Hubert Burda Media

Adrian Cheng’s Newest Public Initiative is… a Sauna?

Meet the designers behind the Hot is Cool public-installation project.

Adrian Cheng may just be the busiest man in Hong Kong. Besides running the New World conglomerate, jeweller Chow Tai Fook and K11 Art Foundation, among other projects, he’s just launched a new non-profit initiative called Culture for Tomorrow (CFT), which spotlights design and architecture and encourages cross-culture conversation through public programmes such as Hot is Cool, a duet of installations that will sit in Tsim Sha Tsui and will be unveiled tomorrow. CFT’s specific goal, according to Cheng, is to nurture new names in the oft-ignored field of design: ““Culture for Tomorrow will enable a new generation of designers and architects to realise their forward-looking and people-oriented ideas, and bring them into the community in bold new ways,” he says. And given the success that artists associated with and anointed by his K11 programmes have had globally, the design community certainly has its eye on this one.

The participatory installations in Hot is Cool are a sauna and Chinese pavilion respectively, public spaces that are common to Chinese and Finnish culture respectively. The outdoor sauna space has been created by Finnish architect Ville Hara, while the pavilion was undertaken by local talent Stanley Siu. The intention of each building is to explore the dynamics of human behaviour in public arenas, making each space essentially not just a functional hangout, but a living artwork. We sat down with the two design maestros to get their thoughts on the works, and on designing for public spaces in each of their respective countries.

What are some of your fundamentals when it comes to designing public spaces?

Ville Hara: Most important is to put yourself to the place of the user of the public space. Too often we see monumental scale and formalistic ideas that might look good in the renderings but do not serve people in the city. Public space is created through the bordering buildings or structures. It’s important that the surrounding buildings open up to the surroundings and have public functions on the ground floor. It might be that actual space can be pretty plain if there are enough activators around. I like public spaces that are not too designed but allow also temporary happenings. Often all you need is just some low walls or benches to sit on.

As I come from Finland, public space can be also an indoor space for me. We have fantastic network of public libraries in Finland. The modern libraries don’t serve as a storage for books, but enable interaction between people and offer all kinds of services, from 3D printing to recording your own music. And all this for free!

Stanley Siu: My​ ​idea​ ​comes​ ​from​ ​the​ ​architectural​ ​typologies​ ​of​ ​early​ ​publics estates​ ​in​ ​Hong​ ​Kong.​ ​Spatiality​ ​of​ ​the​ ​estates​ ​demonstrates​ ​freedom​ ​in​ ​terms​ ​of​ ​its​ ​usages. Users/​​people​ ​who​ ​lived​ ​in​ ​the​ ​estates​ ​enjoyed​ ​using​ ​the​ ​public​ ​spaces​ ​freely​ .​ ​Such​ ​flexibility​ ​and spontaneity​ ​of​ ​participation​ ​in​ ​public​ ​spaces​ ​is​ ​enticing​ ​to​ ​me,​ ​whereas​ ​to​ ​a​ ​certain​ ​point,​ ​providing​ ​a​ ​free​ ​space for​ the ​public​ ​becomes​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​fundamentals​ ​when​ ​I​ ​am​ ​designing.

What​ ​are​ ​some​ ​of​ ​your​ ​favorite​ ​public​ ​spaces​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world?

Stanley Siu: Public​ ​spaces​ ​in​ ​Rome​ ​​do​ ​not​ ​have​ ​a​ ​solid function​ ​or​ ​programme​ ​restriction, and thus ​offer​ ​a​ ​large​ ​flexibility​ ​to​ ​the​ ​community – the public​ ​can​ ​use​ them ​however​ ​and​ ​whenever​ ​they​ ​want.​ ​A​ ​spacious​ ​piazza​ ​often​ ​adjoins​​ ​critical​ ​and​ ​influential architecture,​ ​i.e.​ ​cathedrals,​ ​churches​ ​or​ ​government​ ​architecture,​ ​so​ ​the​ ​public​ ​can​​ ​gather​ ​when​ ​vital​ ​events happen.​ ​From​ ​the​ ​example​ ​of​ ​Rome,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​clear​ ​that​ ​the​ ​relationship​ ​between​ ​public​ ​spaces​ ​and​ ​architecture​ ​is​ ​not fragmented​ ​like​ ​in Hong​ ​Kong​ ​– and​ ​it​ ​should​ ​not​ ​be.

Centre Pompidou in Paris
Photo: eutourist.org

Ville Hara: I like for example the square in front of Centre Pompidou in Paris. There is absolutely nothing on the square: no vegetation, no benches. Just a vast inclined plane leading to the museum. Still, the square is active night and day. The robust asphalt area encourages people to sit on the floor and watch the artists drawing caricatures for tourists.

What is the importance of design in creating a public space?

Ville Hara: I am always a bit uneasy with the word “design”. For me it refers to formalistic gestures that make everyday objects look strange but unique so that you can charge more money for them. But design is not all about that. Design is really important. A good example of high class design is the Fiskars scissors. The scissors are designed as long lasting and well-functioning. There is nothing superficial in the aesthetics and this is why the classic product is timeless and looks fresh still today.

In the same way, good design is crucial in creating public space. In architecture we are creating environments that last for decades, or even centuries. However, we shouldn’t be too serious about public space. All public spaces need not be classical. There should be a variety of places to hang out for different user groups, for example young and old. It is interesting to think how we could engage people and let them participate in creating their own spaces. The most interesting public spaces currently in Helsinki are created by voluntary people planting urban gardens, painting street walls (formerly known as graffiti) or opening a self-made public sauna without any building permission. The city is for the people. Let them decide how to use public space.

