Architect learns to think inside the box

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 February, 2012, 12:00am


Name William Lim
Job Managing director, CL3 Architects

When did you first become interested in architecture?

It was pretty much my father who suggested architecture as a career because I liked to draw. People's understanding of architecture was simplistic back then. I've always found the visual aspect interesting, like stage-setting or movies. I looked into the courses in design and architecture and they suited my thinking process. I'm not so much of a reading or writing type - I like to think of things in three dimensions.

What was your experience once you started studying?

When I started university, I took it easy and had a lot of good times. Obviously my grades for the first semester were not good at all. Slowly I realised that people were working in the studio after hours - it's not like you take off after school and you go party. I learned that the hard way. I started to put in more time. You pretty much jump into cold water and try to swim as hard as possible. A lot of people enjoy working all night and watching the sun rise in the studio, but I'm not like that. I really plan my time so I can always manage to get some sleep.

You studied at Cornell in the United States, and after graduating you worked in Boston. Was there ever a choice between staying in the US or coming back to Hong Kong?

At that time, most foreign students got a one-year work permit when they graduated. It was the early 1980s and the economy wasn't great. I was lucky to find a job and I stayed on for nearly six years. It's a really different way of working there - it's a lot more systematic. More time is devoted to the design process, whereas over here we tend to rush things a little bit too much. It was a very good learning experience. I got to learn all aspects of the building and design process.

Do you think it's important for young architects in Hong Kong to get some experience abroad?

I think it's definitely important. It's always good to see multiple cultures and to really understand how things work, not just in one place but in as many places as possible. You can pick up a lot from working in a foreign country.

Why did you decide to come back to Hong Kong?

When I moved back, I was married and we already had our first child. We wanted to return for maybe a year or two, before the handover, but we never left. I got a job with very low pay and thought I'd see how things would go. Asia's economy has been doing very well over the past 20 years so things worked out.

What was it like to come back and plunge into a different work culture?

In the US, people are more open and you pretty much speak your mind. People don't get offended or take things personally. You can really tell your client what you think. Here, it's different. Even among peers, there are things you talk about and things you don't. There's a hierarchy - you don't talk back to your senior. That takes some getting used to. I had a few problems at the start. You have to learn how people think and how to deal with it in a certain way.

You've always specialised in interior design. Why is that?

The architects I studied - Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier - they didn't separate interiors from architecture. The interior has to go hand-in-hand with the architecture. Nowadays, we are getting involved very early in the process, so interiors can even influence the architecture.

People always feel that interiors are more subject to change, but it depends on the attitude of the interior designer. If you take a Frank Lloyd Wright building, you wouldn't transform or change the interior. You would never change the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles.

Learn more

The University of Hong Kong and Chinese University both offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses in architecture. Polytechnic University and the Hong Kong Design Institute offer undergraduate courses in interior design.