Architecture and Design

Small can be beautiful too, and snug in Hong Kong’s tight corners

Trading in quantity for innovation, LAAB’s Otto Ng believes thinking small is the way of the future

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 3:28pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 September, 2017, 11:56am

Building taller, denser and smaller while finding a harmony between preservation and innovation is what LAAB’s Design Director Otto Ng believes will be shaping Hong Kong’s cityscape in the next decade.

Co-founder of the three-year-old firm, Ng brings a youthful perspective to the future of city planning in Hong Kong.

There are plenty of landmark architecture and statement spaces in the city, and reinvigorating and repurposing theses existing spaces, he believes, might be one of the most pressing challenges the city is set to face.

“Competition of space will always be a huge issue in Hong Kong,” he said. “Everyone faces this challenge. We recently worked on a residential project that’s 9000 sq ft, with 28 rooms, and still, the owner was facing a lack of space.”

Maximising the use of space both in public areas and in homes will be a defining theme for years to come.

One solution is tearing down old buildings and replacing them with taller ones. But this kind of growth, as Ng has witnessed, is at the cost sacrificing buildings and neighbourhoods with significant ties to the history of the city.

“Heritage and conversation should be taken into consideration,” he said. “We’ve been taking down old buildings since 30 years ago: the dome that was taken down at my high school, La Salle College, the North Point Cinema. There really needs to be a good civic force for conservation.”

The lack of space, Ng reckons, will give way to more creative and experimental design and planning. On a public level, Ng is working on projects to transform small pockets of space in prominent urban areas around the city.

Without divulging too many details, Ng says the key is to accommodate public activity in these spaces.

Better use of existing public space, be it refreshing amenities and hardware, or repurposing the usage, can add years to the life of existing structures.

The Hong Kong Central Library as well as the West Kowloon Waterfront can benefit from expanding its existing usage.

“Take Hyde Park or Central Park for instance,” Ng said. “We can activate the existing space, add some small galleries, or promote more exchange between people using the library.”

For space like the Hong Kong Central Library, where Ng believes rebuilding will be unlikely for the next ten to 20 years, inventive usage can be hugely beneficial.

Meanwhile, residential developers are challenging the notion of a small flat with new, increasingly smaller apartments. It has led to a need to rethink how individuals can live comfortably within a small space.

Ng and his team had previously designed 300-sq-ft microflats that functioned more spaciously compared to a 500 sq ft home.

Ng’s solution is to capitalise on the flexibility of a higher clearance, building upwards within a flat, and a re-examination of our concept of a home.

“Mass housing, where residents have their own bedrooms and bathrooms, and share creatively designed common space with other residents, can help us live better,” he said.

“There will be a more creative use of space, which will be possible if designs of flats are done before the building itself is built,” he said.

Holistic designs that more closely reflect boutique hotel rooms, with open space and practically no walls, will allow people to have their own space, albeit with all core necessities scaled down.

Small steps indeed.