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Ten minutes with…Dylan Baker-Rice

Architect Dylan Baker-Rice is principal of AFFECT-T, which he founded in London in 2009 after a number of years working with Zaha Hadid. The firm opened an office in Hong Kong two years ago, and puts an emphasis on sustainable design.
How did you get into sustainable architecture, and what’s it been like bringing those ideas to Hong Kong?
My first degree was in anthropology – we studied a lot about sustainable communities, and somehow that grew into an interest in architecture. It wasn’t until I moved to New York after graduating that I started working for a sustainable architect, who did low-income housing.
It seems like with Western projects, there’s much more emphasis on sustainable design – it’s a big-ticket item. With projects in Hong Kong, it’s more nascent. There are no government regulations. Everyone recognises that the future’s in that direction. But for now, cost is still the most important thing.
What are you working on at the moment and how have you put your stamp on it?
A residence we’re working on right now is Bright Curves at Jardine’s Lookout, where we’re using traditional Chinese building techniques. We’re doing terrazzo floors, so we have traditional craftsmen to do that. We’re doing a screen as well, but we’re making it out of pieces of porcelain. There’s an area in China that specialises in porcelain and has done for hundreds of years, so we’re talking with a potter about casting individual pieces and having them fit together in a wall of porcelain flowers.
We’re also experimenting with colour. Some of our projects – partially because of us, partially because of the clients – tend to be all white. The modern space is neutral  – that’s been the case for a while. When you look at more traditional Chinese buildings, though, they’re really colourful. You usually only see them in black-and-white photos, and you’re just drawn to the wood and the tiles and the shapes of things, but when you see these houses in person, they have all these bright colours and they’re vibrant; they’re exciting spaces. We’d like to bring that flavour to Bright Curves.
We heard that your firm is also designing a ‘green village’ in the New Territories?
Yes – in Sai Kung. We’re working on that with two developers – it was the major project that brought us to Hong Kong. Our main drive there is to create a more sustainable community. The idea is to create shared garden space between the houses so the residents not only get a view and have parking and more space, but they also have easy access to nature.
How do the local climate and landscape affect the design decisions you make?
We’re working with terrazzo flooring a lot. A lot of floors used to be made in this way because it was cooler – it holds the heat during the night and radiates it, and it holds the cool during the day. As far as materials are concerned, we’re working a lot more with wood, and looking more at using local woods.
I’m also interested in the notion of the classic Chinese screen – playing with different ideas of dividing space, but not with walls: with something that still allows air circulation, still allows a visual connection. It’s much more appealing to have a connection with the climate than to close the windows and breathe recycled, air-conditioned air.
Do you think people in Hong Kong are becoming more open to a return to traditional design principles?
It’s an interesting time in Hong Kong, where the identity of the place is being rediscovered – not as a replica or extension of the West but as its own identity. Last year the Pritzker Prize, which is sort of like the Nobel Prize of architecture, went to a Chinese architect [Wang Shu] for the first time. You’d almost describe his buildings as traditionally modern – they have very strong roots in rural, simple architecture, but the forms of them are modern. I think there’s a growing interest in the identity – on the interiors side: so, rediscovering what Chinese living means.
With all the building that’s happening in Hong Kong – with, say, West Kowloon – there are a number of cultural buildings that might hopefully be more Chinese, or have more of a connection to Hong Kong than, say, London or Paris. Of course Hong Kong wants big-name, international architects. But what would be interesting is to see the smaller-scale buildings done by local firms; to see how the local design talent – by local I mean within Hong Kong, China and South East Asia – can start to showcase a new, evolving style.

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