FRAME 117 – André Fu tells St-W how he balances Hong Kong’s inner-city bustle with alone time throughout his day, lending his work a serenity that some describe as distinctly Asian.
ANDRÉ FU: I normally get up at 8 a.m., leave home around 8:45 and arrive at the studio by 9:15. I live in Deep Water Bay, which is at the southern end of Hong Kong, and my studio is at the top of the island. The South Side – an area lined with beaches – has a strong sense of retreat from urban life. It’s nothing at all like the Hong Kong that visitors typically think of. My studio is at the heart of the bustling CBD, but we have a great view of the terrace garden outside. It helps inspire us. It’s very unusual to have a private garden in Hong Kong, let alone in the centre of town.
9:15 a.m. At the studio, I talk to members of my 20-strong team and find out what everyone is up to. I let them know about anything that’s come up overnight in the different time zones we work in. [Fu’s current projects are in Tokyo, Bangkok, France, Singapore and London.] A lot of my staff got their training in Hong Kong. Hiring them was a conscious choice. Apart from Nendo, Neri&Hu and a few Pritzker-prizewinning Japanese architects, the names of Asian designers rarely appear in the press. I want to reach out to local designers and not just rely on the expat community – or on people who went to the Harvard Design School or the AA.
Hong Kong is the core of my work. I’m motivated by the newness, the dynamism and the ricochet of ideas
After that I go to my private office, answer emails, follow the usual routine. If I don’t need to leave the studio, I have sessions with the team about specific projects. When we’re working on a big hotel, we usually split the floors among us, so we have weekly sessions to look at what each member has drawn. Every project has accents and crescendos, of course, but we still need to feel that it works as a whole – that all the layers together provide one holistic experience.
When I’m in Hong Kong, I try to spend some days without meetings, interviews or phone calls. Those are the best days, because I can focus on designing. This city is the core of my work; I’m motivated by the newness, the dynamism and the constant ricochet of ideas. I like the juxtaposition of cultures and the make-do mentality. Hong Kong and the region in general are continually evolving, as seen in the hospitality sector and its exponential growth over the past ten years. Out of this expansion comes both good and bad design, but the sheer volume moves things forward at a very fast pace.
Hong Kong is also close to many Chinese manufacturers. When developing a carpet collection for Tai Ping, for instance, or working on bespoke furniture pieces for our hotels, we travel to mainland China to review prototypes and mark up the drawings. Because it takes about three or four hours by car each way, we turn the occasion into a day trip.
When I draw, I can often feel how everything is coming together much better than I can with the click of a mouse
1:30 p.m. Typically I break for lunch with friends around 1:30 or 2 p.m. – slightly off-peak hours, when it’s quieter. Two or three times a week I go to the gym before lunch. Back at the studio, I start sketching. I draw freehand and really need to focus. This is when I’m least distracted. I think the connection of the hand with a pen and the physical act of drawing enable a very different way of expressing yourself. It’s a lot looser and more personal. When I draw, I can often feel how everything is coming together much better than I can with the click of a mouse.
7 p.m. We normally finish at about 7 or 7:30, which is early for a Hong Kong design studio. I usually go out for dinner. I know how to cook, but I probably prepare a meal for friends or family only five or six times a year. The rest of the time I eat out. It’s a way of life in Hong Kong. We’re spoiled for choice in terms of restaurants. I love Vietnamese food. If I’m looking for more of a night out, I go to Café Gray Deluxe, which is in The Upper House, one of my hotels.
10:30 p.m. I head home and wind down for about an hour before going to bed. I’m often surrounded by people, but I really treasure moments when it’s just me; that sense of inner peace is important. A lot of people describe it as an Asian quality, and the media often talk about the purity and calmness in my work. It’s a reflection of the way I am. I need moments for distilling things and for weaving tranquillity into the everyday.