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In Conversation with Winy Maas

The Co-founding Director of Dutch design studio MVRDV tells Sylvia Chan what’s next at Business of Design Week 2016 in Hong Kong.



BY Sylvia Chan

December 7th, 2016


The future of design is something that preoccupies Winy Maas. The Co-founding Director of MVRDV, and Professor and Director of The Why Factory at Delft University of Technology was one of the key speakers at this year’s Business of Design Week (BODW), where he spoke about what’s next for MVRDV and for design as a whole.

BODW is an annual flagship design event in Hong Kong, offering designers, architects, those in construction and in the industry as a whole an opportunity to come together to exchange ideas, to expand their horizons and to simply connect. This year, BODW took place between 28 November and 3 December at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center (HKCEC). The partner city was Chicago and the conference focused on reinventing, conceiving and branding development.

At BODW, Winy Maas presented MVRDV’s latest projects, including the Market Hall in Rotterdam, which attempts to innovate the market typology, and the award winning Crystal Houses in Amsterdam, which explore the materiality of glass. Recently, MVRDV realised an industrial building transformation project in Hong Kong that experiments with transparency. With MVRDV and The Why Factory, Maas is also working on an upcoming publication titled Hong Kong Crazy Towers. Here, he tells us more about what he’s working on now, and what’s in the pipeline.

Can you tell us about Hong Kong Crazy Towers?

The book is a manifesto and will be published three months from now. We want to imagine different housing possibilities. I love Hong Kong, but in terms of housing, it has the least amount of varieties in the world. The flats are rather small. There are a lot of restrictions, such as financial restrictions, judicial restrictions. We would like to provide a maximum variety of choices for housing. I think it is wise to discuss openly what policies are needed to do that. There are recent debates about housing policies, saying they are not needed. I really doubt that.

What is so crazy about the towers in your book?

It is about escapism. Because of the density and the land prices in Hong Kong, the public and private housing are tremendously hermetic. The heights are regulated. The rooms are regulated. The development has reached a tipping point. What can you do? So we make suggestions about crazy house and crazy towers. We explore how we can work with bathrooms, maid’s rooms, bay windows. We go through a repertoire of elements, and question, for example, how we can make a 60 or 70 sq m environment to feel like a library. In the end it will be software that sorts out what you can do to escape from buildings that repeat the same floor plans. It will be ironic, but not sarcastic. Today’s world is governed by fear and anxiety. If there is fear people become protective. Humour and fun are key values today.

Can you tell us about the industrial building transformation at 133 Wai Yip Street in East Kowloon? It was a concrete building with tiny windows, and now it is entirely a glass office, isn’t it?

The building is in the warehouse district and its quality is super poor. The building used B20 to B25 concrete, and that means they had holes. We added infill to the building with white paint, glass, and stainless steel. Other than strengthening the building we just left the structure as it is. We used glass to show the beauty of the structure.

Glass is a material you always use in your projects. Is it a material you are preoccupied with?

I have a dream about infinity. We would like to look through buildings, to see infinity, to see the mountains in the city [through the buildings]. We would like to open up the interior if possible. But the question is, where should we stop glass? How much intimacy do we show? To see intimacy in a clear way makes the world somehow nicer. We are investigating the edges of transparency. At the moment experiments with glass bricks are important, but thost with glass mortar are more important.

What do you think about building adaptive reuses in Hong Kong?

It is great to transform buildings, but it is not easy. The building policies are strict. The structures are optimised. The older buildings are of poor quality. There is limited potential, but we find ways of working with it.

Are you more interested in transforming buildings or building from scratch?

Every building you make is in a context. Each has specific program, site, and usage. We are not building on Mars and have to respond to the context element. If I define it that way, every project is on an old landscape. We cannot only concentrate on the building and forget the outside spaces. Both are needed to enhance diversity and stability. It is a hard job because there is always a desire for corporate-ness. But if we can combine considerations for the building and the context it is fascinating. I love context.