well as a playful space for the visitors and residents of the neighbourhood.

Octopus Pavilion

The Octopus Pavilion provides an inviting, interactive open-air public space at the heart of the Baitasi neighbourhood and at the centre of the Beijing Design Week activities. This pavilion explores the concept of Soft City as embodied in an architectural canopy system, and is inspired by the dynamic, adaptive, and highly expressive characteristics of the octopus.

Octopuses, a relative of the mollusks, are soft in a literal sense they have no bones and can squeeze through openings far smaller than their body. And yet this softness goes beyond their physical pliability, encompassing an adaptive paradigm that integrates intelligence, behaviour, and morphology. Octopuses have the same number of neurons as a cat, and yet ⅔ of these are situated in the legs. Neurons are clustered directly with sensing organs and muscle cells, allowing highly distributed control over sucker articulation, skin coloration and texturing. Octopuses take advantage of this intelligent skin employing it in a wide range of adaptive behaviours, from camouflage, mimicry, misdirection, to mesmerization - the stratagem of a magician.

Using the analogy of an octopus, the pavilion highlights the characteristics of soft systems and intelligent skin. The pavilion will be made of an array of pneumatic cells that can inflate and deflate as well as glow with coloured light in response to activity in the site. Each cell will have its own sensors, microcontroller, fan and LED, allowing it to react independently, and yet, though the supple nature of the connecting material, an overall dynamic effect will be achieved. The pavilion will respond to both movement and sound, reacting to and mapping the unfolding events in the site. In this way, the pavilion will become the heart of Baitasi measuring the pulse of the neighbourhood.

Location: Baitasi, Gongmenkou Dong Cha, outside the old market

Design: Tectonicus, Max Gerthel Studio

Team: Jordan Kanter, Max Gerthel, Nicolas Walz, Amanda Schwarz

Technical support: K1ND

Supported by Baitasi Remade, Embassy of Sweden

Thanks to the 2nd year architecture students of Jiaotong University

Soft City Forum

The forum will bring together designers, artists, activists, IT-developers, scientists, anthropologists, local residents and change agents, to discuss the future of soft practices in Baitasi, Beijing, and cities throughout the world. These discussions will be in a round table format over the course of one day, and will be divided into two key topics:

Soft Space

In today’s cities, rampant housing prices coexist with empty office towers and new roads are built alongside defunct infrastructure. Spatial speculation takes place in the financial sector as well as among activists, artists and communities. This panel will present different approaches to space - public or private, indoor or outdoor - that challenge notions of ownership, authenticity and location.


Lard Buurman (NL) artist, photographer working in public space

Gustav Hellberg (SE) new media artist working with sensitive devices

曹璞 Cao Pu architect, musician, Archicao

荆晶 Jing Jing (CN/SE) architect, researcher

王恩来 Wang Enlai (CN) artist

Moderator: Max Gerthel (SE/CN) architect, designer, curator

Soft Systems

Infrastructure, both hard and soft, is increasingly inscribed into the planet, making new and uncertain affiliations with social, ecological and technological systems. This panel will consider the “softening” of infrastructure, exploring the manner in which it is transforming the experience of the city, and its potential to be mobilized to achieve a more flexible, equitable, and resilient urban fabric.

盛强 Sheng Qiang architect, urban planner, Beijing Jiaotong University

Hanna Husberg (FI/SE) artist, PhD fellow at Vienna Academy of Art

Neill Gaddes (NZ/CN) architect, SANS Practice/

Nicola Saladino (IT/CN) architect, reMIX Studio

李栋 Li Dong researcher, Emotional City

Victoria Nguyen (CA) anthropologist, PhD student at University of Chicago

Moderator: Jordan Kanter (US/CN) architect, researcher MAD Architects, Tectonicus

Soft Exchange


A series of workshops one-day workshops with artists and designers, exploring various aspects of the soft design.

Lard Buurman - People as Infrastructure, or the human posture in the built environment

A recurring theme in Lard Buurman’s photography is urban public space. This space is not only defined by buildings, architecture and infrastructure, but above all by the people who inhabit this space. He is interested first of all in these people; in their use of the city; in the functioning of public space; and in the (co-)habitation in an urban landscape.

The workshop by Lard Buurman during the BJDW2016, at the central square of Baitasi, will start with a short introduction of the history of street photography, linked to his research that has lead him to his own visual idiom. In his own words:

‘In my photographs I do not so much want to record the reality of the moment, but rather the everyday reality of the place. By combining images out of multiple ‘documentary’ photographs, a hybrid form -between documentary and staged photography- comes into existence. At the same time I play with the possibility of a crossing with cinematography

After the introduction the workshop continues on the streets of Baitasi to capture the area with a focus on the human posture, and ‘people as infrastructure’. In the afternoon we will discuss the results together and print out a selection for a small group-show on the central square.

The workshop is open to design professionals and photographers

Venue: Octopus Pavilion & The Global School in Baitasi Market

Address: Gongmenkou Dong Cha, Xicheng District

Time: October 5, 10 am to 4pm

Free of Charge

To register, send an a personal description to workshop [at]

Wang Enlai Workshop - Inflate Your Every Day

Chinese sculptor Wang Enlai makes sculptures out of disposable materials: Plastic bags, cardboard boxes and other packaging items. Through the use of micro-controllers, fans and mechanical parts he brings them to life in an engaging and fascinating way, evoking the sense of an organic systems despite the fossil nature of the materials used.

For this workshop taking place in the new Global School in Baitasi as well as outside in the neighbourhood, Wang Enlai will engage with a small group of participants, presenting his approach to creating art with everyday materials, fans and microcomputers, introducing basic Arduino scripting and building small units with activated parts.

The workshop is mainly for art, architecture and design professionals and students, but anyone is welcome to apply. To register, please send a brief description of yourself to

Venue: The Global School in Baitasi Market

Address: Gongmenkou Dong Cha, Xicheng District

Time: October 5, 10 am to 4pm

Participation fee: 300 yuan for electronic components and materials

To register, send an a personal description to workshop [at]


A series of events will be scheduled during Beijing Design Week, including informal socials, interactive performances, and screens of relevant movies, documentaries, or lectures.

Soft City is supported by:

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