HBA Extends Into Residential Design Market

Global hospitality design firm Hirsch Bedner Associates is officially spreading its wings. The new boutique, HBA Residential, is being steered by Glasgow School of Art-trained architect and designer Chris Godfrey, former creative director of residential design specialist 1508 London. Godfrey is bringing his expertise to bear as director of HBA Residential for upscale design — from custom-built homes to complete apartment redesigns, for private owners to developers. Godfrey chatted with Square Foot when he stopped in Hong Kong.

Where did HBA Residential come from?
I was working on a very big project with HBA’s CEO in Goa. They were working on the interiors of the [Four Seasons] hotel component and I was the architect and interior designer on the residential component. We pitched together a few times and he was peaked by what we did, and the process. They’d been looking at establishing a residential component for many years … Residential work accounts for about 25 percent of their global portfolio but it’s typically a by-product. The opportunities were there, and this is my speciality. We suited each other’s desires.

So why the office in Asia?
There’s a lot less opportunity in central London or Europe than there is here. At this point in my career, having tested a particular way of working, I saw more potential here to create distinctive buildings and serve an evolving market.
You’ve mentioned high net worth individuals. Is that your entire clientele?
You don’t have to be rich, but yes it does help. It is an exclusive offer, a high-end offer. It’s less about money than about ambition. I very much believe you can create great work at any level. In fact some of the best projects are the cheapest. I think it’s not about money but about how money affords that latitude and experimentation.

You emphasise your process. What is that?
It starts with a triangular relationship that moves to intelligently understanding and responding to that, and that’s iterative. There’s the initial response, more dialogue, the experiential quality of being in the space and the formal qualities of creating something. All those affect each other incrementally over time. It seeks to understand and build something resonant that is ultimately more valuable.

We’re process driven and that’s determined by the client situation. Who are you, what drives you, what drives you that you don’t even know drives you? That’s combined with a context: Is this a beach house in Bali, a penthouse in the city? Then I look at the fundamentals of that space. How do you create luxury from space alone? If it’s your own home, that’s one of the most unique and valuable processes you’ll go through. And that process will never be repeated. That’s how we work, from an experiential point of view.

Working in Europe, Asia, and within Asia, must be vastly different.
It is, and one has to modulate their position to suit the needs and environment of every project. What I have got is a company that’s been here for 30 years and their resources. I’m very mindful of how much of a challenge delivering high-end work will be in certain places. Again that’s where budget comes in. How much material is procured locally as opposed to brought in; with time and money you can always achieve quality. With the correct balance for each project between its locale, availability and speciality anything can be done. For instance we’re doing a few things in India and all the stonework will be sourced locally because stone craft there is superb. My attempt is always to generate 80 percent locally and bring in the bits that can’t be found. That’s where understanding before we start comes in.

The Asia office has just opened. What are you working on right now?
Right now we’re doing a large house in Xi’an. It’s a very interesting project. It’s a young guy and he’s never built anything like this before and a really personal undertaking. He’s very proud of the process and very passionate about what we’re doing, and that’s inspiring for me. You really see the response it can create. He’s been very receptive to our bold ideas. In India I’m doing a private house for a family who are big supporters of the arts internationally and they’re really in tune with the process.

Those sound big. Hong Kong is an apartment market.
There’s an apartment project in Bangkok, and an apartment in Shanghai. There isn’t a scale threshold. Those are just the first. A lot of my work previously was much, much smaller than this. It’s good to have a range of scale. I’m spending the next six months trying to understand the region. I’m looking forward to the challenges of working here. This is my future world.