Following on the success of previous years, DesignInspire’s three-day event will return to Hong Kong in December. Perspective sat down with three designers involved to discuss what we can expect this year, working in Hong Kong and what makes them tick
Hong Kong is continuing to gain momentum as a creative hub. Helped not least by its key location in Asia, it has attracted an array of international talents who have gone on to make their careers in the city and to share their expertise with others in the region.
DesignInspire, organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) in partnership with Business of Design Week (BODW), is an annual showcase for emerging global talents in design, photography, architecture and fashion. Every December, a three-day event packed with innovative products, experimental installations and inspiring conversations takes place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. This year, DesignInspire 2019 will return from December 5 to 7, its third iteration.
We spoke to three international architects and designers who took part in the 2018 edition of DesignInspire, and asked them about their work and why they chose Hong Kong to develop their careers.
Tell us about Atelier B and why you started the practice. What's the company's mission?
Atelier B Limited is a Swiss-managed practice founded by my wife, Catherine, and me. The practice provides fully professional architectural and interior design services to a wide range of clients; it was initially set up to accommodate the demands of high-end residential projects but has quickly expanded to include boutique hotels, clubhouses and serviced apartments.
What attracted you to Hong Kong in the first place?
Hong Kong was sort of an accident. We left Switzerland in 1994 with the goal to backpack through Asia over two years and end up in Australia or New Zealand. After a year, I got sick in Tibet with altitude sickness and came to Hong Kong to get medical treatment. Once here we thought, why not get some working experience while we're here? I enjoyed my first job so much that what started off as a three months' work experience turned into 25 years! We see Hong Kong as a city of contrasts; we love working in such a dynamic environment and then retiring in the evening and holidays to the calm of Lantau Island.
How did your participation in DesignInspire come about?
When HKTDC called to offer me a chance to participate in the first edition of DesignInspire in 2017, I jumped at the opportunity, had a great experience, and returned in 2018. I thought our company's multi-national background really resounded with the theme 'Design without boundaries'. To honour that, we displayed a really special art piece at the venue: we recreated the flags of Hong Kong and our hometown, Switzerland, using the Swiss decoupage technique, which is very similar to the Chinese art of paper cutting.
How does DesignInspire stir the interest of the public towards Hong Kong designs?
The DesignInspire platform is an incredible opportunity to meet people and share Hong Kong's design force with many other talent. I like how this event is open to the public; it's a great way to engage the community and introduce the different design professions and the multitude of talent that are present in Hong Kong.
What makes the 'Made in Hong Kong' brand special?
Hong Kong is fantastic as it really is a melting pot of many cultures, which express themselves culturally and in the design world. It is a super-efficient city with an incredible dynamic and rare energy.
Could you tell us more about B Squared Design – why you started the practice and what you wished to achieve?
I founded the practice in 2014. B Squared Design specialises in innovative residential design, but we also work on a wide range of projects, from pop-ups to commercial spaces. Our approach is one of exploration and problem-solving, and our ultimate goal is to create spaces that our clients love to live and work in.
What attracted you to Hong Kong?
I moved to Hong Kong from the US as a trailing spouse 13 years ago, and then fell in love with it and decided to stay.
My love of the field and my curiosity is what motivates me to continue to do what I do. Events like DesignInspire are excellent reminders of this!
What does good design mean to you?
Good design is something that speaks for itself, and something that speaks to you on a personal level. It should have meaning and value (not necessarily monetary) – a purpose.
What makes the 'Made in Hong Kong' brand special and how can Hong Kong designs compete more effectively in the global market?
The brand is special because it comes from a place both old and new; there is so much innovation here, but it is also rooted in so much tradition. Hong Kong designs can compete more effectively by continuing to take part in global discussions and events like DesignInspire. With more exposure comes more opportunities to collaborate and push forward.
How did you get involved with DesignInspire?
The organiser, HKTDC, approached me as they had seen several of my projects that had recently been published in magazines. They asked me to showcase a Murphy bed I've designed at DesignInspire. I displayed a remodelled version of the bed at the fair, and it was met with a great response. Since then I've received quite a lot of interest in my design, especially foreigners who are having a hard time getting used to living in Hong Kong's tiny spaces.
In what ways does the DesignInspire platform elevate your career?
It is very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day minutiae of running a firm, so the platform is a great way to reinvigorate my creative mind and those of my employees. It's always good to take a step back and look at the bigger picture: why did I get into architecture in the first place? My love of the field and my curiosity is what motivates me to continue to do what I do. Events like DesignInspire are excellent reminders of this!
Can you tell us more about GIDA – why you started the practice and what you wish to achieve?
It all started with a conjunction of opportunities. I've loved this city for a long time and came quite often for both business and leisure. My former boss in Tokyo then offered me a key position on a massive project in Hong Kong. Starting my own practice had always been my target, so when the opportunity came, everything came together to start this adventure.
How does designing spaces in Hong Kong differ from your experience in France and Japan?
I would say that French culture puts a lower priority on timelines and space efficiency, the highest expectations being on price and quality. In Japan, price-efficiency expectations might be lower as there can be no compromise on the schedule and the final quality. In Hong Kong, it seems that every parameter is top priority! The schedules are often incredibly tight, the spaces very constrained, the budgets low and the expected quality very high. This makes every project really challenging and exciting.
How does your firm's multi-national background affect your products?
To us it is very natural to look at different cultures, ways of doing and know-how as an unlimited source of inspiration and collaboration. Design is an intellectual exercise, so why constrain it with borders – especially when the globalised world offers so many possibilities?
What makes the 'Made in Hong Kong' brand special? And how can Hong Kong designs compete more effectively in the global market?
The Hong Kong cliché about East meets West is actually true; there are not many places that can compare to its diversity and open-mindedness. I think this is a key aspect of 'Made in Hong Kong': what works here can be successful worldwide. But in an ever-more globalised world, Hong Kong's cutting-edge position should be preserved only by constant efforts on innovating.
What led to your association with DesignInspire?
We are part of the Design Incubation Programme (DIP) and HKTDC; they both promote DesignInspire as a great platform for design companies like us. We were invited to showcase our company's projects at the exhibition, and that led to many interesting conversations with other design professionals. I was particularly intrigued by the Innotalks sessions, where industry leaders gathered to share their design vision and inspiring stories.
How does the DesignInspire platform help designers like you?
It is a great opportunity to showcase our work to a very large and diverse audience. We met several potential partners and some discussions are now in progress to collaborate on a luxury retail project in mainland China. The platform allowed us to act as the middlemen between entrepreneurs in mainland China and investors in the West.