“In the 1960s, the demand for new buildings in Hong Kong – when our population grew rapidly to about 3 million – was extremely strong. Today, demand for new buildings remains high, although obviously not as strong as in the 1970s and 1980s. Still, demand for new buildings is higher than refurbishing or extending existing buildings,” said Bosco Ho, managing director of hpa, formerly known as Ho & Partners Architects, Engineers & Development Consultants Ltd.
He expects that situation to reverse as Hong Kong becomes what architects call the “mature stage.” Ho cited London as an example, saying the demand for the refurbishment and maintenance of existing buildings in the mature city is higher than demand for new buildings today.
“With the local architectural development moving to a more mature stage, the growth potential for new buildings in Hong Kong is incomparable to those in emerging markets. In the future, Hong Kong will have a higher demand on the refurbishment, additions and maintenance of existing buildings than the construction of new buildings,” he said.
“Architects like working on new buildings, but we have to face reality. Sometimes, we need to take up projects that are not so interesting, but at the end of the day they are the bread and butter of many firms. And sometimes you can make interesting and attractive projects from alterations and addition work. London’s architects also like to design new buildings, but there are not many such new projects in London,” he said.
Ho acknowledged, however, that expanding existing buildings is not necessary a dull task. “The iconic glass pyramid building in Paris, for instance, was a late addition to the Musee du Louvre, designed by world-famous architect I.M. Pei. Creative architects can also wield magic on an extension or addition work,” he said.
hpa has been expanding in the Mainland, and currently its business is split equally between Hong Kong and the Mainland.
“We have architectural projects in about 50 mainland cities. As southern China is getting more mature, we are now focusing on the eastern and western parts of China. Looking ahead, we plan to focus more on the third or fourth tier Mainland cities,” Ho said.
The company has also worked on residential, commercial and hotel projects in India, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates. “After this valuable experience from these overseas projects, we plan to increase our overseas share of our business to about 10% to 20%. We see a lot of potential for infrastructure development and building projects in new emerging markets such as Africa, East Europe and the Middle East,” he said.
Despite the continuing challenges of the global economy, hpa manages to stay in the “Band 1” list of architectural consultants kept by the Architectural Services Department of the Hong Kong SAR government.
“One of our keys to success is to ensure the company will continue to do good design and be able to launch enough projects to sustain growth. In 1972, I set up a small design company in Sheung Wan. We were commissioned to do a number of small scale interior design and renovation projects. Unfortunately, the company was forced to close its doors after only a year because we had no business after completing those projects,” he said.
Ho also attributed good management, good design products and good customer services as the keys to success. “High staff turnover can negatively affect a company’s overall performance. One of our solutions is to increase the staff’s sense of belonging in the company by customizing a career plan for potential young architects. We hope they can grow with the company,” he said.
“ ‘Design for people’ is a philosophy that the company has consistently adhered to. Its designs take into account not only all market variables, the needs of people, ecological concerns, user-friendliness, property management and security concerns but also study cities’ local history and culture in order to develop innovative, personalised architectural designs that reflect the spirit of the era,” he continued.
“Some say architecture is frozen music, some say it’s frozen beauty. Some say architecture is the Mother of all Arts. We think ‘architecture witnesses the progress of human civilisation’. Being an architect is far more than just being an artist or innovator. Architecture affects the environment where people live, work and play; thereby we as architects have significant social and historical responsibilities to live up to,” Ho said.
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