Hong Kong architect aims to advance community needs

Phiyona Au Yeung, who won kudos for her work on luxury residential projects, says architecture is a tough industry and one must have a competitive spirit in overcoming the challenges

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 October, 2014, 7:16am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 October, 2014, 7:16am

Phiyona Au Yeung Ming-sze believes architecture should reflect community needs in a city. In Hong Kong, an increasing desire for more open space and green areas will be addressed by her design firm's current major project - the West Kowloon park that will hug the foreshore at the cultural district.

Au Yeung, a director at Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man Architects & Engineers (DLN), has won kudos for her work on major luxury residential projects, such as 39 Conduit Road and Azura in the Mid-Levels. Her design for the redevelopment of Hutchison House in Central is expected to deliver a new landmark building.

DLN has shaped the skyline of Hong Kong. Among its projects in the past 42 years is the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, completed in 1988.

Au Yeung says the completion of Hysan Place in Causeway Bay in 2012 helped showcase green building technology, winning environmental building awards.

DLN had earned the distinction of designing the city's then-tallest building, the 78-storey Central Plaza in Wan Chai, which opened in 1992. That was followed by the 75-storey Center in Central, completed in 1998.

What led you to study architecture?

I have liked drawing since I was a child. But Hong Kong did not promote creativity in schools, so I decided to study architecture at university when I had the chance to pursue something creative. The Chinese University of Hong Kong was just starting to offer an architecture course at that time.

What problems do architects face in Hong Kong?

The Hong Kong Buildings Ordinance has become more restrictive over the past 10 years. That doesn't mean you can't challenge the norms. But it takes time for architects in terms of having to justify their designs. A longer development time means developers have to spend more. It is a challenge for architects to produce a unique design under such a restrictive working environment.

We designed an eight-storey urban window for a residential project in Ho Man Tin. It could offer better air ventilation for the area. But it took us several months to convince the government that it should be excluded from the calculation of gross floor area. If it was included in the calculations, developers would rather cancel a design like that and keep the floor area for residential use.

Mainland developers have hired foreign architects over the past few years. How do you see the opportunities for Hong Kong architects on the mainland?

It's true they preferred to hire foreign architects in recent years. They are finding that Hong Kong architects are familiar with their requirements and needs. Hong Kong architects are also strong in designing high-density and mixed-use developments.

Mainland developers like to work with Hong Kong architects because of their positive working attitude. They are flexible and willing to work as a partnership.

What kind of compromises an architect may have to make to achieve success?

Architecture is a tough industry. You have to have a competitive spirit. Since the Hong Kong Buildings Ordinance is getting more complicated, design work has become time-consuming. Architects act as a service agency and have to deliver quality projects on time.

You also need to convince your team and the site owners. You have to make sure the team follows your direction. You also need to overcome government hurdles and win all the approvals. Architects have to be competitive and display a confident attitude to overcome challenges.

Among your designs, which is your favourite?

Azura in the Mid-levels developed by Swire Properties. It is a luxury residential project. The developer wanted to have a subtle and understated design, rather than a gaudy and garish design.

The needs of residents are being compromised in some residential projects. The curve design was getting popular when we designed Azura. But we believe that "form follows function". We designed the project based on the needs of the residents. They are able to have a high-efficiency living area.

We used stones from Yunfu in Guangdong province to decorate the external wall of Azura. But there are wide variations in the colour. We had to send two teams to the mainland every week to mix the colours to maintain the consistency.

We overcame all the difficulties in the end. It is the greatest satisfaction to architects when we saw our design come to fruition.

What is the impact on design of the increase in construction costs?

Developers are more cost-sensitive. Architects must deliver the product within the given requirements.

How do you balance working and taking care of your children?

Our company respects colleagues with children. We don't need to sacrifice our family life. Since I live close to my office, I go home to spend time with my children during lunch if I am available. I avoid working overtime and spend at least three hours with my children before bed time. Also, technology helps the operation. We can reply emails after work. We can achieve a balance in our working and social lives.