Visit the Asian Design scene here at ASIANLINE. We hope to include feeds and blogs from friends throughout this important region. Please send us your news and views to asianline @ sparkawards. com.

A Note From Hong Kong: Dateline January, 2012
I like this town. If you’ve been there, I know you do too. And its dumplings!

And since 2008, we’ve witnessed some of the growth Edmund describes below. It’s real and valuable. Every world-class city needs its Design Centre!

ED Message_Eng-01

SHA-Town: A visit to Shanghai & Cumulus: Dateline September, 2010

After over 35 hours in transit (don’t ask), things looked a little Brechtian…

Tongji University improved the view & mood

AC was off, but hero kids still at it. Caliente!

Dutch had right idea, a big pile of Delft!

Details, details, as we begin the first of many many taxi rides betwixt & between venues

Oh Ye, who seek multi-modal transit solutions, visit the reality

So enough already. More on the morrow. Hope somebody out there enjoyed!


Next Big Thing(s): Dateline, April, 2010

Just back from our Spring visit to Asia. In summation– well worth this expansive 15-day visit to China. A fascinating aspect about the design scene in China is the intense competition between the big cities. They are all rapidly building infrastructure, schools and awareness about the potential of design. It’s an “unbuilt” environment getting built really fast. It makes for a giddy whirlwind of priorities, pressure and planning and it is great fun to be in the fray, fashioning a small part for Spark. If everything goes to plan (unlikely)– we’ll have a September exhibition in Shanghai, October SparkAwards in San Francisco, November’s Beijing Design Week activities and in December we send the 2010 Spark Exhibition and Celebration to Guangzhou Design Week.

Interior shot, Terminal 3, third largest bldg in the world

Spark started in Beijing (BJ), landing amidst the annual Spring sandstorms.
Streaming down from the Gobi Desert, they are not nice. I spent two of 4 days cooped up in Gehua Hotel, although truthfully, I needed the time to write proposals. We’ve been asked to help with programming for a national design event.

Where’s a taxi when you need one?

Mickey D Delivers!
Practice Time
Lots of lux in BJ

So the only touristy stuff we had time for was an exquisite meal of (what else!) Peking Duck at the famous Da Dong restaurant. Truly up to its billing (thank you Anthony Bourdain). Our Spark winner and good friend, Joaquin Huang shared this good time.  He graduated GAFA and jumped right to Nokia/Beijing.
Bright fellow! I also visited and lunched at the lovely Opposite House Hotel near Dong Yue Miao.

This property was created by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, whose exterior “stuns with an emerald green glass overlay.”
Well, it was pretty nice, and the food was great in their courtyard cafe… and over the courtyard door was an admonition writ in stone,
suggesting we all nurture our inner Spark. I’d have to agree!

On the road to old Nanyuan airport, I spotted a monster lumbering through the dusty landscape. Truly awesome, the CCTV building by OMA is felt rather than seen.

At the airport I attracted a fellow’s attention as I scribbled notes in my journal. He was soon joined by a second fellow, then a third, and so on, until we had a crowd of 25+.

No one spoke English, nor I Chinese, but it is one of my most treasured travel moments.
The hour went by quickly, then we waved goodby through the dusky sand storm and buckled up.

Next stop– Guangzhou (GZ), in the Pearl River Delta, China’s vast manufacturing center. It is also the base of SparkChina, our cooperation to promote SparkPro competition entries, Our friends at CitiExpo and in the GZ government made us very welcome indeed, with proposals of deepening our involvement and bringing more elements of Spark to the region and country. We also spent quality time with Prof. Tong and Asst Prof. Haishan Deng of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts– they are good friends and offer wonderful insight about Chinese design and designers.

