Marisa Yiu talks about her design-focused initiatives in Hong Kong that seek to put the discipline of design in the spotlight
To say the least, Marisa Yiu is a multi-tasker. She is the co-founder of Hong Kong-based multidisciplinary architecture studio ESKYIU, executive director of design-focused initiative Design Trust – and a mother of two. Instead of wearing her down, straddling all these responsibilities only seems to motivate her more and powers an ambitious mission. In 2017, Yiu launched Design Trust's long-term flagship programme, Design Trust Futures Studio (DTFS), a project that has been in the making for years.
The programme aims to raise the visibility of the design processes and the positive role that it can play in our culture, through a series of mentor-mentee programmes. It commenced its third iteration at the Haw Par Mansion in March, based on the theme 'Heritage is Innovation'. DTFS will curate workshops, conversations and site-specific objects for Haw Par through the pairing of Hong Kong-based designers (many of whom are Design Trust grant recipients) with international and well-known names, including Michael Young, Douglas Young, Lyndon Neri, Rosanna Hu, Azusa Murakami and Alexander Groves. Their creations, made to challenge and evoke discussions about Haw Par's heritage and the Hong Kong identity, include fragrances, light installations, acoustic textile objects and a carpet, and will be officially unveiled to the public in September. Perspective chatted with Yiu about Design Trust's work and her vision for the DTFS initiative.
Can you tell us how you got involved with Design Trust?
Design Trust is currently in its fifth iteration. It was previously known as the Ambassadors of Design, a registered charity, of which I was a board member. In 2014, a few of us started to re-envision the organisation; it was reborn into grant-giving to support the design community in Hong Kong. Then there was a trigger point, and I decided to take on a larger leadership role for the organisation. So, I stepped in [with a vision to] restructure and build the NGO in a more impactful way. The core mission never really changed; it was always about using the positive, creative cultural energy of the Greater Bay Area and cultivating design-related research.
I was always fascinated with the Pearl River Delta area and the changing landscape of Hong Kong. There is a certain energy here that I get addicted to, which is very vibrant
Can you tell us how the DTFS programme came about?
I made a proposition to the board, when I came on, to do the DTFS programme, and I can't believe we're already on the third [edition]. All these have taken the experience and interest of many years before it officially launched. Ultimately the mission of DTFS is about empowering young designers through mentor-mentee relationships and life-long learning. It also has a certain urgency about topics relating to our city and the region.
How were the last two editions received?
The first one was about smallness, with the theme 'small is meaningful' – it was highly conceptual and looked at how small living spaces can be an attribute. The second edition was again about public space, and this really went well. We had some really interesting exhibitions, and were nominated for a Beazley awards, organised by the London Design Museum. The trickle effect got us quite a lot of attention to the point where we caught the attention of the Policy Innovation and Coordination Office, and we were offered to work with real sites, to translate our creative ideas into reality. We are now in the process of revitalising four micro-parks across the city.
How did the theme, 'Heritage is Innovation' come about? Why did you choose Haw Par Mansion?
I've always been fascinated by how we could participate more in the questions of identity, preservation and conservation of our city's landscape. I think Haw Par Mansion is a real representation of the kind of complexity of the richness of our identity. It was one of the first real public spaces and has influences from British, Chinese, Indian and Burmese culture.
I think Haw Par Mansion is a real representation of the kind of complexity of the richness of our identity. It was one of the first real public spaces and has influences from British, Chinese, Indian and Burmese culture
What made you take the leap from having a successful career in architecture to running a design initiative – and why Hong Kong?
I think everybody goes through their own career path or journey differently. Back when I was still in my master's studies in architecture in New York, I was always exposed to different types of mentors and architects who had a real public mission. Hong Kong was mainly because I was born and raised here, my family's here. Also, I was always fascinated with the Pearl River Delta area and the changing landscape of Hong Kong. There is a certain energy here that I get addicted to, which is very vibrant.