The heroic potentials of architecture

squarefoot James Law

At the tender age of seven, James Law did not speak English, though this did not stop him falling in love with the black and white American film ‘The Fountainhead’. Starring Gary Cooper, the film is about a visionary architect who is uncompromising in pushing the boundaries in design despite pressure to conform to the status quo. By the end of the film, Law had found his calling. Enamoured by the heroic potentials of being an architect and the idea that through architecture one could somehow influence the world, he announced to his parents that he wanted to be an architect one day. Fast forward to today and he is. Law now runs his own Hong Kong-based architecture and design firm, Cybertecture. 

“That’s how it really got started,” he tells me as we sit inside the OPod, his most attention-grabbing project to date. It is essentially a great, big concrete tube, usually used for storm drainage that has been converted into a 100-square-foot micro studio apartment, complete with a sofa-bed, storage, lighting, air conditioning, wet room, and a pseudo kitchen area. Law tells me he walked inside one while at a construction site on a hot summer’s day in 2017, and he discovered that at 2.5 meters in diameter it was a perfect place to find shelter from the sun. Law then had a lightbulb moment: the tube was mass produced and likely wasted if not needed so he thought, “why don’t I build a home that is fast to build, cheap, and is upcycling an existing construction component.” Law subsequently called on some friends to help donate materials and that’s how the OPod was born. 

squarefoot James Law OPod street

squarefoot James Law OPod idea Kwun Tong

Law’s moment of inspiration was perhaps also ignited by the fact that in 2017, he found himself sensitive to issues young people were facing in Hong Kong due to rising living costs. “Just getting on the first rung [of the property ladder] seems impossible, and I use this word quite deliberately. It is now impossible without the help of your parents [for young people] to afford a home – either to rent or to buy.” 

The design of the OPod was never meant to be more than a catalyst to inspire others to approach the issue of affordable housing in an innovative and creative way, and to challenge the status quo positively. “I didn’t do this as an architectural statement in itself, thinking this would be the all-encompassing solution to the housing problems in Hong Kong,” he laughs. Although he never imagined he would get the response that he has, in fact he tells me he’s “still in shock”. The OPod has been covered by mainstream media globally and his real-life demo in Kwun Tong has been visited by the likes of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam. 

You may also be interested in:

>> Small & tiny homes: why less can be more

>> 10 inspirations for decorating a micro apartment

The public’s response in general has been one of surprise. He explains that people have been taken aback by the idea of housing in a water tube, and that in some cases it’s bigger and more decent than what Hong Kong people are currently living in. Law was also pleased to learn that people are now asking why more creative housing ideas, like the OPod, are not being incorporated into the city. In the three months since it’s been made public, some are now also asking Law to build the OPod for real-life uses such as hostels, orphanages and disaster relief shelters. He has recently agreed to procure OPods for global use, but insists that for every one or so that is sold, one is donated to an underprivileged community in what he hopes will grow as
a movement. 

squarefoot James Law OPod interior

squarefoot James Law OPod idea Sheung Wan

The self-described humble architect tells me that the whole project has taught him a lesson, “Cybertecture doesn’t have to always be about the latest technology or innovation, but also about humble innovation […] that empowers those who can’t afford to live in a fancy Cybertecture building,” he says. In addition to solid, everyday projects, Law’s firm is behind some cutting-edge tech-related architecture including a house made almost completely out of aluminum which is so light it can be transported anywhere; currently they are trying to adapt it so it can fly. Plus, they are also completing a smart residential building in Dubai that allows residents to curate and control all the digital aspects of their lives at home including apartment colours that change according to mood, bathroom mirrors that assess your health and windows capable of virtual reality. 

Cybertecture though is more than a brand, it is Law’s philosophy and underpins so much of what he does. “As I progress [in my career] it has reference to so many things beyond architecture and buildings. It touches on technology, innovation, education and the alleviation of suffering for people.” Cybertecture also includes an academy to inspire youths to try design and a charitable arm to help improve the lives of those in need in Hong Kong. 

squarefoot James Law OPod desk

Law further explains that his professional and personal values that drive his company and career have grown out of his relationships with inspiring family, teachers, professors and architectural counterparts who have taught him key lessons in creativity, passion, compassion and individuality. Perhaps Law’s dedication to his craft and the betterment of society will go on to inspire others to find the power in design, just as Gary Cooper’s performance once inspired him.  

>> Previous issue: Painting possibilities