Tell​ ​us​ ​about​ ​the​ ​concept​ ​behind​ ​your​ ​Hot is Cool​ ​design​ ​and​ ​what​ ​you’re​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​achieve.

Stanley Siu: My piece leong4​ ​ting2 is​ ​inspired​ ​by​ ​traditional​ ​Chinese​ ​pavilions​ ​for​ ​people​ ​to​ ​enjoy​ ​the​ ​cool​ ​under​ ​the​ ​shade. Conventional​ ​Chinese​ ​pavilions​ ​are​ ​aimed​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​gathering​ ​point​ ​and​ ​activity​ ​space,​ ​a significant​ ​form​ ​of​ ​architecture​ ​and​ ​symbol​ ​of​ ​places​ ​providing​ ​shade​ ​for​ ​people​ ​to​ ​take​ ​rest​ ​during​ ​their​ ​journey.

leong4​ ​ting2​ ​is​ ​a​ ​reimagination​ ​of​ ​traditional​ ​Chinese​ ​pavilions​ ​by building​ ​three​ ​contemporary​ ​wooden​ ​pavilions​ ​on​ ​a​ ​nine-square​ ​grid​ ​forming​ ​a​ ​T-shape.​ ​The​ ​design​ ​aims​ ​to serve​ ​multiple​ ​functions​ ​and​ ​activities – ​the​ ​structure​ ​can​ ​be​ ​dismantled​ ​and​ ​reassembled​ ​at​ ​various​ ​locations. Moreover,​ ​the​ ​seating​ ​is​ ​designed​ ​to​ ​be​ ​movable​ ​and​ ​stackable,​ ​thus​ ​enhancing​ ​the​ ​flexibility​ ​for​ ​different activities​ ​such​ ​as​ ​seminars,​ ​performances,​ ​conferences​ ​and​ ​workshops.

Ville Hara: Sauna Kolo is very simple to contrast the free-form interior space. It was challenging to make a design on a site that you have not visited personally, and for a culture that you don’t know. Our design always starts from the site and surrounding conditions, but maybe it’s good to make this kind of project that is more free every now and then.

Our wish is that people will take the sauna building as their own so that it would be in active use. We had some challenges arranging running water to the sauna, and bathing without a possibility to wash yourself is a bit tricky. But I have packed my Speedos with me and will show as an example how to enjoy Finnish saunas! I hope there will be personnel to instruct on sauna bathing when I am not there so that people in Hong Kong can learn how a sauna functions.

Due​ ​to​ ​small​ ​living​ ​spaces,​ ​Hong​ ​Kong​ ​people​ ​are​ ​generally​ ​out​ ​and​ ​about​ ​more​ ​than​ ​in​ ​many​ ​other countries. Given​ ​that​ ​context,​ ​how​ ​are​ ​public​ ​spaces​ ​in​ ​Hong​ ​Kong​ ​different​ ​or​ ​unique​ ​compared​ ​to those​ ​in​ ​other​ ​countries?
Stanley Siu: ​Hong​kongers​​ ​often​ ​go​ ​into​ ​various shopping​ ​mall​s,​ ​which​ ​have​ ​deeply​ ​impacted​ ​public’s​ ​living​ ​style.​ ​As time​ ​passes,​ ​shopping​ ​malls​ have​become​ ​the​ ​[main form of] public​ ​space​ ​​ ​in​ ​Hong​ ​Kong.​ ​However,​ ​none​ ​of​ ​its​ ​characteristisc​ ​can​ ​be categorised​ ​as​ belonging to ​a​ ​public​ ​space.​ ​Shopping​ ​malls​ ​force​ ​people​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​consuming,​ ​with​​ ​few​ ​seats​ ​for​ ​people​ ​to rest.​ Public​ ​spaces​ ​in​ ​Italy​ ​or​ ​any​ ​other​ ​European​ ​countries​ ​have​ ​plenty of spacious​ ​piazzas​ ​here​ ​and​ ​there.​ ​Though​ ​there​ ​are​ ​shops​ ​around​ ​the​ ​piazzas,​ ​it​ ​does​ ​not​ ​give​ ​the​ ​public​ ​an​ ​urge to​ ​consume​ ​like​ ​those​ ​malls​ ​do​ ​in​ ​Hong​ ​Kong.​ ​

Hong​ ​Kong​ ​is​ ​a​ ​city​ ​of​ ​ever-changing​ ​architecture.​ ​What​ ​are​ ​your​ ​thoughts​ ​on​ ​the​ ​buildings of​ ​Hong​ ​Kong?​ ​How​ ​is​ ​the​ ​architecture​ ​scene​ ​changing?
Stanley Siu: Most​ ​of​ ​buildings in Hong Kong​ ​are​ ​conspicuous​ ​and​ ​iconic.​ ​In​ ​my​ ​opinion,​ ​​the trend​ ​of​ ​just​ ​designing​ ​iconic​ ​architecture​ ​or​ ​architects​ ​that​ ​aim​ ​to​ ​create​ ​a wow​ ​factor​ ​are​ ​no​ ​longer​ ​viable​ ​in​ ​Hong Kong,​ ​and​ ​even​ ​worldwide.​ ​I​ ​believe​ ​that​ ​architecture​ ​should​ ​be​ ​more​ ​human-oriented,​ ​providing​ ​the​ ​fundamental needs​ ​via​ ​an​ ​inclusive​ ​design.​ ​Architecture​ ​should​ ​be​ ​sustainable –​ ​for​ ​instance,​ ​how​ ​architecture​ ​can​ ​minimise energy​ ​to​ ​create​ ​a​ ​more​ ​sustainable​ ​and​ ​long-lasting​ ​living​ ​environment?​ ​There are​ ​also​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​current​ ​directions​ ​in​ ​this field.

 

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