Recently appointed Managing Director of design, architecture, engineering and planning firm HOK in the Asia Pacific region, Paul Collins – who joined HOK Hong Kong in 2003 – tells Tamsin Bradshaw what's next.
Congratulations on your new role. What does it mean to you?
It’s a privilege to be part of the leadership team at HOK. For me personally, joining HOK was a career aspiration and since I did 12 years ago or so, my admiration for the people and talent here has only grown. It’s an honour to have been asked to take up the Managing Director role.
What do you hope to achieve as the Managing Director for HOK in Asia Pacific?
First, my prime aim is continuity. We have a large practice of international designers based in Hong Kong and China who have worked well together in an open and collegiate atmosphere on some very significant projects. That’s something that we will definitely be maintaining.
On top of that, I’ll be working to remind the market about some of HOK’s specific expertise and bench depth as one of the largest design firms in the world.
What do you hope to see the firm do more of in future?
In Asia, we continue to design high quality hospitality and commercial projects across architecture, interior design and master planning. In addition, we have some very talented aviation designers here with a growing portfolio of airport projects.
However, I would also like to increase our health care work in Asia. We have one of the region’s finest hospital projects completed in Singapore recently and with the growth in this market sector in China, I hope to see us replicating that success on the Mainland.
What role will sustainable design play in HOK’s future?
Sustainable design has been at the center of much of HOK’s work for many years. It is integral to the way we approach all of our projects. In past years, it may have been seen as an ‘add-on’ or a ‘nice to have’ but these days it is simply part of the process of design.
As one of the leading designers of the built environment, we have a responsibility to take a lead in the way society manages resources, reduces wastefulness and energy consumption and generally try and touch the planet as lightly as possible. We do this because it is the right thing to do and it is beneficial to our clients in reduced life-cycle costs and to communities at large.
Tamar Government Headquarters, Hong Kong
You’ve clearly done – and continue to do – a lot of work on the Mainland. Where do you see architecture and design going in China?
I think the standard of design and detailing demanded by clients has slowly grown over the years, as China has become more exposed to what’s going on in places like the United States and Europe where international investors, developers and operators have established themselves.
That has certainly happened in the first-tier cities and that phenomenon will continue to increase across the country. This is a good thing for the country as a whole and a good thing for firms like HOK, as we are able to provide that quality of design with our experience and expertise based right here in China.
In general, I see the quality of the architecture and urban environment continuing to improve in China.
You worked on the Tamar Government Complex on the waterfront. What were the greatest challenges involved with the project? Any hopes for the future with this site?
Yes, we provided master planning, landscape and interior design services for the Tamar development. The greatest achievement of the project is really how the public realm permeates and surrounds the government headquarters and the legislative chamber. It works from the practical urban aspect of maintaining public footpaths and routes, and also the delight of giving access to the waterfront and providing a large public open space in such a dense urban setting. These were things greatly missed in the city and it was very satisfying to be part of the team that restored them.
The biggest challenge was dealing with so many different government departments that inhabit the building. As with any multi-headed client or end-user, it takes a lot of effort to keep everybody happy.
What are you working on right now?
As is usual with us, our projects are diverse in nature and location. Our planning team is working on a new town development in Hainan. It is a fusion of tourism destination; high-tech working environment; quality living space and farmland.
We’re also leading a major re-planning in parts of Brunei’s capital. We’re providing interior design services on several five star hotels and serviced apartment projects in China, Saudi Arabia and Myanmar, as well as a major retail project.
Our landscape designers are busy in Bangalore and Sanya and the architectural team are engaged on a large-scale office project in central Beijing; a new IT park development in Mumbai; a luxury residential tower in Delhi and hotel projects in Chengdu and Dongguan.
That’s not the whole list, but it provides a flavour of what we do.
What would your dream project be, if you had no budget restrictions and full creative license?
I guess my dream project would be one where we could turn the full global capability of HOK onto a single project.
The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia is a great example. We were commissioned to design this 6.5 million square-feet university and new town project towards the end of 2006 and it was completed in 2009. The pace of design was so fast that we used several HOK offices spread out in different time zones so that our working days were closer to 16 hours than 8 hours. We utilised every resource and expertise within the firm and provided planning, architecture, engineering, landscape, facility planning, interior design, lab planning, graphic design and lighting services.
The end result created not just a wonderful new education facility qi all the supporting buildings and spaces, it also achieved LEED Platinum status. Only a firm of the scale, experience and connectivity of HOK can deliver that kind of project so quickly.
My dream project would be something similar to that – very large, complicated and lots of pressure – it’s what we’re good at.