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Smart living a perpetual experimentation

Technology now gives architects and designers a new level of control and precision as they experiment with ideas. The tiny but smart flats in Hong Kong are prime examples of such ingenuity.

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2014, 5:41pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 March, 2016, 5:31pm

In a digital world abuzz with new mobile apps, any pedestrian can turn into a news reporter and any parent a photographer/designer, giving new experiences to people in unprecedented ways.  However it is for professionals such as architects that the possibilities technology brings are truly endless with profound implications.  This has also given rise to a new crop of progressive creative entrepreneurs who can apply their talents on a wide variety of lifestyle projects.

In the past, architects designed and then invited tenders. Now with ever sophisticated computer programming, robotic machines and 3D printers, the process from design to materialisation is drastically shortened, allowing for more precision and exploration.

“We are now much more hands-on.  New technologies such as 3D printers make the design process much more direct and intuitive.  We are able to produce one-to-one prototypes in-house, and make modifications instantly.  Every project is a constant experimentation but equally important is the ability to realise the ideas,” said Otto Ng, Design Director of LAAB, an architecture office and fabrication lab that engages in architecture, art, as well as interior and product designs.

In Hong Kong, where every square foot is gold, it is always a big challenge for interior designers to create extra living space out of very limited ground.  “This means you have to make a lot of things foldable and movable, compartmentalising the space by time and not by area.  One of the first loft apartments we designed in Causeway Bay, just over 300 sq. ft., can be transformed into a bedroom, living room, walk-in closet and home theatre with a 100-inch screen at different times of the day,” said Ng. 

Ng is now working on a 309-sq. ft apartment in SOHO for a couple and three cats.  He added, “the cats are an important consideration in the transformation because we have to create space for them as well.  This is why every project is unique because of different customer lifestyles.” Creating such a space is no mean task that requires an amalgamation of expertise from architects, designers, engineers, craftsmen and carpenters.  LAAB is one of the few studios in Hong Kong that groups together these professionals under one roof so that their constant experimentation can be carried out smoothly.

Sustainability has become an important principle that is entrenched in design today.  LAAB uses mostly locally available materials but thanks to technology, they are able to transform and give them a new feel, thus preserving the overall uniqueness of each project.  The idea is to invest more in spatial thinking rather than spending too much on costly materials.

From tiny Hong Kong flats to how one experiences a big city, technology can enhance our lives in the most relevant and intangible ways.  While studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ng was involved in the design of the Copenhagen Wheel, a powerful device that can turn any bike into a smart bike.  While it is able to enhance the biking experience with power assist and regenerative braking, when connected to a smart phone it can track personal statistics, customise rides and connect in countless other ways. 

“In these applications you can see technology will not make our future very mechanical but give us a better lifestyle that is very connected with the city and the natural environment that we live in,” explained Ng.