Modu Magazine: A Tale of Urban China

“Social Design: Learning at Play” – People’s Architecture Office Exhibition

“Social Design: Learning at Play” is a new exhibition by People’s Architecture Office (PAO) at Design Society in Shenzhen. Curated by People’s Works, the show features 10 years of work by the studio and showcases how design with a playful attitude can have real social impact.

When trying to create change we often face challenges, we may feel as if nothing can move forward, as if we’re hitting a wall, especially if we are trying to address social problems. There are systems, procedures, relationships, means, time and an endless list of difficulties to deal with. However, if we face all this with a playful attitude, possibility emerges.

Through seeking ways to address social issues PAO has developed a methodology of design founded on the concept of ‘play’, focussing on actions such ‘Trial & Error’, ‘Catalysing’, ‘Tinkering’ and ‘Involving’. In short, ‘Trial & Error’ is about learning through failure; ‘Tinkering’ is working with what is readily available; ‘Catalysing’ promotes social interaction and ‘Involving’ allows people to participate in and with design. These actions have given shape to PAO’s practice over the years, resulting in a body of work that empowers its users to explore, learn, contribute, and impact.

The exhibition not only shows key projects from PAO’s practice but also includes interactive models that allow visitors to experience the methodology hands on. Additionally, a special section in the show is dedicated to the ‘People’s Design Workshop’ a designated space from where kids workshops will be hosted in collaboration with ‘More than Architect’ utilising PAO’s brand new ‘Plugin Learning Loft’, a prototype in development for early childhood education. The workshops allow participants an even more direct experience of play in design.

Through the projects, buildings and events presented, a proposition emerges to give shape to the city as an innovative learning environment. An urban landscape stimulating a cohesive society full of playfully creative citizens and learners, perpetually inventing new prospects for their communities, for themselves, and for each of us.



Social Design: Learning at Play


November 23, 2019 to February 23, 2020

Featured Designer:

People’s Architecture Office


People’s Works


Design Society, PAO


Sea World Culture and Arts Center, 1187 Wanghai Road, Shekou, Nanshan, Shenzhen, China

Supported by:

Leping Social Entrepreneurship Foundation, Narada Foundation, Qian Yuan, Heights Properties Co., Ltd., Future Plus Academy

About People’s Works:

People’s Works is PAO’s arm for research and social design innovation. Its focus is on ideas with potential for scaling positive social impact. People’s Works is housed within People’s Architecture Office and conducts applied research that is self-initiated and funded independently from client based consulting projects. It is a space that sustains opened ended exploration, experimentation, and long term iterative work required for engaging in the most complex social issues.

About People’s Architecture Office:

People’s Architecture Office (PAO) is an international practice with offices based in Beijing, China and Boston, USA. Founded in 2010 by James Shen, He Zhe, and Zang Feng, the firm is a multi-disciplinary studio focused on social impact through design particularly in the the areas of housing, urban regeneration, innovative learning environments, and creative workspace design. People’s Architecture Office is the first architecture firm certified as a B-Corporation in Asia and serves as a model social enterprise. Domus named PAO as one of the world’s best architecture firms of 2019 and Fast Company listed PAO as one of the world’s ten most innovative architecture companies in 2018. The studio’s award-winning works have been exhibited at the Venice Architecture Biennale, Harvard Graduate School of Design and the London Design Museum.

About Design Society:

Merchants Shekou (CMSK), a company engaged in comprehensive urban development under the 145-year-old China Merchants Group. As a creative platform, Design Society has already built an extensive network of partners, contributors and supporters from China and around the world, across academia, business, governmental affairs and education, as well as through collaborations with major museums, residential programmes and archival institutions. With the advice of industry experts, the growth of this network demonstrates the overlapping creative practices – closely bound to society and industry – vital to the sustainability of Design Society. An extensive membership programme offers exclusive industry opportunities and career acceleration activities, elevating Design Society as a leading resource on both a local and international scale.

  • 2019/11/23 - 2020/02/23

  • Shenzhen

  • Design Society, PAO