Driven to progress: Time is money, says architect Dennis Lau Wing-kwong

The man behind CITIC Plaza in Guangzhou says every project has to be better than the last

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2012, 3:26pm

He is one of Hong Kong's most renowned architects, and perhaps few understand the financial value of time more than Dennis Lau Wing-kwong.

"As an architect, time in Hong Kong is important. Land prices and building costs are so high that the time it takes for a developer to get back their money is critical," says the chairman and managing director of Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man Architects & Engineers (DLN).

"Even 10 years ago, when interest rates were as high as 18 per cent, costs from contractors were HK$25,000 per hour. Time is money - and big money too. We have to work fast."

DLN's buildings have been at the forefront of Hong Kong's iconic skyline for the past six decades. A selection of the company's works includes Central Plaza, The Centre, K11, Manulife Financial Centre, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, and development of the West Kowloon Cultural District - each a reflection of the city's economic and cultural trends.

"When I came out of university in 1970, I'd look out at Kowloon and it was flat. Because of the airport, the height of buildings was limited - it was like a crew cut from the army," he says. "When they removed [the height restriction], the skyline grew upwards and it's much more interesting than before."

As the city landscape quickly developed into one of the world's most famous, so too did the management duties of the architects behind the builds. "In the older days, when projects were not as complicated, I would spend more time designing," Lau says.

"Today, I spend more time doing personnel duties such as handling staff, clients and consultants."

He is clearly a man inspired by his work and one who embraces change. While others suggest Hong Kong's overcrowded skyline and stringent building regulations signal the death of the city's creative development, Lau takes a more optimistic view; one in which Hong Kong looks beyond its boundaries to something much bigger.

"Hong Kong's architecture is today not only serving Hong Kong but China, Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, [South] Korea and even North Korea. We have been exposed to Western influence for 100 years - we know the world. But we also know Chinese culture and we know what other people like and what they don't. We can compromise."

With globally recognised buildings under his belt, such as CITIC Plaza in Guangzhou (China's eighth-tallest building), the Grand Lisboa Hotel and Casino in Macau (the 10th-tallest hotel in the world) and more in Mongolia, Ukraine, Shanghai and Singapore, Lau is able to adapt to the passing of time by embracing the opportunities that come with it.

"Anything I can do today, I will never do tomorrow," he says. "You have to want to make progress each day. As soon as you do something you think is good, you have to do better tomorrow. Every project has to be better than the last - it's a real drive for me. That's why I will never stop." MI