The words 'institutional' and 'public' often provoke a shudder of distaste when used to describe architecture or design. But, as Steven Obrovac points out in the foreword to Hong Kong-based Barrie Ho's Institutional Architecture (Perspective, HK$220), this response may be the reason cookie-cutter designs continue to plague our cities. 'Low expectations have a great deal to do with why so many institutional spaces turn out the way they do,' Obrovac writes. Those of us who use them usually enter and leave as quickly as possible and view them as little more than functional, which is why few organisations 'presiding over these spaces are disposed to provide anything more'. However, the youth centres, offices, historical buildings and public spaces Barrie Ho Architecture Interiors has built or restored in the past eight years demonstrate how institutional architecture can be inspirational and foster a feeling of community. Take Tuen Mun's Youth Spot, which is as functional and futuristic as it is striking and street smart. Highlights include hang-out areas decked out with colourful floor-to-ceiling cushions that facilitate play and relaxation. Also appealing are 'study pockets' inspired by hawker market stalls. Ho's book combines handsome pictures with clear extended captions. Metal Shutter Houses is almost as clever as the 11-storey New York building of the same name (above right) featured in it. Designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, the structure's nine duplexes can be opened across its breadth via walls that lift up and out of the way. The facade, fitted with perforated metal shutters, can similarly 'disappear' like a 'removable skin'. When the shutters are down, the building looks like a minimalist cube; when they are open, the double-height living rooms are ready for action. The picture-heavy book allows 'readers' to see the building as it sheds its protective membranes. Each page contains an image only slightly different from the previous one, which means that as you flick from front to back a kinetic picture emerges of the building waking up and preparing for the day. There's no need to visit the site on 524 West 19th Street in Chelsea, New York, if you buy the book (call 1 212 488 6900 for more details; www.metalshutterhouses.com ).