Christie Lee catches up with Georges Hung, founder of Shenzhen-based Atelier Blur.
Despite having chalked up over 20 years of experience in the field, becoming an architect wasn’t a given for Georges Hung. The Taiwanese-born architect had originally read English Literature at the University of Chicago, before his professor cajoled him into switching majors one day. “I was taking drawing classes on the side and he saw some of [what] I’d done,” Hung shrugs. Upon graduating from the University of Illinois, he toiled away for a couple of years in New York before moving to Paris, where he co-founded his first architectural firm Insight. It wasn’t until 2005 that he took the leap to move to Asia. Headquartered in Shenzhen, Atelier Blur was founded in 2012. Aside from the new R&D headquarters for Great Wall Technology – which Hung won the design bid for last May, upcoming projects include two mixed-use complexes in Longhua and Songgang, and a community centre in Sanwei.
What attracted you to architecture?
I like the totality of architecture, as it’s as much about the space as materials. Compared to other art disciplines, architecture isn’t quite as one-dimensional – it has more sensorial depth.
How would you compare heritage conservation scenes in Paris and Hong Kong?
In Paris, heritage architecture is a profession in and of itself. It’s not just about preserving the looks of a building or structure, but the way the preservation is being carried out. Hong Kong is very far behind, as the scene is driven by developers, who obviously think that heritage preservation is a nuisance. Having said that, that mentality is changing, albeit slowly.
What about the architectural scene in Shenzhen?
Positively bustling. I mean, it used to be quite a backward village right? It’s developing very fast – almost too fast.
What do you mean?
For starters, a lot of the buildings are empty. You’ve also got really long blocks, which is not at all conducive to walking. From an architectural standpoint, China is definitely a very interesting scene, but the designs coming out aren’t very humane.
What would you have done differently if you were given free reign of the urban planning?
I’d turn it into a more walkable city, in other words, smaller blocks and less dense. There’s nothing wrong with commuting via private car but a healthy city needs a combination of pedestrian walkways, a sound public transportation system and roads.
Mixed-use complexes seem like a unique phenomenon to China… What are the challenges of designing such buildings?
How to merge the public and private realms in order that a cohesive space be created.
You don’t need mixed-use complexes in sophisticated markets like London, Paris and New York because people have been interacting as they would in a mixed-use building for decades and centuries. Over there, residences [are situated] above the retail shops, which are in turn built next to office towers. It’s a very organic development because they’d had centuries to do that. Basically, we’re trying to achieve the same thing in China in 10 years, which is absolutely nuts from an architectural point of view! Most of these buildings aren’t sustainable as they’re in the middle of nowhere and thus, haven’t got the population to fuel them.
Who are some of your influences?
Mies van der Rohe, Rem Koolhaas and Kengo Kuma. I also like [Kazmir] Malevich for his use of geometry and colours, and how he related one to the another. For something so flat, his paintings had a lot of spatial depth.
Where do you see Atelier Blur in five years?
We’re planning to set up a Hong Kong office by the end of 2015. I also want the practice to be more research-driven.