University Island, home to 120,000 students & 10 colleges

This morning I’m looking out at bare brown fields of rubble from the 26th floor of our ultra-modern Shanghai Holiday Inn Express.  The hotel is somewhat near downtown, next to the train station, and all but surrounded by construction debris. Jackhammers rattle day and night (hence the 26th floor!) and residents struggle to stay cheery– through slightly strained smiles they predict all will be finished in one month, in time for the World Expo. They’ve been under this duress for over a year, and their relief is at last at hand. Interestingly– ALL construction does stop May 1, for six months, during the World Expo. Better get cracking, boys!

So, best be getting on with the day– first another proposal for BJ, another for GZ, then meetings with some great Shanghai design resources: Cathy Huang and Rudy Muller at CBI and Parson Ge at PG Design & Branding. Tomorrow we are off with Prof. Jan Von Holstein to visit Vice Dean Lou Yongqi at the brand new College of Design & Innovation at Tongji University. Jan sits on the Board and teaches at this interesting school, the creation of a stellar international academic committee. We also stopped for a chat with friends at Autodesk and a tour of their new campus in Pudong.

Then on to Hong Kong, for more rounds of research, friendship, Design and probably, sigh, proposals. This is shaping up into an exciting year for Spark’s international programs, with prizes, awards shows, exhibitions and much more. Best!

December, 2009

So– Where’ve you been, Sparks?

Good question! Sparking, of course. After the incredible climax of the Spark Judging and Awards Celebration, we dug into the complex process of awards trophy and certificate production. Essentially this is all hand-work, with something unique for all 350+ finalists and winners.

But adding to the fun was the production of the Sparks Over China Exhibition and mini conference for early December. Here’s the story:

Mid-November, we pulled together the Spark assets– hi-res images or real pieces, for air shipment to China. Plus every conceivable media from mug-shots of the winners to videos, documentation, etc.

This went into the able hands of our CitiExpo partner in China, Ready Zhang  and our great task-ms-tress, Mabel Mai, who got the job done. We flew out on the 29th– first to fulfill our happy duties to the Global Design Network in Hong Kong.

 We love this city.

Part of the giant Business of Design Week, one of our favorite design expos and HIGHLY recommended. Here’s Victor Lo, major player in the GDN and BODW and able event director Amy Chow.

Fellow delegates included good friend  Julia Chiu, of Japan’s Good Design Awards (and soon President of ICOGRADA).

We were happy to see our Asia-mentor and pal, Geoff Fitzpatrick, head of the Australian Design Institute.

And Kigge Hvid,  CEO of kindred-spirit aspirational INDEX Awards told us about new INDEX efforts to incubate good design.

Then– a quick train  zip to the even-gianter
Guangzhou Design Fair, for some real Sparkn’ Chinese-style!

I love this slide!

 This delegate-stuff is not easy. One is kept busy from 830am to 11pm, in a constant whirl of meeting politicians, dignitaries, banquets, award-shows (we handed out trophies at 4 of them–gadzooks), TV interviews,   (Here’s David Grossman explaining the work of the Israel Design Works), magazine interviews, speeches and jury-duty for the Kapok award.

Press conferences are fun too. I had a nice view–
of the Mayor’s welcoming speech, followed by the delightful custom of loud explosions of confetti (the cleaners LOVE this I’ll bet)

Our Spark mini-conference went very well. After the PK pitch (with excellent translation by Ding Zhong), Professor Tong, President of Design at the Gungzhou Academy of Arts, related his tale of journeying to America, visiting many of the top design schools and judging Spark. Great stuff.

Also Asst. Prof and 2008 Spark winner Haishan Deng (on the left) spoke about the experience of Sparking, and why more Chinese designers should be entering competitions.

Then we handed out Finalist Certificates. These folks were SO happy!

Finalist Jieping Huang,  Department of Industrial Design, School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering, SCUT

Ah but BEST of all was our exhibition of Sparks. All of ‘em, from the last three years. Quite an accomplishment to get everything together–especially 09– in such a short time. We were so proud to see this great work being honored in China.

