By Christina Chung
“The local architects based in Hong Kong are the invisible forces who have contributed to its shaping – ‘invisible’ because most of them choose to hide behind their ‘masters’ and clients. This exhibition is a tribute to the works of some of them. But it tells only part of their story; the other part remains to be explored.”
- A preface to the exhibition A.K.A.: The Hidden Dimensions of Architects: “Rediscovering the Vernacular in Hong Kong Architecture” by Professor Leo Ou-fan Lee
Young Architects' Award Recipients: (left to right) Martin Fung, Helen Ho, Stephen Chan, Jason Tang, Paul Chu, Billy Tam, Chan Lai Kiu
For a city which is so defined by its dense architecture, it can be a surprise to realize that Hong Kong’s architects are often silent and unknown by the communities that they serve. As a means of exploring the roles and contributions of our local architects beyond the buildings that they create, the Asian Cultural Council presented the exhibition A.K.A.: The Hidden Dimensions of Architects which was held at the Hong Kong Arts Centre from November 4 – 7th. The exhibition was a celebration event to honor the 21st anniversary of ACC’s Young Architects’ Award which was established with support from the Hsin Chong – K.N. Godfrey Yeh Education Fund. Fourteen recipients of the Young Architects’ Award who are ‘also known as’ writers, educators, artists or cultural leaders created installation and multimedia pieces to showcase these alternate identities and share their work collectively for the first time as ACC alumni.
A view of the first floor of the exhibition
The accompanying roundtable discussion titled, “Hong Kong Architects: Where Are You?” held on November 6th gave further discourse to the architect’s position in Hong Kong and the particular challenges that they face. Moderated by Paul Chu (YAA recipient and Head of Department of Architecture at the Chu Hai College of Higher Education) and participated by the exhibitors, the discussion also featured guest speakers Professor Leo Ou-fan Lee (Sin Wai Kin Professor of Chinese Culture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong), Alan Lo (Co-founder and Director of Press Room Group), Vincent Ng (YAA recipient and Director of AGC Design Ltd.) and Douglas Young (Founder and Executive Director of Goods of Desire) who are connected by their interest and background in architecture. The discussion was open to the public and was also attended by architecture students and members of the arts community.
A view of the second floor of the exhibition
Moving past superficial complaints, the discussion touched on more fundamental issues which surround the work of architects in Hong Kong. “We are too afraid of failure”, said Chan Lai Kiu, YAA recipient and one of the exhibition’s lead curators, “we have to leave room for failure and realize that it is okay to fail and okay to try again. If not, we will only be left with standardized models of architecture and nothing good or creative will come of it.” On the subject of career development for local architects, Hong Kong artist Kacey Wong who was amongst the audience reflected on his own path as a Cornell University graduate in architecture who eventually turned to art instead as he saw more room for development in this field. In relation to space limitations faced by younger architects who are often unable to carry out their designs, Douglas Young suggested, “Why don’t we allow these architects to work on smaller projects like our city’s railings, lamp posts or even garbage bins to create something which conveys our local culture? We need to stop trying to play ‘catch up’ with international developments and instead address the question: ‘who am I’ to stand behind our own culture, to do our own thing.”
The roundtable discussion: "Hong Kong Architects: Where Are You?", Sunday, November 6th
For the architects involved, the exhibition A.K.A.: The Hidden Dimensions of Architects is partly their answer to ‘who am I’. The exhibition now travels to DETOUR 2011 (November 25 – December 11) which will provide a bigger platform for the public to discover Hong Kong’s architects and perhaps, inspire them to formulate answers to their own questions of identity as citizens of Hong Kong. As Professor Lee writes in his exhibition preface: “Why should Hong Kong’s architects emulate the Supermodern style and the big names of world architecture? Have we seen and experienced too much of the same urban features – super-modern airports, shopping malls, make-believe theme parks etc. – as to demand something different? If so, what marks and who makes this difference? Perhaps our local architects are the true forerunners and pioneers of our ‘post-global’ taste.”