What fuelled your interest in digital design? "At the age of 12, I built my own website, teaching myself graphics and programming. I became increasingly immersed in 3D modelling and was often invited to design things for my high school and take on freelance projects. In 2002, I won a competition to design the logo for South China Morning Post's Young Post. My tertiary education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT] reinforced my specialisation in design computation, sustainable systems and smart-city concepts."
What projects did you work on at MIT? "I was project architect on the Copenhagen Wheel, which transforms any regular bike into a smart electric hybrid. The wheel learns the pattern of how you cycle and multiplies your pedal power when you are in need of a boost. The wheel also carries sensors that collect your health data and environmental data for the city you're in. It was named one of Time magazine's best inventions of 2014.
"Another is Powerscapes, a solar canopy project designed for the Middle East, a region where there is a lot of oil and sunshine but little food production. The idea is to substitute declining oil production with solar energy harvesting - the canopy collects sunlight but also moderates the temperature and humidity underneath it, allowing agriculture to grow."
Tell us about LAAB. "In 2013, I co-founded LAAB with Ricci Wong, Yip Chun-hang and Geoff Chan. It's an architecture studio and fabrication lab that works across the disciplines of art, architecture, interiors and events. Mostly we've worked in Hong Kong, but we have completed a few projects in Taipei, including a recent series of windows for Hermès.
"As most of our projects [involve both designing and building], we have enjoyed stronger control of our experimental design attempts and at reasonable cost. We also see ourselves as a mini design school, as we have internal research workshops to help our colleagues learn and grow."
What do you think architecture's role is in creating sustainable cities? "With the advancement of design and technology, our cities will gradually become smarter, more responsive and more flexible. Design also has to become more socially and environmentally conscious. So 'smart' architecture is not only about developing technologies for greener construction, but also about infusing intelligent strategies that will help maintain the health of our ecology. We minimise the consumption of materials in our art-installation projects. For instance, in our designs for Lee Gardens' Christmas and New Year [decorations], we upcycled used containers into a temporary cafe and plastic bottles into baubles."
Are expensive smart technologies a hard sell to Hong Kong developers? "These features have become more affordable and customisable. In a recent 'transformational apartment' project, we designed with the idea of 'four-dimensional space-time living'. The function of each area changes in response to the need of the user, so that less space will be needed. This is possible thanks to the intelligent systems we are using. As real-estate prices skyrocket, developers are beginning to appreciate that space-saving features can transform an apartment and therefore justify the extra cost."
LAAB's Design Lab is in PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, tel: 2858 8687.