Born in Malaysia, educated in Australia and working initially in Singapore, architecture and interiors specialist Ryan Dang is currently design director for Indigo Living but his work in the past has included residential, commercial and institutional projects across Asia-Pacific. Squarefoot chats with Dang.
What drew you to design originally?
From a young age as a kid in a Chinese family my parents were always asking, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Design was a natural thing, but it’s not something you can go to school and get a proper university degree in. So I studied architecture. I never regretted it and I liked the journey because it helped me grow as a person too but your real education really begins after school. I chose not to go to a big architecture firm, I chose a family-oriented design company because you learn to do everything at a very early stage. The big companies pay slightly better but you’re going to be designing toilets or staircases for years.
You were educated and worked in Singapore. How does that compare with the industry in Hong Kong?
Design is a very generic term. It involves details, looking at colour, in school there’s a lot of training about communication because you’re not working by yourself — not just clients but right down to suppliers. I learned a lot in my five years in Singapore and there, interior design and exteriors are treated as one identity. When I moved to Hong Kong I realised they treat the two very [differently]. Interiors are interiors. Architecture is architecture. How can one not motivate the other? After six, seven years of doing architecture I just wanted something new, and I asked myself what other fields required design that I could actually use my expertise on.
So you’re of the belief architecture and interiors have to go together?
I wouldn’t say it’s necessary, but it should.
You studied in climate change. Is this part of the world having any global influence in green design?
Everyone’s going green and sustainable, but it’s not just green design. It’s the incorporation of landscaping into a building and talking about a building’s lifespan, air circulation and ventilation. I don’t encourage my clients to constantly use air conditioning so it becomes an issue of glass on the windows to reduce heat gain. It comes down to the use of materials. It’s all the little things that help.
Companies here tend to focus on revenue and GFA. Clients don’t ask about it. They take more time to research materials but environmental impact [isn’t a priority]. But there’s a landscape architect in Malaysia that has slowly become very influential because of the way he uses landscaping to create a vintage kind of architecture that is also environmentally conscious.
What’s the biggest challenge for Hong Kong design?
When I first got here I was shocked by what I saw but I wouldn’t’ entirely blame it on designers. A developer comes to you from a client point of view and the land is so expensive, they have to squeeze in as much as possible — unlike other countries. I think the problem is that designers don’t educate their clients. They don’t bother to question, “Why?” They’re used to it so they don’t see a problem. Designers come in from overseas and think, “Oh my god!” Things that are important are not regulated here. [Clients] need to get their money back and that’s not something you can change. What’s wrong is not thinking about the space more carefully. A small space doesn’t mean you can’t think about where a door is and how you move around the space a little bit more.
Indigo frequently collaborates with local designers. Do you design furniture?
No. My team and me design all their new shops in Hong Kong. We have external private clients too, like developers where we do mostly interior design, overseas as well. I’d like to do more interiors. At the moment I don’t design furniture.