Perspective sits down with Daydreamers Design founder Stanley Siu, a former 40 Under 40 award-winner and 2018 A&D Trophy Awards judge, to talk about art, architecture and the trouble with fabric when designing for a collaboration with Swire Properties for the company’s VIP Lounge at Art Basel 2018
Designed by award-winning Hong Kong architect and Founder of Daydreamers Design Stanley Siu, the Swire Properties VIP Lounge opened at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2108 and has become one of the focal points of the show, providing a calm and elegant sanctuary within the main concourse of the HKCEC, and an intimate, relaxing space for guests.
Titled Cumulus, the Swire Properties VIP Lounge is a free-flowing space inspired by the natural beauty of clouds in the sky. Enveloped by light fabric folds, the space has been created to promote open exchange, and explores the role design can have in generating dialogue within communities.
You designed the Swire Lounge at Art Basel this year. How did that come about?
I was invited by Swire to design the VIP lounge. This is my fourth project for Swire. They understand design should not [just be] about profit; they always strive for the best.
How did you approach creating the space?
Like with any [other project], the client comes with a brief of what they want. When I do different projects I always research both the context and the client. I knew the context pretty well already – [it was] in Wan Chai and an art event – so I started to look at Swire Properties and what sort of impression it gives.
What type of research did you do?
I looked into their projects. They have many in Hong Kong, all kinds: commercial, residential and shopping malls. They [give a] very positive impression for a developer. So how do they manage to make their designs stand out? It's about how they merge the buildings with their surroundings. They enhance the landscape and public space around the building. Pacific Place, for example, is more than a mall; it's a place you want to go to and enjoy because of the design and the atmosphere created. Swire has a way of connecting people naturally. I found this term very important: 'connecting people naturally'. People of all backgrounds, designers, artists and architects. So how do I bring in people naturally to the lounge? I decided to use the idea of clouds.
How did you develop the concept?
We started to think of what kind of construction and design materials we could use for clouds. They're soft and change all the time so instead of using something rigid and solid, like acrylic, we came up with the idea of using fabric. Which, at the same time, was the most difficult part of the project. Everything else is easy – you give a contractor the right dimensions and they can come up with the frame and the lighting. But fabric is difficult.
How much fabric did you end up using?
In the end, there were 23 layers [hanging vertically from an overhead frame]. We had 30 initially but we had to cut it because of space constraints and regulations. We didn't pick the right fabric at first – it was too artificial and didn't give the impression of a cloud. So we came back, made a model and called up our suppliers. The next step was to design the right form. We used a computer model and did maybe 50 trials, but the material we found only had standard colours: blue or white or light blue. It's not what we wanted to represent a cloud.
Where did you get the impression from for the final idea?
When I'm designing architecture, I get ideas from art. I thought it's too simple if I just have the idea of clouds and I wanted to bring in something related to art. So I had this idea of traditional chinese ink wash drawings. We used watercolour and painted it on paper into a cloud form and gradient [of colour], then we scanned the image into the computer [for printing onto] white fabric. We had the material sent from Germany to Hong Kong, then up to Shanghai to get printed. With each layer, we made sure that when you come into the lounge it has a light colour and as you move further into the lounge the fabric gets darker, and then lighter again. It was very difficult to do, but we wanted to push the design.
You grew up in New Zealand. When did you return to Hong Kong?
I moved to New Zealand when I was 12. When I came back [to Hong Kong] to practise as an architect in 2004, I became a bit depressed. [I was] always designing residential projects and it was all about maximising the area you can develop. I was not used to this, so after three or four years I was thinking about leaving.
Why did you decide to stay?
One day I was walking around Wan Chai and I bought my first sculpture. I don't know why, I just saw it and I brought it home. At first I didn't know what I was going to do with it. But from then on, l found myself flying to every possible art fair – before 2007-2008 we didn't have many in Hong Kong.
Has art helped you become a better architect?
Yes, definitely. I now have a studio [that I] run with my partner and colleagues and we all coordinate adventurous designs. It's playful. How I approach each project is different to the last. [When I started out] I tried to design something really crazy, my senior or my boss would be like, "Come on, be realistic. What are you trying to design? Nobody will buy this. No client will accept this sort of facade." And now I am happy because these kind of projects are coming to me.