Nearly a year old, the Macau Design Centre (MDC) was established to foster local talent and local brands and put “Made in Macao” on the global map.
Set up by the Macau Designers Association (MDA), it had its soft opening on 15th November 2014 in a previously deserted five-storey industrial building in the commercial area of Hac Sa Wan – Areia Preta in Portuguese – in the north of the city.
On the third and fourth floors are individual studios rented by 12 design companies, selected out of 45 who applied to lease space. They were attracted by rents that are just one third or a quarter of those in the commercial market. They work in animation, environment and industrial, product, visual and information design.
“This is a project for the creative industry community of Macao,” said James Chu, curator of MDC and chairman of the MDA. “I want to make Macao design more international by helping everyone to focus more on Macao designers.” The centre has been a long-term project of the MDA.
Chu was born, raised and educated in the city and was chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Art for All Society, a non-profit association he helped to launch in 2007; he was president for eight years.
The building, which houses the centre, is at 5 Travessa da Fábrica; it has been revitalised and transformed by the MDA, with the help of the Macao government. “The project received the support of the previous Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Cheong U,” said Chu. “The government advanced nine million patacas for the phase one renovation and the association advanced another three million to pay for two years of rent and staff salaries. The project still needs another two million patacas in order to complete phase two.”
The main directors and members of the MDA were closely involved in the renewal and redecoration of the building – Chu himself, Dirco Fong, Nelson Wong and Bruno Kuan. “We have been working for the association for many, many years,” Chu said. “We have a long history. MDA is 29 years old – it was founded on 18th May 1986. We are not the founders, but all have been working as volunteers for the association for ten to 20 years. We all think MDC is needed not by us, but by the newcomers, the younger generation.”
MDC – A breath of fresh air
The renovation is almost complete and is meant to be “a design experience”, from the bookstore, performance stage and shops that showcase local design brands to the café and reading space. The designers chose exposed concrete walls and ceilings, keeping its greyish cement tone. The ambience is similar to the mid-20th century design for low-cost housing, shopping centres and government buildings of the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. Vintage wooden furniture is the dominant style. When you enter the elevator, you find the levels identified by different colours.
The simplicity of the large, bare walls of the empty rooms contrasts pleasantly with the ostentatious and glittery decor popular in the casinos of Macao.
It is in this comforting and peaceful atmosphere that many events, workshops, exhibitions, concerts, training sessions and seminars have been organised since the opening. The first was “Tremendous Value of Illustration – The 3rd Greater China Illustration Awards Macau Roving Exhibition and Seminar.”
“This is our purpose. We want to share our resources and at the same time to develop different kinds of event and activity in cooperation with design companies,” said Zoe Sou, MDC’s administrative director. One condition for the tenants to have their rental agreements renewed each year, for a period of up to three years, is to participate in MDC activities.
“We expect tenants to maintain a close working partnership with MDC and participate in our activities,” said Sou. “In this half year of operation, we have already had several activities and tried to engage the tenants in our projects. In some exhibitions, we cooperate with the studios.”
Connecting designers and business partners
MDC aims to develop the design sector in Macao and expand the market in two ways. One is to help start-up businesses by offering affordable studios and all-round services at lower prices than those in the commercial market. Another is to put the MDA network and know-how at the disposal of the younger generation of designers. Such available assets have been built up during nearly 30 years and gained by organising big events such as the Macau Design Biennial. The centre brings together artists, design companies and corporations interested in their creations.
“We can work together with all designers who really want to take part,” said Chu. “We always try very hard to find different partners in order to provide more business and job opportunities.”
MDC also aims to act as a focal point for overseas companies interested in Macao and to match their interests with local talent.
Casinos and hotel resorts have expressed their willingness to promote and recognise local creative design and encourage active public participation in the city’s urban development. Chu gave the example of MDA and MDC working together with the private developer who is building the Macau Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Taipa, in organising a competition for the hotel’s conceptual exterior design.
“We are using this platform to connect different design companies with the big casinos and resorts and let them know that our network can help them create a win-win situation. I think all of them [casinos, hotel resorts and the government] are really willing to use local talent. The important thing is to let them know we can do this and help them to link up with each other.”
While Macao offers good job opportunities in the design sector, establishing a brand is still difficult. That will be one role of the new platform offered by MDC –to help launch local brands.
“Anything that relates to visual design is accepted by the market,” Chu said. “A designer will always get a job because the market itself is still very willing to spend money on design. Casinos have a lot of work opportunities in advertising, promotional activity and interior design, as do government departments and other big corporations like banks and CTM [the Telecommunications Company of Macau]. They all need this type of service.
“If you want to develop your own brand, though, I think that it is still very difficult in Macao, because the market for pure design products is very limited,” he said.
Moving out of Macao
Chu graduated in 1997 from the School of Arts of Macau Polytechnic Institute and worked for the government for many years; he had different responsibilities, including one as a curator of exhibitions. A designer and an artist, he knows very well the city’s cultural and creative scene.
“No matter how much government entities work to expand the cultural industries in Macao, their development is still slow. People say Macao is small and the population is small. No matter how much land we reclaim, nor how much the population might increase, it will always be small. No matter how the market develops, it will remain limited.”
