Who? A fourth-generation Hong Konger who has spent most of his career with Leigh & Orange, Zimmern (below) studied architecture at Edinburgh University and at the British School at Rome before returning home. Today, he is one of five partners at the 132-year-old Hong Kong firm. What was there to build in 1874? Leigh & Orange had a hand in constructing many of Hong Kong's imposing colonial buildings and places of worship, some of which it maintains today through restoration projects for the government and private enterprise. The firm's portfolio includes the Ohel Leah Synagogue, built in 1901; Lok Yew Hall, University of Hong Kong (1912); the French Mission (1917); the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (1927); the Mandarin Oriental Hotel (1964); Ocean Park (1976); and the Kadoorie Biological Sciences Building, University of Hong Kong (1998). That's quite a legacy - and a big responsibility. 'We feel there is an institution that has to be handed down to the next generation,' says Zimmern. 'There is the feeling of history, as opposed to other practices in Hong Kong, where you might have one well-known designer running the office, but when that person retires or passes away, basically the company folds.' So what's he working on? Mainland-based real-estate developer Soho China is expanding its Commune by the Great Wall, a collection of contemporary buildings designed by 12 Asian architects. Zimmern is working on the interior designs for a boutique hotel and spa at the development, which is about one hour's drive north of Beijing, towards Badaling. So he likes to work inside? Zimmern implies interior design is architecture's poor cousin, given it has a shelf life of less than 10 years. On the plus side, that allows him to experiment. 'Interior [design] is different from architecture in that it's throw-away, so the approach to it is different. You can be much more frivolous. I like putting some layering of history into a project, whether that history is using a context of 20th-century design or whether it's looking back further than that. Everything has been done before; you've just got to find the reference. So in something like Isola, which has a contemporary-looking interior, the metal screens hark back to 18th-century silhouettes or cut-outs. Isola Bar + Grill (left) - isn't that in the IFC Mall? Correct. For this project, Zimmern had the backdrop of Victoria Harbour and the Tsim Sha Tsui skyline to work with. 'You've got to design a room that's fun to be in but doesn't overpower the view and you have to bring the terrace in,' he says. 'The room is white because any colour would simply get bleached away during the day. At night, the lighting's got to be such that it doesn't create a lot of reflection on the glass so you can actually see the view from inside. There's a lot of texture in the restaurant: the floor is scuffed, reclaimed pine from London; the plaster walls have been raked, so when the sunlight comes in, there's a lot of play of light; and we wanted to have artwork by local artists that had something to do with the harbour, but not the standard view of the harbour. The relationship between kitchen utensils [on the walls] and food is obvious. The smashing [of the utensils, which have been hammered flat] creates a two-dimensional image that has a visual relationship with the metal cut-outs.'