William Lim, co-founder of Hong Kong architectural practice CL3, has spent the last four decades building a name for himself that extends well beyond his main profession
In the field of architecture, waiting is a significant part of the game, as amply proven by Antoni Gaudí 's Sagrada Família, which has been in construction since 1882 – and scheduled for completion in 2026, the centenary of the architect's death.
So, for William Lim, managing director of Hong Kong architectural firm CL3 and a well-known artist and art collector, waiting four years for H Queen's to be unveiled is no big deal. "It's a project that's very close to my heart," he says. "It merges two important forces in my life – architecture and art – and, located in the very heart of Hong Kong, it has been a thrill to build something so meaningful."
To fully appreciate the significance of H Queen's in the context of Lim's long and successful career – which includes the likes of Hong Kong's EAST Hotel, Bangkok's Gaysorn Plaza 2, the interiors of Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, and the Hard Rock Hotel in Shenzhen – it helps to go back to his very early years.
Growing up in Hong Kong, he loved drawing; it was his father, a developer who worked on numerous projects in Malaysia, who suggested that he could become an architect. "My parents remember me asking, 'will there still be buildings to build?'," Lim says with a laugh.
His father would make him hone his drawing skills by setting tasks, such as sketching a door jamb or some architectural detail. Later, at Cornell University in the United States – where he would gain both bachelor's and master's degrees in architecture – he says photography turned out to be an essential part of his education: "A lot of architects are into photography, perhaps because it is a relatively fast process."
Entering the 'real world' of employment and starting a family, however, he found that it was difficult to maintain his connection to the art world, but a project he was asked to work on would change that forever. "The developer was always interested in art; they were Dallas-based but had a very good Chinese art collection. The project was the Boston Design Center and, when we finished, they actually put a sculpture in the plaza, a Rodin casting. That's when I realised that art and architecture are almost indivisible."
Returning to Hong Kong in 1987 when his son Kevin was 18 months old, Lim initially thought he'd stay for a couple of years before moving on. He began by working for a developer because, as he describes it, "I thought there wouldn't be much room for design [in Hong Kong], so I figured I should learn the ins and outs of being a developer."
Working for the firm's in-house architecture department, Lim still got to design, but he notes the process was very much commercially driven. After a series of financial crises in the new millennium, developers woke up to a world in which they couldn't sell just anything. Lim says it is only in the last six or seven years that the market has begun to turn around and take a new direction, in which design, art and lifestyle are important components.
He points to the development boom that had kicked off in the late 1990s in China, particularly the groundbreaking Commune by the Great Wall project by the SOHO Group. This was a series of villas (now a boutique hotel) about 70km north of Beijing designed by 12 Asian architects. It was the first notion of architecture being 'collectible', as Lim puts it: "Developers [in Hong Kong] started to realise that good design can make a big difference – so they started to hire better
Over the years, Lim has created award-winning architectural projects, staged his own exhibitions and nurtured an ever-growing art collection. H Queen's, officially completed in September last year, is another example of Lim's penchant for combining art and architecture. Approached by Henderson Land to work initially on just the facade and the interiors, Lim and CL3 went on to conceive a 24-storey building with a very specific purpose. "At that time, Art Basel had successfully taken over ArtHK, so there were many galleries looking to come to Hong Kong," he says. "I realised that Hong Kong had an urgent need for a place for these galleries to gather, so I proposed the idea to Henderson."
More than 80 per cent of lettable space at H Queen's has been taken up. Of the 24 floors, six will host F&B venues, with retail on the ground level. Lim says the galleries have begun fitting out and are not yet open to the public, no doubt gearing up for a big launch at the time of this year's Art Basel event at the end of March.
This is an excerpt from "A man for all reasons”, an article from the January/February issue of Perspective magazine.
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