He therefore suggests a change: “We should aim at something different – have our base in Macao and work outside… If this is the right direction, then the government policy should change in order to help us to develop our businesses outside, in Hengqin, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and the Pearl River Delta. We dream about it, especially in the cultural industries sector.”
Strategies to internationalise Macao’s designers are being discussed among MDA’s board of directors; it includes vice-chairman Manuel Correia da Silva, co-founder of Lines Lab – a company he launched with business partner, fashion designer Clara Brito.
Da Silva will undertake to establish the connection with the Portuguese-speaking countries and the Western world. But, before embarking on an overseas venture, the association wants to do more at home.
“In this first year of existence, we have chosen to work harder here in Macao. The association wants to bring in new members and we have renewed the association’s image,” he said.
Good place for creative people
In June 2014, when MDC invited design companies to apply for studios in the new centre, it received 45 applications in the first month. It chose 12 based on their business and development plans. The maximum lease is three years; an extension will be based on the tenants’ annual performance.
One of the most attractive features of MDC is the rent – seven patacas per square foot; this means monthly rents from 1,400 to 7,000 patacas, for studios that range in size from 200-1,000 square feet. The rent includes the management fee for design and decoration, lighting and air-conditioning, water, meeting rooms, reception, postal service, 24-hour public surveillance and security.
The tenants interviewed by Macao magazine appreciated the affordable rent, exceptional infrastructure and design features offered by MDC.
Da Silva said, “MDC provides the opportunity for the different studios here to interact and take advantage of the group synergy that can be generated by having different creative people working together and sharing the same building.”
Casber U, Creative Director of Neba Multimedia Studio, highlighted the advantage of a low rent for a company that is just starting up. “We had to move out of our previous studio. Then we saw the MDC announcement on the Internet. We applied and succeeded – that’s how we ended up here.”
He and his two business partners share a studio that costs only 2,500 patacas per month. He said that it was a very fair fee, a third or fourth of what they would have to pay in the market.
The multimedia designer, an expert in motion graphic design, also emphasised the architectural advantages and benefits of working in the same place as other designers. “We can discuss ideas. There is also a very nice rooftop, where we can plant tomatoes and cucumbers,” he said. These are plants they need to animate for the third animation movie they are working on.
Another tenant is Vincent Cheang Chi Tat, creative director of the fashion brand Worker Playground and also a musician and vocalist of L.A.V.Y rock band. He appreciates the chance to brainstorm with other designers to generate ideas and find creative solutions.
“We have so many different kinds of creative people here,” he said. “If I want to make a video, I can easily find a talented and professional advertisement film director. We can just knock on the door and start discussing ideas. I am sharing ideas with another fashion designer, Clara Brito. This is a convenient place for creative people. We have a very good family here.”
• Neba Studio Co. Ltd
A multimedia solution studio founded by Grace Wong, Casper U and Nico Liu which does 3D animation, motion and graphic design, projection mapping and backdrop projection.
• Craxh Multimedia Productions
Animation, broadcasting and media production, web design, videography and advertising by Marble Leong and Wallace Chan.
• Kathy.C Photography Ltd
Photographic services: commercial, advertising, fashion, food and beverage and portrait photography.
• Macaufacture Media Productions Ltd
Holographic Display Technology
• Hyle Design Macau
Product Design – Calvin Sio uses the Aristotelian concept of matter (hylé) to reshape wood waste from Chinese furniture factories. In this recycling process, the artist transforms sandalwood into rulers, notebooks, diaries and other office items. Sio, 23, studied industrial design in Taiwan and, when he returned to Macao, opened Hyle Design.
Contact: socialvideocam.com/tag/hyledesign https://www.facebook.com/hyledesignmacau
Cocoberryeight, set up by fashion designer Barbara Barreto Ian, focused initially on women’s wear; it became a resort brand. The brand offers handmade bikinis and luxury resort wear.
• Bottle Technology
Innovation, creativity and technology
• Loco Creative Works Ltd
Special and interior design, industrial and product packaging, branding & communication and 3D modelling & visualisation
• Worker Playground
A fashion brand, led by musician and vocalist Vincent Cheong of L.A.V.Y, a Macao rock band. The brand is known for its baseball jackets, biker pants and fashion androgynous garments for men and women. The brand is a tribute to the old Workers’ Stadium, a famous landmark that was razed to make way for the Grand Lisboa Casino.
• Novae Production House Co. Ltd
3D animation, motion and graphic design, commercial shooting, projection mapping, visual effect post-production and technical consulting
• City Furniture Designers Ltd
Fashion and product design by Manuel Correia da Silva and Clara Brito: Lines Lab is a contemporary brand committed to the concept that defines urban creation nowadays – objects, products, people and events.
• Leathership Creation Co. Ltd
Leathership Creation Co., Ltd creates tailor-made leather pieces with different characteristics and materials “to suit any customer’s or company’s needs”. It was established in 2012 by local leather aficionado Andrew Lo and his wife Angela Choi.
(Macao Magazine, by Cláudia Aranda in Macao, photos by Macau Design Centre and Cheong Kam Ka)