Conran and Partners
has been busy – not only in the UK, but also in Asia. So busy, in fact, that they’re planning on setting up a studio in Hong Kong. “About 30 percent of our turnover is international, and traditionally it’s been in this hemisphere,” says Tim Bowder-Ridger, Senior Partner and CEO at the London-headquartered design studio.
For most people, Conran is a familiar name: most people know of Sir Terence Conran, who established the studio over 50 years ago, slowly building up a global reputation for intuitive, insightful and timeless work in architecture, interiors, masterplanning and product design.
In Hong Kong, that reputation extends to hotel interiors, F&B spaces and residential interiors, with projects like the refurbishment of Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong
, under its belt, as well as interiors for the design-driven Hotel ICON
. In Japan, Conran and Partners is known for architectural work such as the energy-efficient Futako-Tamagawa project, Tokyo’s largest mixed-use development, which is already winning awards.
Here, Bowder-Ridger, who joined the business in 1997, tells us about Conran and Partner’s plans for Asia, and what they’re working on now.
What’s behind the decision to set up a studio in Hong Kong?
To date, people have seen us primarily as hospitality in Hong Kong. The hotel clients are relaxed about shipping in their designers, because they spend so much time flying themselves, whereas the residential clients want you on the ground, and they’ve been very clear to us that they’d love to work with us but they need their architects here. Which is part of the reason why we are embarking on a studio here in Hong Kong.
We hope to have it set up this autumn. At the moment, I’m recruiting senior people.
With all the politics going on, you want to spread things out. But all the same, we were planning this before the whole Brexit/Trump thing happened.
Tell us about your plans for the Hong Kong office.
The idea is that the practice here will be as a hub for this region, not just serving the local market, but serving the Hong Kong developers wherever they want to work.
It won’t be a support office. It will be an autonomous office, albeit a subsidiary.
Ideally it will end up being an equal part of the business to London. Tina [Norden, Director of Conran and Partners] and I will carry on spreading our time between London and Hong Kong.
The thing we like about Hong Kong is that it’s got a very global attitude. There aren’t the restrictions to employment you have elsewhere. Also geographically, it’s just that much closer to where we work [than Singapore or Tokyo]. As importantly, Tina and I love it here. if you’re going to spend all this time working somewhere, it has to be somewhere you really like being.
Where will you set up in Hong Kong?
We’re initially thinking about coworking spaces here – something less formal. To attract the right people, there needs to be a buzz. We want the studio here to be really ambitious, really creative. To begin with, it might spend most of its time doing competitions and thought pieces while it builds up its connections.
What are you working on now?
We’re doing an Andaz in London at the moment. In fact, it’s the old Great Eastern, which we did years ago. It gives you a bit of an advantage, because you know what the point of the original was. But we’re not particularly precious about it; you can take a view on what would you change to bring it up to date without losing the essence of the original. There are things you want to protect, but hotels have changed massively in 20 years.
That’s fed through into residential, especially higher-end residential. People treat their homes like a hotel: they take a lot of experiences they have had in hotels and want them in their apartments, even at a relatively small scale. In some ways, the biggest difference [between a hotel and apartment] is having a kitchen.
We’ve got three that we’re working on in London. The school that’s just been converted [Baylis Old School, which is becoming residential development Henley Homes, Centre Point [Harry Hyams’ former office tower that is changing to 82 residential apartments] and Blake Tower [a former youth hostel in the Barbican that’s changing to residences].
We’ve developed a bit of a reputation for working on British Brutalist buildings! It’s an acquired taste, but it’s been acquired.