The Vice President of Ronald Lu & Partners tells Christie Lee why it’s time to return to the humanistic aspect of design.
January 29th, 2014
For Bryant Lu, becoming an architect was a given. As a child, he would pore over sketches made by his father – celebrated Hong Kong architect and interior designer Ronald Lu. “My dad was constantly drawing and I’d always be sitting next to him, trying to make sense of everything,” Lu recalls fondly.
Armed with an architectural degree from Cornell University, Lu returned to Hong Kong 13 years ago and has since helmed many of Ronald Lu and Partner’s high-profile projects. Besides collaborating with Bing Thom Architects on the Xiqu Centre – the duo beat four other competitors in a high-profile bid last year – the multidisciplinary firm also has, amongst other projects, the New World Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui in the pipeline.
The Vice President of Ronald Lu & Partners stresses the importance of taking a humanistic approach to design. “We don’t believe in a style. Minimalist or white don’t really mean anything to us. What we do is to customise our designs according to the needs of the client or community.” Christie Lee finds out more.
Christie Lee: What drew you to architecture?
Bryant Lu: I was exposed to the field very early on in life. Compared to banking and law, architecture was very tangible. But what really intrigued me was the way by which design can influence an individual or a community’s behaviour. Architecture is also one of the few subjects where you can’t go completely by the book. There are always multiple solutions to a problem, so there’s a very strong sense of individuality at the centre of it.
CL: What were some of the challenges in designing the Xiqu Centre?
BL: We needed to acquaint ourselves with all the different forms of Chinese ‘xiqu’. The way that sound is being projected in Chinese opera is very different from western opera. With Chinese opera, the stage is fairly flat and the audience enjoys a more frontal view. Part of the excitement of being an architect is you can explore how people live, work and enjoy space.
CL: Who are your inspirations?
BL: Big modernists like Le Corbusier. After all, they did modernise us, for better or worse. Then you have artists like Rembrandt and Picasso, who taught us to see the world a bit differently.
CL: What are some of the challenges facing the 21st century architect?
BL: Everything has become so commoditised these days that we’re starting to forget what craftsmanship means. In going forward, I think we need to go back to the humanistic aspect of design. Cities like New York are doing that, what with The High Line and all. Architects like Thomas Heatherwick are also more intrigued with the relationship between the object and human being above anything else.
CL: Is sustainable design part of this humanistic approach?
BL: Yes. As architects, we need to treat every building as a living object, and be sensitive to how it influences other lives. Sure, social media has allowed us to communicate with people from different parts of the world and all at the same time, but while the reach is broader, it’s also getting thinner. I truly believe that architecture can bring back some of that depth into human interaction. Building public spaces where people can hang out is a start.
CL: The Zero Carbon Building in Kowloon Bay makes use of a raft of eco-friendly technologies including photovoltaic panels and biodiesel fuel system. How should technology be effectively incorporated into humanistic designs?
BL: When people talk about sustainability, they jump straight to the gimmicks when in reality those devices are very expensive, and the payback time is very long. I think the real technology these days is 3-D modelling. Using data to create visualised images allows us to communicate with clients, the community and stakeholders in a more efficient way. So I definitely think that the advancement of technology aids human interaction, rather than to only make things more efficient.
CL: Which city or country can we look to for inspiration if we want to build a more sustainable future?
BL: The Scandinavian countries are doing incredible work. A large percentage of the population in Denmark cycle to work. Hong Kong is actually not that bad given the ultra-high density environment. We have a very reliable public transportation system and that really lessens the burden on the roads.
Bryant Lu / Ronald Lu & Partners
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