The work was in display cases or mounted on silk panels by students from GAFA, working with the Citiexpo team. Just beautiful. Great job.

Here’s a great group we’ve grown accustomed to: Jan von Holstein, and next to me Prof. Tong and Johan Adam Linneballe. Friends for life (count David Grossman in here, too).

It was a fine experience. We’ll be back soon, to march out the Spark exhibition and story to the other great cities of China and Korea.

So it went, so it goes. Blowing in the wind.

Re-zipping  back to Hong Kong, the wind at our back
we found a nice view out our window  and time for some deep thinking about our friendships and progress in this exciting land. Without getting too blogged-down, I think much is done for peace and cooperation–and progress and freedom– in weeks like this. So maybe we should all just get out there more, and meet people and make plans and just DO It. Because you can. And it helps. And you’ll get rich– inside.

The wrap-up. What a finale to this visit. (Actually, ALSO a nice start for the Asian Games) Thanks for the Sparks, China!


The End of the Beginning.



The Business of Design Week in Hong Kong ( took place in early December and Spark was back for the 2008 show. As always, this was an exciting time, meeting our old friends and making new ones. This year, we became a partner organization of the Hong Kong Design Association, and recently Spark was invited to join the Global Design Network, based in Hong Kong. So we had many things to do!

We especially enjoyed meeting the Spark entrants who are also in town for the event, including Haishen Deng from Guangzhou, and Brian Lau, Prof. Frankie Ng and Prof. Michael Siu from HK Polytechnic.

Top speakers at the Forum include Rem Koolhaas, Ben van Berkel and Marcel Wanders. They are also representing the event’s Partner Country, Holland, which hosted a large exhibition pavilion in Hall 2.

Designed by the architecture firm Skidmore Owings and Merrill.
Here’s our scrapbook of memories from this year!


Welcome to Hong Kong!  Food Fun!
The Opening Ceremony for BODW

Humble but Effective Spark Display

Geoff Fitzpatrick, Director of Design Institute of Australia–and friend

The HKDC Awards Show

Boy Wonders!                                                 Amy Chow, HK Design Center & Frederico Caravaggi, Domus Academy

Victor Lo, Chair of the HK Design Centre and our gracious host

Speaking at the BODW Conference, Hou Hanru, Director, San Francisco Art Institute

The audience went wild!
Claire Hsu, Asia Art Archive

Rem Koolhaus and his courageous call for cooler visions

That’s All Folks–See you next year–And Thanks, Hong Kong!



Flying high above the Rocky Mountains. Down below, Colorado is getting it’s first dustings of snow and the high peaks look cold and beautiful in the setting sun. We’re snug and warm in this seat on a big Boeing, admiring a copy of Design 360 Magazine.

This is our first look at the publication, although several designer friends have recommended it to us. We have to confess a secret, special interest in magazines… our first job after university was starting a small press mag. We love the Print Media. Before starting the Spark Competitions we were on staff or management of both newspapers and magazines. In the process we met most of the top publication designers and editors—our working heroes.

First impressions: Design 360 just feels good. Its size is like National Geographic, but thicker. It is handy and natural—perfect for reading in a relaxing hot tub! But don’t get it wet—this magazine is a “keeper” that you’ll want to archive and read again. It also has a wonderful, diagonal cut on the right side—i.e., the second page is a little wider than the first, and so on, through all 250+ pages. So you have a slanted edge for your thumb to rest, while you flex the book and page through the features. A wonderful idea and—why didn’t we think of that! A new, perfectly functional feature in the old business of magazine publishing. That’s good design.

Vivi Zhou, Executive Editor, and Shaoqiang Wang, Executive Director

Writing about Design is of course what this magazine is really all about. It has an omnibus, international approach, apolitical and universal. But we were happy to find a clear window on Asian design and especially Chinese designers. This is appropriate and welcome, since there are many great design talents that are relatively unknown in the West, and they should be more widely promoted.

