The Real ThingsFaux and the ongoing quest for cool

Hugh Zimmern is uniquely qualified to comment on the state of Hong Kong design. The former architect with family roots dating back to the mid- 19th century is livening things up and bringing back a little of Hong Kong’s “self” with the two-year-old Faux and its singular homewares.

You studied in the UK. How did you find working here when you got back?
I really enjoyed it. We did a lot of institutional work and then started working around the world. When I arrived back in the early- ’80s it was very much Hong Kong-based architecture. You had to be the equivalent of a GP, in that you had to be able to do everything. By the time I left Hong Kong was exporting architectural services around the world. There was a real reinvention of how architecture is done.

Designers often bemoan the spaces they’re forced to work in. Is that an architectural problem?
That’s about the nature of the game of architecture, or the game of development in Hong Kong. There’s always been that side to things here — building as opposed to architecture. Building is about providing as much to the developer as possible. But I don’t think that’s a uniquely Hong Kong thing. You can find bad spaces in New York.

Kind of like Seoul, where building was prioritised after the Second World War?
We’ve had an explosion of people. I don’t know what the population growth is over the last 40 years but it’s incredible. I think a lot has to be blamed on the government as well. There’s a set of regulations that have never been “cleaned out,” it’s always just been amended and amended from 1935 London building codes. If you want developers to build good buildings, you need to get things sorted out on a fundamental basis.

What does Hong Kong need more of?
I’d like to see less — less things. There seems to be a lot of wastage. Look at the parks and the little pocket gardens. The amount of hard landscaping involved: really ugly. This inability of government to leave something alone… to put a railing here or there. The government seems unable to allow anything to be green. All that ridiculous, fake 19th century street furniture that’s cropped up around SoHo. The great thing about Hong Kong is that you can be five minutes from Central and be in complete greenness, but it means the city is really compact. There’s enough visual stuff going on without this extra froufrou… Government is very proud of its infrastructure projects, but tourists don’t come to see infrastructure projects. When I was a kid, you’d go to Wanchai and see all these layers: the guy in his pyjamas getting congee for breakfast, the school kid, the bustle of work… We seem to be losing that layering of things going on. Leave Graham Street alone.

So what brought about Faux?
I retired from architecture but wanted something else to do. I still do design work, but the [rest] is homeware products. It started out as fur products — but not farmed fur; pests like possum from New Zealand. From there it’s grown to carpets and ceramics. We work with Hong Kong artists and everything is bespoke and made here, or near here in China.

Do you design yourself?
Some things, but I concentrate on architecture and interiors, and I curate the items and make a decision on a teapot and then work out the right artist for the piece. It’s surprises me that China is the world’s manufacturer but there’s very little product being designed in Hong Kong. That’s why we use local artists and designers. To get back some of those vanishing layers.