In 2002 William Liu did what most eager young architects dream of – he went out on his own. “If you really
love architecture, owning your own studio is something you want to try,” he tells me as we sit in the conference room of his studio in Tin Hau. With 12 years of experience under his belt, he established ARK Associates with his wife, partner and “best critic”, Lavinia Lau, along with several fellow architects. Today, the firm has completed some forty architectural projects across Hong Kong and China; they’ve incorporated interior design into their portfolio and boast a team of 40. It was a bold move going at it alone, and one he says he made through a heady mix of nerves and excitement, “The first time you go into a meeting, there’s a feeling of, ‘OK I’m doing this for myself!’ And there’s a joy in that.”
British born Chinese, Liu was brought up in the UK but has always had strong ties to Hong Kong. After completing his architectural studies in 1990 at what is now known as Westminster University, he moved to Hong Kong and like many, never left. Liu’s career highlights include working with Dennis Lau and Ng Chun Man Architects after graduating, and later with TBV Consult where he was given his first solo project working on buildings to house workshops on the government dockyard at Stonecutters Island. During the nineties, Liu also worked under Aaron Tan at OMA Asia (now RAD) as project director on the award-winning SK Telecom tower in South Korea and while at Rocco Design Architects, led a team that worked on the creation of the international Finance Centre (IFC). “That’s probably the biggest one I’ve done,” he says of the IFC project, “I don’t feel uneasy about anything smaller than that now!”
Liu is grateful for the lessons he has learned along the way but he doesn’t draw on inspiration solely from his own practical experience. “Frank Lloyd Wright is my hero!”, he smiles, referring to the man that many consider to be one of the greatest American architects of all time. Liu won a scholarship to spend six weeks in the U.S. in 1992 after receiving the Hong Kong Institute of Architects’ Young Architects Award and got to see his hero’s work first-hand. “This was not architecture you could appreciate by looking at books. Seeing the Beth Sholom Synagogue was one of my top ten architectural experiences… it was so ahead of its time.”
As a fan of the British Hi-Tech movement from the very start of his architectural journey, Liu is also an avid admirer of the work of Norman Foster, whose firm Foster and Partners has completed several projects in Hong Kong. Among them is the Ocean Terminal extension, for which ARK Associates designed the interiors. Others on his inspiration radar include Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza and American architect Steven Holl, both “for their poetics in architecture and their composition of light and space.”
Though as professional influences go for William Liu, it may also go back to the beginning. He was fascinated with the modern art movement and its development growing up, and while he says his designs were “quite hard core” in a constructivist sense early on, they are now more expressive and sculptural because of his love of art and appreciation of beauty, “I tell my staff that they have to think about beauty. Beauty adds value.”
There are two stand-out gems in ARK’s crown to date, Liu says. The first, architecturally speaking, is the multi-award winning V Point Tower in Causeway Bay. The second, Mount Parker Residences, where he says they explored a new approach in redefining luxury and were recognised with USA Interior Design, ‘Best Of Year’ award among four others. V Point Tower is a commercial block that is almost 13,000 square metres in size and because of its angular shape and the specific amount of reflectivity in the glass, depending on the weather it will shimmer or go dark. “We like to design buildings that are simple and powerful… which is actually quite hard!” The silhouette is also a key design feature, “If you turn the building, the silhouette changes so at any particular time of day the shadow the building casts will be a different shape. Every time my wife and I drive past we say, ‘Isn’t it amazing. Look at it!” Liu laughs, “We’re so proud.” That, for him, is part of the joy of being an architect; while he doesn’t necessarily own the properties he designs and creates, it’s fulfilling to know he’s created something that can be appreciated by everyone.
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