We won’t describe the content in detail, except to say that the features and reports are well-observed, interesting and beautifully illustrated on expensive, coated paper stock—often in full color. Oh yes, the art direction and overall design are quite fine. 360 utilizes very readable fonts, interesting chapter logos and continuing design motifs, and is laid out in such a manner as to minimize the inherent clumsiness of bi-lingual text. This is a difficult feat—many publications don’t manage this problem as well.

Is there anything to improve here? Not much. Perhaps better Chinese to English translation. One generally knows what is intended by the author. Nevertheless, some of the diction is garbled and it could be better. Translation is a difficult task—we’re glad Spark doesn’t do this—yet.

The reader can easily see that this magazine is what we call a labor of love. Talented writers and designers have spent a great deal of time and energy to create this—a most distinguished publication.

So, our “bottom line”—we wish we had found this magazine right from its launch. But we won’t miss any of the first 11, because this high flight takes us to China—and we’re going to grab all the back-issue Design 360’s we can find.

(Hard to find in the States, Design 360 is a window on a very important world of design… If you’re interested, hit their website or email Spark’s and we’ll help find you a copy or subscription.)




Post-Fukushima Disaster– Harrowing and heroic stories are reaching us from our Spark friends in Asia. We’ve posted several below. The first two are from Leimei Julia Chiu. Julia is the Executive Director of Japan’s Good Design Awards, and President of the ICOGRADA organization.

I hope you and your loved ones are well.  Please—when it is convenient—send Spark an update on the Japanese design community and the latest efforts regarding the calamities.

Hello Peter and the Spark Community—

At times like this, one can not help feel very different perspectives about how we can reposition design so that the profession can really be of service to the weak, the poor and those in need.

It will be a long-term commitment and we will need to learn how to combine and share our expertise.

We really need to bring people from different disciplines to start thinking about how we could work together- to help communities rebuild their lives at transitional shelters and afterward.

We will need everyone to help with this huge task.

At JIDPO, we have shifted all our projects towards how design can help with community-rebuilding in the northeastern areas.

Please see: “How can designers support relief efforts in Japan?”

I am contacting major design awards from around the world to collect good case studies/products/services/systems that could be of use to the reconstruction efforts.

INDEX (Copenhagen), Design Forum Finland (Helsinki) will be working with us for this project as part of the collaboration and AIGA (U.S.A.) has been helping with this effort. Both are promoting design/architecture in all disciplines.

Israel Community of Designers has created a facebook page which permits designers to express solidarity:

Another idea is as follows:
I will be working with Niigata Prefecture which has also experienced an earthquake several years back. The government has a project to integrate craft industries, manufacturers and designers to develop new products each year.
Here’s the website:

This year, I will be the design manager to direct this initiative and I am thinking of setting the theme as follows: How can we design products and systems for a better living environment, where people have been displaced, and are trying to reorient themselves to build a new life from scratch?

We need ideas. The companies in Niigata will realize these ideas into real products/systems after one year.

with warmest regards

deepest gratitude from julia/ tokyo, japan

Dear everyone–
Thank you so much for all the encouragement and offer to help the design communities in Japan.

I am deeply, deeply touched and will try to answer all your messages individually.

I will stay put in Tokyo for now and try to work out some plans for how design associations in Japan can help with the long term reconstruction efforts in the areas heavily hit by the earthquake/Tsunami.

We will probably need support from the international design community. I will keep you updated as we progress with the planning.

We are having rolling blackouts in Tokyo area to cope with the energy shortage so it might take me some time to respond.

with warmest thoughts and a big, big hug from Tokyo

And we have this reflective note from teacher, reporter, Reverend and friend Jaime, currently across the Sea of Japan in Northern China

Jaime R. Vergara
Special to the Saipan Tribune

Channel NewsAsia out of Singapore, along with CCTV 9 of Beijing, is following the unfolding crisis in Japan after the 9. Richter scale tremor, the strongest quake ever to shake the nation, and the subsequent tsunami that sent 10-meter-high waves 10 kilometers inland in Honshu, leaving the tarmac of the Sendai International Airport underwater, a local hospital still standing as the only refuge for some 300 persons in an area of collapsed structures, and 10,000 people from one village still remaining unaccounted for. The predictable aftershocks add damage and discomfort, but it is the threat of the nuclear meltdown of six reactors that is sending chills down everyone’s spine.

