(Continued from World Design Congress 2009: Day three. Written at the time, last October.)
798 Art District was arguably the first creative cluster in Beijing, and with M50 in Shanghai, perhaps the most well-known in China. For someone who studies and works with creative clusters, then, it was a near-essential visit. I was in town for the 2009 World Design Congress, whose venue at the College of Fine Arts was well-placed for a quick excursion to 798, via a now customary taxi ride.
Dashanzi is on one of the main arteries from the centre of Beijing out to the airport, so it’s being eyed hungrily by developers. Pulling up outside the gates to 798, it doesn’t look like much, with nondescript apartment blocks lining either side of the large highways that dominate the city.
798 itself is a vast factory site converted into ‘art zone’, so-named as it was 798 Factory (part of Joint Factory 718), which constructed military wireless equipment originally (and I believe the full, non-numeric name was Beijing North China Wireless Joint Equipment Factory). It’s an officially designated creative cluster, and has a fascinating past—and future. (There’s a good general history of 798 at Wikipedia)
(Acoustic side-note: The factory produced the loudspeakers for Tian’anmen Square and Chang’an Avenue, as well as the Beijing Workers’ Stadium and Great Hall of the People. The mechanism for the official sound of China was produced right here.)