"Glimmer of hope" as studios in China reopen after coronavirus shutdown

"Glimmer of hope" as studios in China reopen after coronavirus shutdown

As China recorded its first day with no new coronavirus cases, architecture and design studios in the country have said they are gradually returning to normality.

"It's a tough and challenging time, however, our colleagues in Hong Kong are back in the office and our stores in Hangzhou and Hong Kong have reopened," said London-based designer Tom Dixon.

"This news has provided us here with a small glimmer of hope that our collective problems have an end and this difficult moment has a time limit."

"The condition in China is improving quickly, a positive sign that Europe and other parts of world can get through it too," said Zhexu Du, architect at the Shanghai office of David Chipperfield.

"The market is slowly picking up again in China"

China's strict quarantine measures, enforced following its coronavirus outbreak, are now being relaxed.

All but two of the 1,119 highway entrances and exits that were closed during the outbreak have reopened, and the temporary coronavirus hospitals that China quickly constructed in response to the outbreak are being closed.

"In Shanghai, the city is gradually back to its normal pace, shops have reopened, and traffic gets jammed again," Chinese designer Chen Min, founder of Chen Min Office, told Dezeen.

"The situation in Hubei province is still serious and under lockdown but everywhere else we are seeing restaurants, bars, and events opening," said Alex Mok, co-founder of Shanghai interior design studio Linehouse.

Carolyn Leung, Ben de Lange and Ruben Bergambagt, co-founders of Beijing studio Superimpose Architecture, told Dezeen they were cautiously optimistic.

"This is difficult to say and to predict, but we feel that the market is slowly picking up again in China," they said.

"In general, everybody is extremely cautious and careful, and this will take a while to disappear. There is an urge for the market to resume back to its normal state as soon as possible."

David Basulto, founder and editor-in-chief of website ArchDaily, explained how the situation had improved at its office in China.

"We're learning a lot from the China situation," he said. "Our office there went through this since January. Now they are getting back to normal, which in a way gives me perspective to understand that it's like a wave."

"Our industry got halted because of the cancellation of all the shows," he continued. "Everyone is still at their home office until 24 March but now shops are opening, people are going back to work."

"We are all now back together"

Many in the architecture and design industry are now back working in their offices, after weeks of working remotely, but have adopted extra safety precautions.

Linehouse staff worked from home for three weeks, but are now back in the office.

"Extremely tight restrictions were put in place and it took a long time for our office to be allowed to reopen by the government," said Mok.

"We are all now back together and it's definitely something you take for granted on a daily basis."

Staff at David Chipperfield's Shanghai office worked from home for two weeks immediately following the extended Chinese New Year holiday, but Du said they are now back at the office.

"As the condition got better and better in Shanghai, all of us came back to office to work on 24 February," he said.

"But still, all travel plans and office visits are cancelled, and temperatures taken before each staff enter the office."

"The virus enabled a sense of social (online) bonding"

Some designers said that the period of lockdown and remote working helped instil a sense of solidarity among staff.

Superimpose Architecture worked from home throughout February, before returning to the office in early March.

According to the founders, the atmosphere in China now is "calm, organised and creative" and the outbreak had the positive impact of developing a sense of community.

"The virus enabled a sense of social (online) bonding because everyone is in the same situation," said Leung, De Lange and Bergambagt.

Frank Chou, founder of Frank Chou Design Studio, agreed: "The outbreak has caused the all-round effects on people's daily life, as well as a dramatic change in the atmosphere," he said.

"People went from panic to firmness."

"Our plan for 2020 is completely messed up"

However, despite the recent improvements in China, many designers warned that the impact on their businesses caused by the pandemic were already severe.

"People can't wait to get back to normal again, but the reality seems worse than we thought," said designer Min.

"Even though the virus is under control, its profound impact to economy and politics is yet to come," he continued.

"The plan we made at the end of last year for 2020 is completely messed up. Exhibitions and joint events are mostly postponed or cancelled."

Many designers said that although things in China were looking up, they were still facing huge challenges as Europe goes into lockdown.

"[People] gradually try to return to their normal pace of life," said Chou. "And now [they are] concerned and worried about the development of the epidemic overseas."

"We will be able to live without fear of catching the virus, but I don't see us returning to our transient lives anytime soon," said Mok.

"I think the numbers in China will decrease significantly in the next two weeks to the point where it is isolated cases, but we still face the challenge of when and how to open borders and allow free movement."

"Production plans are severely postponed, especially for our European clients, because now the factories in China start to come back to normal, but the ones in Europe are all shut down for a while," said Min.

"We thought if we had controlled it in China, the whole thing can probably be over when summer arrives. But now since it's nearly everywhere in the world, I don't think it's going to end soon."

He added: "We still keep optimistic, although everybody knows it's a tough year, probably the toughest ever for most of us."

Designers are responding to the coronavirus outbreak in many positive ways. Some graphic designers are creating informative illustrations to circulate helpful advice, while an Italian additive manufacturing start-up has 3D printed medical valves and experience designer Bompas & Parr has launched a design competition to rethink hand sanitisers while raising money for charity.

Photography is by Pixabay.