X-TIGI S18 power bank phone—a so-called dumsor phone—manufactured ca. 2015. Photos: Jason Lau

M+ and Design Trust are pleased to announce that Jason Lau and the team of Farzin Lotfi-Jam and Mark Wasiuta are the recipients of the M+ / Design Trust Research Fellowship 2020. The fellowship supports original research projects that investigate issues relating to design and architecture in Hong Kong, the Greater Bay Area, and Asia through a transnational lens, aligned with the curatorial interests and activities of M+. Lau’s research will focus on ‘alternative’ designs of mobile phones originating in Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area, and Lotfi-Jam and Wasiuta will investigate computational urbanism in Southeast Asia.

Jason Lau, a New York–based Hong Kong scholar of design anthropology, will examine the design and impact of China-made mobile phones. With the intention to explore designs that propose alternative models to global conventions, he will focus on selected case studies, including the so-called dumsor phone—a mobile phone designed by a Hong Kong company and manufactured in Shenzhen that has found particular success as an export to Ghana. Lau’s research will consider how Chinese designers use limitations as strategies, how the binary of mainstream and alternative can be redefined, and how unconventional designs can gain global influence.

Farzin Lotfi-Jam and Mark Wasiuta, of the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) in New York, will investigate the intensifying urban development pressures in Southeast Asia, with a focus on computational and data-driven planning. Increased reliance on technology has fundamentally changed the way in which urban planning is carried out, and this tendency is often positioned as a way for developing cities to skirt traditional planning and move effortlessly into a computationally organised future. By studying selected cities across Southeast Asia, Lotfi-Jam and Wasiuta will explore the deep implications of computational development and ‘smart’ urban futures for the region.

About Jason Lau
Jason Lau is a fellow and PhD candidate in anthropology at the New School for Social Research in New York. His research focuses on innovations in China, with particular attention on mobile phone design. He previously taught at Parsons School of Design and has conducted extensive research across China, including in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. His 2013–2018 study on the paradoxical relationship between innovation and the long-standing practice of imitation in China led him to define the term ‘Chinese alternative design’. He holds an MPhil in comparative literature from the University of Hong Kong and a Master of Arts degree and an MPhil in cultural anthropology from the New School for Social Research. 

About Farzin Lotfi-Jam and Mark Wasiuta
Farzin Lotfi-Jam is director of Farzin Farzin, a multidisciplinary studio that designs spaces, software, and media, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Architecture at GSAPP. His research investigates how architecture and cities are transformed by digital technologies and their attendant power relations, looking at scales from the corporeal to the planetary. His work has been exhibited at Storefront for Art and Architecture, MAXXI, the Oslo Architecture Triennale, the Istanbul Design Biennial, the Venice Architecture Biennale, and elsewhere.

Mark Wasiuta is a Lecturer in Architecture and the Co-director of the Critical, Curatorial, and Conceptual Practices in Architecture programme at GSAPP. He is the recipient of recent grants from the Asian Cultural Council, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Graham Foundation, where he is currently an inaugural Graham Foundation Fellow. His research exhibition practice focuses on archives and under-examined projects of the post-war period.

About M+
M+ is a museum dedicated to collecting, exhibiting, and interpreting visual art, design and architecture, moving image, and Hong Kong visual culture of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, we are building one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary visual culture in the world, with a bold ambition to establish ourselves as one of the world’s leading cultural institutions. Our aim is to create a new kind of museum that reflects our unique time and place, a museum that builds on Hong Kong’s historic balance of the local and the international to define a distinctive and innovative voice for Asia’s twenty-first century.

About the West Kowloon Cultural District
Located on Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, the West Kowloon Cultural District is one of the largest cultural projects in the world. Its vision is to create a vibrant new cultural quarter for Hong Kong. With a complex of theatres, performance spaces, and museums, the West Kowloon Cultural District will produce and host world-class exhibitions, performances, and cultural events, as well as provide twenty-three hectares of public open space, including a two-kilometre waterfront promenade.

About Design Trust

Design Trust was established in 2014 by Hong Kong Ambassadors of Design, a registered charity in Hong Kong since 2007, as a grant-funding platform. Design Trust supports creative projects that develop expertise and build research initiatives and content related to Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area. Working across a multiplicity of design disciplines, from graphics, media, and architecture to the built environment, Design Trust aims to actively accelerate creative research, design, and the development of meaningful projects that advocate for the positive role of design.