Having moved their architectural firm from Beijing to Hong Kong, Erik Amir and Dora Chi of Spatial Practice share with JJ. Acuna the lure of both cities.
January 23rd, 2014
Two architectural practitioners who met sharing studio space at a New York firm have since gone the tide of their profession and focused their eyes and work on China and the Asian region as a whole. The difference between them and other foreign architects who are working in the East, is that their office, Spatial Practice, is essentially a product of China. Yes its founders, Erik Amir and Dora Chi are Israeli and American, respectively, but a series of opportunities allowed them to incubate a working studio direct from Beijing.
(Left) Dora Chi. (Right) Erik Amir
Amir and Chi’s work in the PRC was earlier underpinned by the need to research and document the country’s existing and slowly changing urban and rural conditions. Amir’s first design studios with Tsinghua University was centred around Beijing’s informal settlements, while Chi was awarded research grants to look into the damaging effects that the building of the Three Gorges Dam has had on the surrounding environment.
Kaohsiung residential project
The establishment of the practice came soon after they had both moved to China, which began with invitations to participate in high profile paid urban competitions that needed teams. China has always been known to give young talented designers working opportunities to explore their craft, and the story of how Spatial Practice came to be because of these opportunities, is no exception.
“Beijing was basically a giant site,” says Amir about the city, “In 2007 we saw the erection of the CCTV, the Bird’s Nest, and other giant buildings. If you wanted to learn about architecture, you would basically get on your bike and point at all the scaffolding and facades. And as a foreigner, we had a lot of experience seeing mega-structures go up at a fast pace. For us it was paradise.”
Kaohsiung maritime master plan
At its largest, the studio grew to an intimate 12 practitioners, with projects located in sites all over China and Taiwan, and in various scales from big urban master plans in Harbin, to small standalone cultural buildings in Taichung.
Their chosen name, Spatial Practice, refers to their unique method of focused research in the making of spaces rather than the making of the architectural object.
Harbin master plan
“Sometimes in today’s architecture profession, people forget that our expertise is ‘Space’,” says Chi, “You see a space in plan and you do all this framework, but the actual feeling of Space, whether it’s a space in a small room, or a public space, there’s very different scales of space. And that’s another reason for our name… it goes back to the essence of our practice.”
Taichung showroom project
In the practice of space exploration, Amir and Chi begin by conceptualising simple strategies to underpin a programmatic brief at inception, and let their team run free. The effects of this non-hierarchical horizontal design approach has cultivated just rewards, with projects yielding to often-surprising formal results. To show for it, the studio’s new Hong Kong office has over 500 working models on display accumulated from about four years worth of effort.
As great as Beijing has been, Spatial Practice has since picked up and moved to Hong Kong’s energetic and buzzing Sai Ying Pun district, allowing the partners the flexibility to pursue more projects in cities they’ve been interested to explore in the Asia Pacific region, including Singapore and the Philippines. Hong Kong’s strategic distance to Southeast Asia and global investor network allows for that new outreach. But for within Hong Kong, Amir believes that they have the opportunity to utilise Spatial Practice’s special brand of collaborative design strategies to help transform Hong Kong’s ill-perceived image of a financially focused hub into a creative one.
“At this stage I can see Hong Kong has a lack in creativity,” says Amir, “ I can find many buildings in the city. I can find construction. But when I’m looking for Architecture, it’s very hard for me to find it here in general.” Amir adds, “There’s an attempt now to improve creativity with the M+ Museum and its approach to collecting Architecture to exhibit. This makes me feel very positive about the future, that there is something here we can change.”
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