With the architecture and design industry on the verge of inaugurating a BEAM Plus rating system for interiors there are few people more qualified to address the state of the art than Ronald Lu & Partners chair, founder and sustainability vanguard Dr Ronald Lu. Since 1976, RLP has been reshaping Hong Kong’s cityscape and is now one of the most respected firms in the city. The affable MIT grad steps inside for a chat with Square Foot.
The firm is known for architecture. What inspired the interiors segment?
We always had a bit of an interiors section, but not at [the current] size. Now we have a director [Alistair Leung] and we felt there was a need there. It’s grown and expanded and we’ve done some very interesting work.
How do interiors fit into how you work at RLP?
Interiors are very much a part of architecture. In the early days the architect was everything: he was the designer, the builder, the mason, he did the painting. That was the good old days when someone was the master of everything. Nowadays it’s a bit more divided, but I think interiors are still very much a part of the whole. If they can be done together it can actually translate a theme from the exterior of the building right to the inside. If you’re familiar with Frank Lloyd Wright, you’ll know his exteriors and interiors are one. It’s that sort of feeling. Clients often demand very good public spaces — the entrance, the lift lobby, lift cars, and so on — and if we do the total project then themes can be carried out inside as well.
You have a rigorous sustainability department and have been quite vocal about the issue. What are you seeing these days?
The biggest trends are in the choice of materials and depending on the interior design we choose materials that are sustainable, preferably softwoods. But we if we use hardwoods they are sustainable, from self-growing forests, often from the southeastern United States. You cut them down, the seeds drop and they grow back. Some of the hardwoods from Malaysia and Borneo do not. Cut them down and it’s years growing back.
In terms of paint, some people now have all sorts of allergies so you need to use paints that have fewer VOCs. If you use plywood — which is actually thin layers of wood glued together — you have to be careful because the glue has chemicals that emit VOCs; it’s also a health issue. In lighting we opt for lighting that absorbs less energy and if you have curtain wall you don’t need floodlights. And orientation is just so important. Here we have to face south. In Australia you have to face north. Any property with a northern view and you’re looking at the water, man that’s premium. If you’re facing south and looking at the water, man, you will freeze in the winter. When you design a house for someone, you need to understand how the resident lives. A morning person should have a bedroom on the east side. Orientation has an effect on how you live, what’s sustainable and how you make the best use of wind and sun.
Is there truly anything left you wanted to do?
Really it’s to make a difference. We’re working with Frank Gehry on a building on Stubbs Road.We also worked with him on the [comprehensive cancer care facility] Maggie’s Centre. It’s attached to a hospital oncology department but it’s separate. She felt that good architecture can heal, in the way a building evokes. It’s like a bright, airy school. You’ll learn more there. There are places you go inside and think, ‘Wow. This is nice. I don’t mind spending some time here’ and I think that’s a feeling you want to give to people. Whether it be a coffee shop, a boutique, your place of work or your h me. It should evoke that sense of wanting to be there. And it’s an ever-challenging endeavour.