After a stint in London, Scottish- born and trained architect Roderick Murray’s first job in Hong Kong was a good one: working with Norman Foster’s crew on the airport. He made the switch to residential just before opening RJMD in 2005 and currently designs everything from bathroom tiles to carpets, sources unique art — and even remote designs London properties owned by Hongkongers. Murray chats with Square Foot.
How do you go from designing airports to working in residential?
That’s kind of a huge leap. I came from a large, corporate architectural environment, and I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore. I worked with big corporate offices, then started doing my own stuff, some offices, and then came SARS. So there was no work but I somehow got a job doing residential, then another, then another. At first it was very different but I’ve been doing it six years now. But it’s fast, and you get to design. If you work on an airport, if you’re lucky you get to do door handles for three years.
You went home for six months and came back. Is this a better design environment?
It’s a different design environment. In terms of interiors it’s changed enormously. In the way people see it and value it, and in the way they experience it. It changes really, really fast. In Europe and the States there’s a level of understanding that’s fairly constant. Here, it’s building. And when I talk about things changing fast, people now have an eye for what’s new and everyone’s looking for the latest thing. Everyone’s aware of it as well. I have two clients, more mature, and they can talk about things my parents could never talk about as far as interiors go. So you have to be on your toes.
Do you think people respect design?It’s such a consumer product here.
It is a consumer product, but it’s dressed up differently in other places. There are cultural differences too. In Hong Kong, you buy a new place, you throw everything away, start fresh. It’s not a bad thing. It means nothing is precious. You talk about Tokyo and sometimes it’s “Oh that’s so good.” OrSwedish design. “Isn’t that fabulous?” And it is, but there’s a lot out there and a lot of good designers. Here, in three years something could be demolished. So that “fabulous” is fabulous but we’ve moved on. It’s a different way of thinking about it. It’s not architecture, which is on a different time scale.
What really needs to change?
Prices. Prices are sky high. Products, fabrics, furniture … anything that’s sourced from Europe or the States is astronomically high. It’s a non-democratic process in that people just can’t afford them. They can see [items] and they like them, but they can’t get access to them. It’s supply and demand. If it’s a premium product with a sole vendor they can charge what the market will bear. So they do. And if people can’t get [the real thing], they get copies, which can be brilliant, and that feeds into the “Why am I paying that price?” mindset. And copies don’t tend to move the creative process.
Do you have a wish list?
That’s difficult with interiors. I think I’ve designed everything I possibly could. I’m consulting on art for a client right now and I actually sourced (original) Russian oil paintings from London … and that kind of thing is the little bit of sparkle you don’t always get in Hong Kong, that’s missing. I’m also re-contextualising a classic painting for a dining room to be like patchwork. That stuff really makes the difference. It’s unique and people like it. I’m not hankering to design any door handles.