Interview with Dutch architect Rob Wagemans of concrete

Rob Wagemans

Architecture is considered the second oldest profession, and there is a long standing tradition that novice architects apprentice under senior ones to learn the trade before starting their own practise. Intrepid architect Rob Wagemans broke with tradition: he has never worked for anyone. Hailing from Holland, he started refurbishing retail shops for his family when he was studying architecture in Amsterdam. One project led to another and he officially established concrete in 1997 with two other partners. Rather than naming the studio after themselves, he instead chose a moniker that reflected who they were and what they represented.

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“Concrete is a material for building,” Wagemans explains. He was in town mid-April for the unveiling of Aurora, the sleek 8,000 square foot clubhouse gracing the top of SKYPARK, New World Development's 440 unit residential tower. “Concrete is straightforward, to the point, direct. We are the same way. We have no hierarchy—in the studio or with our clients. We build teams and we bring our passion to everyone on site.”


Wagemans knew at the age of 11 that he wanted to be either an architect or a chef. “I talked to a chef and learned that I had to be consistent each and every day—how boring!” He is the first to admit that his drawing and technical skills aren’t the best in the business. Instead, concrete looks at what the market has to offer and tries to fix things. “It’s our marketing tool—all of our clients want to stand out,” he states.

That attitude resulted in a partnership with Citizen M, the world’s first one-star hotel with outstanding design embedded into its DNA. “I get annoyed with badly designed hotels,” he sniffs. “Citizen M is a fun hotel; it’s a one-star hotel with five-star sheets.” He more recently reinvigorated the extended stay industry with Zoku—Japanese for travel—featuring funky loft-style rooms that include gymnastic rings and a dedicated work station.


It was his singular approach to design that attracted New World Development. “SKYPARK is a building for young singles and couples,” notes Edwin Chan, New World’s project director on SKYPARK. “We wanted to create a communal space at the top that every resident can enjoy. We wanted to make it the most vibrant place in the city, and we found that concrete was a good match. Rob had the energy and passion to make it happen. He introduced a new spatial experience to Hong Kong—though we had to convince him to take on the project.”

“We do mostly public spaces—not residences,” admits Wagemans. “They are too personal. This project was different. I am in love with Asian cities. Life happens on its streets. We designed a clubhouse that captures the chaos from Mongkok—what I call curated chaos. We wanted to mimic the energy of Mongkok while also providing its opposite. We hide services in monolithic blocks, allowing chance happenings to take place in between them. There are almost no corridors. Above the chaos, Aurora is a calming silence.”


Wagemans’ flourishes can be seen immediately in the lobby, where a Marcel Wanders oversized rocking horse invites residents to recall their childhood dreams. Details such as a wall of mailboxes were designed to resemble subway tiles in MTR stations. Within Aurora, there is a floor-to-ceiling aquarium visible from two sides, allowing residents to literally swim with fish as it hugs an indoor lap pool, along with a library, bar, art gallery and a dramatic outdoor staircase is designed to facilitate film screenings or events against the night sky. Upstairs, a landscaped rooftop garden has been meticulously groomed with colourful blooms for residents to picnic amongst lush greenery.

“Young people today are dying for real social contact,” believes Wagemans. “I hope that Aurora will allow more people to get to know their neighbours and interact more with each other.” 

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