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Rocco Yim Reflects

The Executive Director of Rocco Design Architects shares how he is bringing a Chinese sensibility to modern buildings. Jessica Niles DeHoff has the story.

BY Janice Seow

July 3rd, 2013

Jiu Jian Tang

Rocco Yim is a quiet and thoughtful man – not what many would imagine given that he is one of the most powerful architects in Hong Kong, a place of big public personalities and even bigger business and political interests. Yet anyone enjoying the city’s famous skyline will be taking in several of the buildings produced in his quiet and spacious office housing almost 200 staff (the firm also has offices in the Mainland). Yim’s contributions to the skyline may be less well known than Foster’s or I.M. Pei’s, but they are considerably more recent: iSquare, a mixed-use shopping and entertainment tower in Kowloon; the new Hong Kong station and massive infrastructural connection point marked by Pelli’s IFC tower; and most importantly, the new HKSAR government headquarters, a massive gateway fronting the Harbour to frame a new pedestrian link between the water, the city, and the hills beyond.

W Hotel & Residences, Guangzhou

The firm’s work encompasses projects of many different scales and programs, all unified by a clean modern aesthetic and what Yim sees as a particularly Asian attention to detail: “Our sensitivity to traditional Chinese values like social values, morality, the perception of beauty and aesthetics – an  ‘Oriental’ outlook on life – gives us greater sensitivity to what we should preserve and promote from the past, to apply to contemporary living.”

W Hotel & Residences, Guangzhou

At Jiu Jian Tang, a luxury housing development outside of Shanghai, the architects reinterpreted the ancient form of the Chinese courtyard house to facilitate individual privacy while also allowing space for family togetherness; delicate screens and lattices evoke the details of antique furniture.


Many of Yim’s projects in Hong Kong, like the LHT Tower, Citibank Plaza, and Hotel Icon, are comfortable, everyday buildings for locals who may pass through them every day without knowing the name of the architect responsible for making them so pedestrian-friendly. One of Yim’s constant concerns is how to integrate his buildings with the city around them. “In creating architecture it’s important that we enhance this experience – the pedestrian experience – wherever possible, meaning that we try to ensure seamless flows of movement and therefore possibly social interaction,” he says. Whether corporate offices or government centres, he sees all his buildings as urban insertions that must enhance the public realm.


The W Hotel & Residences in Guangzhou, which opened in May, exemplifies this approach. As at iSquare and several other projects, Yim describes the spatial sequence as fully inhabiting all three dimensions – “you view the space by passing from one level to another to another”. Essentially, the building itself is a continuation of the street and welcomes the public with its huge canopy, garden wall and street-level plaza.

Guangdong Museum

Guangdong Museum

Asked about the differences between designing a community centre, a school project and a public building like a museum, Yim carefully considers his answer. “There are different design priorities. A school does not need to be and should not be a visual icon, whereas a museum sometimes needs to be a visual icon because it represents a certain identity. But what I really want is for a building that is to be a visual icon to be part of the city. In a way we tried that with the museum of Guangdong. We wanted to bring the public realm, which is that undulating lawn, into the building.” And the hovering box of a building does indeed scoop visitors up along the slope of the lawn into the belly of the museum, which is an atrium filled with light and space. It embodies Yim’s belief that a museum building should be “precise and alluring as a means to entice people to go inside and explore the treasures”.

Rocco Design Architects

Artifice books on architecture has recently published the firm’s new monograph, Reconnecting Cultures, which Jessica Niles DeHoff co-wrote and edited.