FAK3 Talks Design Experimentation

Most architects fondly recall their student days when projects took weeks or even months to complete, and were driven by a rigorous design process. Unfortunately, and often all too soon, the real world intervenes. Real life budgets often cut design time to mere days, leaving little if any time for a formal process to produce the optimal solution. Yet some professionals stay true to the exploratory nature of design development. FAK3, pronounced ‘fake’ and founded by Johnny Wong and Miho Hirabayashi, is one of those rare studios that push for experimentation. And the results are well worth the extra effort.

The Sheung Wan-based studio works on a wide range of projects. Along with Regal Pacific Hotel’s refurbishment in Santiago, Chile, and a completely new look for Erno Laszlo’s retail outlets throughout Hong Kong, the firm has worked on residential projects ranging from a four-storey, 10,700-square foot home on Hong Kong’s south side dubbed Ribbon House to showflats for Kerry Properties’ The Summa. More recently, FAK3 is working with a leading Hong Kong developer on a full residential package for a new property; it is the most fast track project the firm has undertaken to date.

Along with overseeing her team of 10 staff, Hirabayashi also guides undergraduate students at The University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Architecture. One of the key concepts the Architectural Association alumnus tries to instil in her students is to question how they approach a design problem. “I am always telling my students to turn their design 90 degrees,” says Hirabayashi with a smile. “Students often think that up is up and down is down. If a plan or model is rotated and viewed backwards or sideways, it gives the form a whole new meaning. I want to teach students to question what they know. Designers should think of their work as a process rather than as random ideas that they pull out of the air. I had a great foundation year at the AA, and I enjoy teaching year one students. It’s nice to have abstract discussions.”

Hirabayashi developed a love for architecture through her father, a craftsman who makes traditional Japanese wooden doors such as Shoji and Fusuma screens. “My dad used to take me on site to look at traditional Japanese houses around Tokyo,” Hirabayashi recalls. “It was natural that I became interested in architecture. I liked drawing and making models. When I was in high school, I had an opportunity to visit London. It was like being in a totally different world. At that time, I couldn’t speak English. Going around London, I wanted to communicate with people but I couldn’t. It was really frustrating. So I decided to study in London, because I wanted to go back there both to learn English and to study architecture.”

Hirabayashi met Wong while at the AA, and came to Hong Kong initially to visit him when he was working at the local office of OMA. “I saw the opportunities here,” she recalls. “Things were happening, with everyone looking to China. That was why I decided to move here in 2003.” The two formed their company a year afterwards.

What differentiates FAK3 from other Hong Kong design firms is their approach. “It’s an urban point of view to the interior — from outside to inside. In other cases, we look from the inside out. The way Johnny and I work is very different from each other. Our experience reflects what we do and how we do it. For every project, there is a concept. But of course, the design has to meet the needs of the client. For us, investigation is important. With Ribbon House, we had a client who allowed us the time and space to push the project. Especially for residential projects, it is very important that we understand the way people live. It is not just about looking good. We are interested in the different styles of habitation. I see a relationship in all of our projects, but not in their final solution.”