I remember drawing up epic space battles long before I acquired the skills to narrate in writing. Drawing was always the most natural way for me to communicate, and I guess I wanted to be a ‘designer’ as soon as I realized that was a viable profession.
OFGA was founded as an outlet for my partner and I to engage in the quest for something good. I’ve come from a background of large-scale commercial projects, and looking back at my professional career before OFGA, the experience that I was most proud of are moments when I truly felt that design connected people and gave people new ways of experiencing life. Design is our vehicle.
To me, when I think of Design I always first think of the verb. To “design” is a process. A process of articulation, of problem-solving, of understanding, and ultimately of giving that new understanding a form. A good process is dynamic, able to be responsive to the context of its creation.
Rather than a favorite type of projects, what I think is more critical to the success of the project, and therefore by extension, my enjoyment of the work, is to have a considered design process. In my experience, this has to be protected by a realistic understanding of the ambition, duration, and cost of the work.
My first design was a glass awning for the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. It was during my first internship with Kohn Pederson and Fox. The hospital was undergoing a major renovation, and for energy considerations, wanted patrons to use the revolving doors to either side of the main entrance. I proposed a scheme that featured a T-shape structure. The awning would be on axis and therefore complementary to the existing tri-parti facade, whilst encouraging patrons to walk on either side of the column, and hence heading naturally towards the revolving doors.
I love working with cement or more specifically cement base materials such as terrazzo, self-leveling floors, GRP, GRC. Archicad is a great documentation platform that integrates well with some of the other software that we use for design investigation, such as sketch for modular design and rhino for complex surfaces.
There is always the excitement but also a healthy dose of trepidation. When you come face to face with your creation, it is at that moment that you really put down your pencil, and your child is released into the world.
My first question is whether or not the design communicates an opinion about the subject. Then I consider the execution of the opinion, and whether or not the opinion sparks something new for the subject matter. For example, let's consider the design of fine china for creme brûlée. The opinion could be an ideal ratio of custard to crust, and its execution in the depth to perimeter ratio of the cups design. The most interesting projects often postulate a different approach to the subject and thereby gives the subject a new lease of life.
Designers are often a small piece of a much larger machine at work. It is very easy to get lost in the process, especially in public works. We must not forget design’s ability to inspire and to give balance to the voices and environmental considerations that do not get enough representation.
The technological advance is certainly impacting the way design is conceived and consumed. I think over time it will widen the gap between genuinely considered design from mass-market designs that can be generated more effectively by smarter and smarter algorithms.
Fringe club Hong Kong 2005. It was a photography exhibition showing photographs that captured emotions from Rome when Pope John Paul II passed. I was on a six-month exchange program at the time, learning Italian and photography when this momentous event swept over the city. I would like to hold another exhibition after I have completed our first set of residential interventions in Hong Kong that deals with the prevailing attitude towards residential design.
My design inspiration often comes from studying the subject matter, often in the context of its own trajectory. This becomes a reference point for new creation. Clients and constraints are two other important and often an under-credited source of momentum.
I live in Hong Kong, and compared to Shanghai or New York where I’ve spent much of my adult life, Hong Kong, by comparison, is like a crucible. The land is so precious here it exerts a tremendous pressure for everyone to approach dwelling as assets. Consequently, the dominant design strategy is to compartmentalize micro apartments to produce higher room counts and thus higher yield. This pressure, or rather the desire to resists this tendency has sharpened our sensitivity towards space, and given us a localized purpose.
Communicate as clearly as possible your intent and constraints early on. Understand that the client and the designer have different roles to contribute and avoid micromanaging the process. Pay attention to see if the designer is able to address your concerns in the work and subsequent developments of the work.
It's difficult and the results don't always grow with the time spent. I find that it helps to break down a large task into smaller bits and to invest your time in training good people so that they can carry on the work while another rests.
I studied at Cornell Unversity during which I gained my first work experiences at Kohn Pederson and Fox. Upon graduating with a Bachelors of Architecture degree, I was fortunate enough to join Hillier where I worked essentially within a studio environment with the support and benefits of a large corporate practice. It was during my first few years with this studio that I got to work closely with Bob and Barbara Hillier, and in particular, Bradly Walters. It was under their guidance that I saw my first design, the Irving Convention Center realized. Subsequent to the merger I relocated to New York and began working with Peter Schubert on much larger international projects, eventually following the work to Shanghai before setting up OFGA in Hong Kong. All along the way i was fortunate enough to remain in contact with Nasrine Seraji who has remained a friend and mentor since my days at Cornell.
I found my thoughts with drawing, and my freedom in my thoughts, so studying architecture or at least design was a natural progression. At first, I only thought I liked architecture, but then I really fell in love with it once I began my studies.
I design experiences. I would really like to work on more Public works, parks, theatres, libraries, galleries. I think we really need more of these spaces. Spaces that are maybe free from the typical agendas of commerce.