Who is he?
Thomas Coldefy is an award-winning French architect whose company, Coldefy & Associes, Architectes Urbanistes, won an international competition to design the Hong Kong Design Institute building, which opened in Tiu Keng Leng last November. He recently opened an office in Sheung Wan.
What drew you to architecture as a career?
'I have always been surrounded by architects, including my father and my sister. My father tried to push me in other directions because he knew it was a difficult job, and I went to law school for a year. But I saw my sister studying architecture and I thought it was much more fun than law school. The work of an architect will impact life now and in the future, and I thought it was a meaningful career. Having worked with great architects such as Tadao Ando and KPF [Kohn Pedersen Fox] in New York, I have found a way to express my creativity through a very precise working process.'
What is your design approach?
'At the studio, we have a global approach, working in co-opera- tion with the client, guided by a fundamental objective to respond to function while giving users quality of life. Our designs demonstrate our attention to the quality of public space, a sensitive pursuit of perfection in the match between context, landscape and construction, and the economical use of resources. We understand that not every project will be able to meet all the desired criteria but, equally, we believe we have a responsibility to try to persuade clients and developers to adopt sustainable strategies - even small steps in the right direction are better than none at all.'
Tell us about the Hong Kong Design Institute.
'The project offers a spatial reinterpretation of its built-up city context. The concept expresses the project's intentions, which were to bring together the multidisciplinary nature of the future Design Institute. The institute's architecture invites one to reflect on the combination of multiple and opposing situations: introversion and extroversion; modesty and exhibition; exclusivity and wide accessibility; micro and macro city; classicism and experimentation.
'Each functional element has an immediate clarity from the outside, which is very resonant in the city. The flexible and evolutionary plan allows one to envisage future liaisons with the neighbouring campus. The base of the building - the giant 'urban lounge' - favours meetings and exchanges while taking advantage of inter- nal and external green spaces and views of the countryside.'
What makes for good architecture?
'A good architect must resolve the confrontation between two 'dimensions' that are often in opposition: the dimension of the real - functionality, safety, rationalism, rules and economy - and the dimension of architecture as an expression of the imagination and creativity.
'Guided by a belief that the quality of the surroundings - whether in the workplace, at home or in the public realm - has a direct influence on the quality of human life, I believe architecture should arise from people's needs, concern for the urban and social context, and sensitivity to culture and climate.'
How has architecture changed in the past decade?
'In just a decade, nearly a billion people have joined the global population. Urbanisation and population density have increased, cellphone use has exploded, and power use has tripled in China.
'Given their scale and longevity, buildings are extremely important in terms of resource use. Today's architecture is about improving resource performance to achieve a sustainable future, or a future where the economy delivers more benefits to more people through sustainable resource use. So the reality is that we have to design better with less, which forces architects to act with discipline, restraint and common sense.'