Dream as a team

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 February, 2007, 12:00am

WHILE OTHER LITTLE girls were playing with dolls, Moira Moser, chairman of international firm M Moser Associates, was playing with Lego. 'I was always a builder at heart,' she said. 'I decided when I was nine years old that I wanted to be an architect, and I've never wanted to be anything else.'

Ms Moser's interest in architecture came from an unusual source, from Better Homes and Gardens, a magazine popular with housewives in the United States at the time.

'I saw pictures of beautiful homes in my mother's magazines, and I decided I wanted to build beautiful homes when I grew up,' Ms Moser recalled. 'Over time I came to understand that there were lots of beautiful things that could be built, not just homes.'

Her interest in architecture and design continued through high school. After graduation she went to Europe to find out first hand what was going on in other countries. She studied art in Hamburg, Germany and Istanbul, Turkey, before returning to her native California, where she majored in architecture at the University of California at Berkeley. She then went to Iran, where she was a partner in a small practice in the seven years preceding the Iranian Revolution, which resulted in the Shah being overthrown in 1979.

'I left two weeks before the Shah did,' Ms Moser said.

While working in Iran, she visited Hong Kong to do research for the US-based International Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

'During that visit I met a lot of architects who said that if I ever came back to Hong Kong they would have a job for me,' Ms Moser said. 'I came back in 1978 and worked for an architectural firm until 1991, when I started M Moser Associates. We started in Wan Chai with just three people. We now have nine offices globally with close to 450 staff.'

With offices in Britain and the US,

M Moser Associates has worked its way up to be the largest Asian-based firm focusing on corporate interiors of international standard.

Meanwhile, the firm's services have expanded to include strategic planning. An information technology division, M Moser Technology, integrates the planning and engineering of computer and telecom networks into the interior design process.

The company decided to enter the mainland market in 1993 because a large number of its clients, many of them being multinationals, were opening offices in Shanghai and seeking help to set up shop.

M Moser Associates has offices in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, where nearly half of the firm's total staff are based.

'Our focus has always been on end-users as clients, the people who will actually be using the space we design,' Ms Moser said. 'Over the years we have expanded our services to include building services engineering, data centre infrastructure and strategic planning.'

A passion for creating spaces was necessary to be a success in this line of work, Ms Moser said.

'Design covers a broad spectrum of issues - space, colour, light and movement. You have to have a passion for that,' she said.

'For the work we do, which is interior architecture for corporate end-users, the important thing for a good designer to have is the ability to dream with the client. We don't design for ourselves, we design for our clients. So understanding their goals, values and objectives has

to be the basis of all our design solutions.'

Ms Moser is a recognised architect in California, Britain and Hong Kong. She is a member of the American Institute of Architects, and in 2001 she became a Fellow of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, one of less than 20 women to be so honoured.

Since the '70s, Ms Moser has worked with the International Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, with headquarters at the Illinois Institute of Technology in the US. She was recognised as Entrepreneur of the Year in the 2004 Women of Influence awards, organised by the American Chamber of Commerce.

10 things I know

1 Talk less and listen more. You never know when someone will say something that will inspire you to design something wonderful. Because designers think visually, it is too easy to hear just a few words from a client and immediately come up with a design solution. You have to hear more than the first few words. You have to ask for more information from the clients - more about their worries and goals. Only then should you start thinking about your design.

2 Remember that good ideas can come from anywhere. Even the most junior and least experienced designer can have ideas that are good and creative. Creative designing is a talent, just as painting or acting is a talent. It grows and develops, but the seed has got to be there in the first place.

3 Manage the process and lead the people. You can manage something that has been developed and agreed upon, but in order to lead people you must first think of what the right thing to do is. It is dangerous to jump to a solution without thinking things all the way through.

4 Let people have fun. I have learned that people tend to work better and are more creative when they are having fun. For many people the glass is always half empty. For others, the glass is half full. People who are optimistic are not put off by problems. They tend to see them as challenges for which they can find solutions.

5 Foster a sense of team spirit among your staff. I have learned that what we do can only be accomplished through teamwork. No single one of us can create and deliver, all by ourselves, a workplace environment that is successful. It takes creative ideas and also a technical understanding of how to make that happen.

6 Think of your company as a community. For us, part of creating effective teamwork is creating a sense of community within the office and throughout the company. We celebrate not only our project successes, but also the people who make them happen. We also celebrate the high points in our people's personal lives, such as when they get married and when they have children. By caring for our own people, it becomes natural for us to care for our clients.

7 Think of technology as a tool. We have learned that technology can be a wonderful tool, which can support our design efforts. All nine of our offices and 450 staff members are linked to our own virtual private network. We exchange knowledge about new ways of doing things. We exchange all sorts of information so that we can help each other succeed. We know from experience that what goes around comes around.

8 Hold workshops. Workshops are wonderful. We are constantly looking for opportunities to have internal workshops for our people so they can learn from one another. To celebrate our 25th anniversary in Hong Kong, we had in-house designer workshops at which designers from all our offices came together to exchange ideas and create new ideas. These are hands-on workshops with discussions and exchanges of information. They are fun and interactive and a wonderful way for us to learn from each other.

9 Do not design for yourself. Design for your client. If you design for yourself, you are not a designer, you are an artist. Your client has come to you to help him/her achieve something, and with your talent to create an environment. You can help him/her achieve that something only if you focus on him/her, rather than yourself.

10 Remember that you are designing for people, not designing a stage set. Think about the activities that will happen in the space you are designing. Think about how the people using that space will feel when they are there. Close your eyes and walk through the space and see it in your mind as a journey.