The Ideology of Space

Parallel Lab sees more to design than just walls and windows

Swiss natives Geraldine Borio and Caroline Wuthrich bring their specific people- and space-centric urban philosophy to their brand of architectural consultation and design. Square Foot chats with the five-year old studio’s partners.

Can you tell us a little about what you do at Parallel Lab?
Borio: Our background is architecture, but following the experience we gained in Switzerland and Asia we expanded from urban to interior design and furniture. For us specialisation in architecture means restriction. The way we approach different scales defines our personality.

Wuthrich: We’re excited by challenge and very often start our projects with an unexpected statement. Besides that, part of our work is dedicated to research on the relationship between humans and the urban environment. For us it’s a tool to constantly go deeper in understanding the context we’re evolving in.

Do you have a design aesthetic that you think defines you?
Wuthrich: We take particular care of details. This probably comes from our Swiss education! In Switzerland you build for at least eighty years so you better be satisfied with the quality. Of course in Asia everything goes faster but care for quality is something we will never lose. We truly believe that in the end our sensitivity emanates from the spaces we are conceiving.

You opened the studio here after working in Zurich. Is size is an issue?
Borio: We also have experience in Japan, where our passion for “casse tete chinois” comes from. Again this relates to the way we approach the project. Working with constraints forces creativity. In Hong Kong people have an incredible notion of how to optimise space.

Wuthrich: We are often amazed by how everyone is developing particular skills to adapt to particularly squeezed places and these are notions we love to integrate into our design. Here the lack of space really shapes the life of the people and it is also one of the reasons for our fascination with this city.

You do a lot of public space too. Where is Hong Kong falling short on this?
Borio: Public space as we understand it in Europe almost doesn’t exist in Hong Kong. Most of the outdoor spaces are not planned … and leaves no room for appropriation. Nevertheless behind the streets and in between the towers there is a network of tiny spaces that we call “edge public spaces,” which allow the city to breathe. Those spaces also work as buffer zones between public and private and we really believe that this is imperative to maintaining a decent psychological state in such a disproportional context.

Wuthrich: We are extremely interested in this specific space, which is also part of Hong Kong’s identity and think that such characteristics should be more integrated into public space planning. After all one should not forget that public space should be dedicated to the inhabitants.

What are you working on now that you’re excited about?
Wuthrich: We are working on apartments in Hong Kong, a house in Thailand and writing a book on edge public spaces in Hong Kong. We’re very excited to discover more and more stories of the “hidden” Hong Kong. All those different types of work are ways for us to build bridges between our background and the culture we are interested in.

What’s on your wish list?
Borio: To help to save wonderful examples of old architecture in Hong Kong that is disappearing every day. Government [needs to] realise how street life in Hong Kong is a real part of the city’s identity and should be more carefully preserved.