Photo: Jonathan Wong
BUILDING DREAMS I can speak Cantonese. My mother's mother is Chinese, my mother is Eurasian, my father European. My father is a newcomer, he only came (to Macau) in the 1950s; but on my mother's side, her father was Portuguese, born in Macau, and his family has lived in Macau for 200 years. I was born here and studied at school in Macau and university in Europe. I came back in 1983 (to work on the government-run Committee for the Defence of the Architectural, Environmental and Cultural Heritage). The first regulations in Macau in the modern sense started in 1983, 1984. I was in the team to draft the new regulations of heritage preservation and other legal amendments.
My first building was here. I was 26 years old and very happy Macau gave me this opportunity. I love to restore old buildings. And I love to design new buildings which are completely contemporary, if the client allows us.
SPREADING HAPPINESS To be an architect, understanding the materials, technologies, engineering and construction are all very important, but it is not enough just to be competent. You have to care about the community, its identity, its culture. If you try to understand their lives, you understand contemporary urban culture. When I design a square or library I try, through architecture, to promote happiness. What everybody is searching for in the world is happiness, balance. When you suggest restoring a little square by not having a high-rise but providing culture, you become close to the community, and I think this is much more important than simply maximising reinforced concrete and steel.
FUNNY BUNNY When I was a kid I used to play during the Mid-Autumn Festival with rabbit lanterns. My grandfather told me (that he did) the same. When my kids were small, I also gave them lanterns. There are many forms of lantern, from the monkey to the airplane, but the little rabbit is the most traditional. The regulations for the competition (to create a pavilion at) the Shanghai World Expo (required) something that showed the identity of Macau, both East and West. I couldn't find a better example than this simple traditional lantern. In Macau there is a funny thing, because of the Portuguese cobblestones; when you pull the little rabbit it will shake its head in a very lovable way. I received so many calls from people I didn't know saying it was a good idea. When you have the community saying, "I am happy, I look at the pavilion and I identify myself", I think this is the best reward.
I also have the responsibility of representing Macau (at the Venice Biennale; which lasts until November). The previous four times Macau was represented, it was by several artists each time. This year there was no competition; I was invited to represent Macau alone.
TEXT MESSAGE Normally my drawings have text. Some are my thoughts or things I have read that are amazing or beautiful. I use the writing sometimes as part of the composition, and other times as a tribute to the writers. Before, writers and poets were more respected, in the sense that they were considered wise men, forecasting the world … or simply producing beautiful poetry. When I travel, and I travel a lot, it is very boring. I have no phobia but I don't like only watching movies. So I draw a lot. Normally I bring my paper, but if I don't have it I draw over the ticket or the menus.
HOT AIR I am a smoker. I've never stated that it was good but it is in our culture. So many poets write about smoking as a pleasure. Writers, scientists, too. Smoking is like drinking coffee or tea, a way to enjoy solitude. Therefore I showed smoking (in his 2011 exhibition "Tobacco Wars") from several points of view. But I also state one thing - there is too much hypocrisy in all societies of the world. Smokers are considered criminals but car pollution, industrial pollution, all of these things are not considered minimally criminal. This is what I don't accept.
GLOBAL VILLAGERS I believe that fusion in everything, from race to culture, will make the world better. Globalisation is a kind of fusion, too. Today it is common to have an Asian marry or have children with a Caucasian. You realise as you travel and understand people all around the world that we are so similar. We have our little differences, otherwise everybody would be the same, but (when faced with) success or defeat, to be joyful or frustrated, the way we feel, the way we celebrate, are so similar.
BACK WHERE WE BELONG My children are in Europe. One is an architect and the other a doctor. The architect is in London and very happy there; she says when she's more capable she will come back to Macau. The doctor is doing specialisations, and afterwards, with more experience, she will come back to Hong Kong or Macau. Of course, I never influence them, they have to search for their own happiness.
I said to my colleagues when we finished secondary school, "After university we have to come back," because traditional Macanese, both Portuguese and Chinese, very seldom came back. Macau was quite poor and too small. But Macau must be built with our input and knowledge. And a significant part of our generation came back. I love this place. Only a lazy guy in Macau can say, "Oh, we have nothing here." You just have to have the attitude to understand and respect others. I talk with so many expatriates from the UK and Portugal, and the majority are happy. It doesn't mean we live in paradise, and when I need to criticise it, I criticise it. But we solve the problems. This is a fantastic place to live.