Not unlike humankind’s previous relationship to “flat earth,” which we now know to be spherical, and calling the experience of sundown as “sunset” when the earth actually turns, we never really consider land mass as floating tectonic plates on magma, but to appreciate how strong the earthquake in Japan was, the whole archipelago moved by a couple of meters and the axis of the planet itself shifted by a few centimeters!

Zen Japan is showing a remarkable face of solid calmness. News reports portray a nation intentionally going through the motions of a rehearsed drill in the midst of the surprising destruction that trails the wake of this disaster. The vaunted train system, one of the most sophisticated rails in the world that connects Kagoshima in south Kyushu to Wakkanai of north Hokkaido, shut down momentarily, along with its metro systems, at least in the urban centers of Honshu. Undaunted, people bought bicycles and pedaled home, while some just trudged and walked in the cold.

In 2002, we took a week-long retreat in late January before the cherry blossoms, taking the train from Narita to Sapporo in Hokkaido on the eastern corridor through Sendai, and returning on the western route through Akita and Niigata to West Tokyo. The cultivated and manicured countryside was a scene to behold, the tidiness of the trains and orderliness of its people a welcome respite from the hustle of crowd and mass humanity.

Although signs of juvenile vandalism-mainly graffiti-were evident in metro structures, the orderly Japan of our previous acquaintance, of nature both physical and societal disciplined into the level of art on terrain and population, was still very much and unmistakably alive! Majestic Mt. Fuji reigned as Hokusai’s rowers navigate the towering waves off Kanagawa in my sea of tranquility!

It is with deep appreciation that I recall that solitary week almost a decade ago, but as I watch today the deluge of painful unraveling that characterizes the Land of the Rising Sun, only the sound of silence is appropriate to express our profound sorrow of the innocent suffering unleashed.

A people’s tragedy, however, has awakened humanity’s empathy. Though its economy is one where its GNP far exceeds its GDP, showing barely any economic growth though ascending into international eminence, it has shown an economic arrangement where the concern for humanness matters. Japan projected a country with a human face.

Its virtues of simple elegance in cuisine and decor, lifestyle and landscape, custom and technology, its thrust toward moderation on all things in its post-WWII demeanor, has endeared it in many parts of the world; though it was saddled with the cruel memories of militarism, it also lived through the mushroom cloud brunt of Little Boy and Fat Man over the skies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The nation took this nuclear kamikaze and domesticated it for peaceful use. Now, the ice and the fire, the heat and the water, Mother Nature’s yin-yang elemental force comes calling on Nippon’s door again.

Presbyter and poet Ellie Stock wrote the following not too long ago:

What do I call what calls from the deeps,
that pulses through stars and quickens heart’s beat,
that surges through waves and cleanses with fire,
emerges from dust and breathes soul’s desire?
What do I name what mocks human pride,
that bends the tree of life, sustaining being’s tide?

It is with Zen calmness that we join Japan and the rest of the world in daring to give a name to that which emerges from the deeps, whether from the bowels of the earth, or from the deep abyss of the battered human soul.

The world joins that call of the deep as its K9s head for Tokyo to locate survivors. There is solidarity afoot in a world already grieved by the Gaddafis and the Tehrar Squares. But the ebb and flow of global reconciliation fills the air, and I, in my archaic season of Lent, smell the scent of transformation, in faith, hope and love. With T.S. Elliot and Zen calmness, I sing:

Quick now, here, now, always-
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well…