By Stephanie Chan
Hong Kong-based architect Gary Chang, founder and managing director of the EDGE Design Institute, will bring his distinctive approach to small spaces to AmCham’s new 1800-square-foot home in Central.
Heading the design effort alongside Chang will be Rick Lam. Lam’s firm, Architecture Commons, has put its stamp on numerous offices, coworking spaces, and public spaces throughout Hong Kong.
Slated to open in the first half of 2022, the new Community Hub–don’t call it an office–will be a dramatic departure from AmCham’s former location in the Bank of America building. Gone are the sterile white walls, the cavernous boardroom, and the fixed rows of desks, many of which sat empty during the last year and a half of remote work.
The emphasis now is on flexibility, light, greenery and warmth. AmCham’s new quarters, housed in the Hong Kong Diamond Exchange Building on Duddell Street, will blend a uniquely Hong Kong approach to modular living with an aesthetic inspired by American homes.
“Our key idea is how to optimize space and time,” Chang said, calling in via Zoom from Chicago. “Not just because the space is–” he paused. “Compact?”
“Cozy,” offered Lam above the din of AmCham’s bustling temporary office at The Executive Centre. Lam has known Chang for 20 years, since he was an architectural intern in Chang’s office.
“To us, it’s natural that space transforms,” Chang continued. “Because every day different things [are] happening.”
Professionally, Chang’s calling card is his own home, a 344-square-foot flat in Sai Wan Ho known as the Domestic Transformer. The apartment, which has been widely featured in the global media, was Chang’s childhood home; he lived there as a teenager with his parents, his three sisters, and a boarder.
Chang has been experimenting with the flat for more than 40 years; in its current incarnation, sliding walls and foldaway furniture can transform the space into 24 different rooms. In videos, the effect is both futuristic and unconventionally luxurious.
Being able to incorporate an American feel while still embodying ‘Hong Kong’ with its efficient use of space makes this project exciting… A true reflection of Future of Work.Joseph Armas, AmCham Vice Chairman
Chang’s approach to design focuses on what he calls the four 4 C’s: change, choice, connection and coexistence. These concepts inform every aspect of the plans for the new site.
Like the Domestic Transformer, which can be configured for entertaining, work, leisure or rest, the Community Hub will contain multiple functions within a fluidly defined space about the size of the average Mid-Levels three-bedroom.
Chang and Lam are seeking to reduce the number of fixed things–storage space, pantry space, desks, utilities–to an absolute minimum.
“Simply, we don’t want an empty space, or a room which is not used,” Chang explained.
The flexible design will allow the AmCham team to adjust the ratio of team to guest space according to the day’s activities.
“I hope when a member arrives, every time it’s a bit different,” he said.
Partitions and team members’ desks can be rearranged to create room for board meetings, lectures and member events. After business hours, staff space can be completely removed to create room for a 50-person mixer.
And all with a minimum of human effort.
“How to optimize time is also extremely important,” Chang said. “This is AmCham in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong people have a special context of not wasting a bit of space or time.”
In the American context, the porch is where the neighbors meet. We really want to create that open and friendly feeling for the AmCham community hub.Rick Lam, Co-founder & Director, Architecture Commons
The proposal by EDGE and Architecture Commons impressed the selection committee with its strong understanding of the site.
“From their initial presentation to the follow up response, EDGE x Architecture Commons really stood above others with a design that hit the criteria for our new office. Being able to incorporate an American feel while still embodying “Hong Kong” with its efficient use of space makes this project exciting. I cannot wait for the completion so that the staff and our members can enjoy this space. A true reflection of Future of Work,” said Joseph Armas, AmCham’s Vice Chairman.
Built in 1981, the Diamond Exchange Building is steps away from both the Central business district and the Zoological and Botanical Park. For Hong Kong native Chang, the site reflects the history and “special topography” of Hong Kong: a highly dense urban setting lying side by side with nature.
AmCham’s new property on the 22nd floor boasts 270-degree views of Central, the park, and Government House.
“On one hand you are right in the epicenter of Hong Kong, but then once you turn your face to the other angle you will see total greenery,” says Chang.
The exposures on three sides inspired a key analogy for Chang and Lam: a wraparound porch in an American home.
“[We’re] taking advantage of the view, and at the same time, it’s a very casual space for people to connect,” Lam said. “In the American context, [the porch is] where the neighbors meet. We really want to create that open and friendly feeling for the AmCham community hub.”
These days people forget about the human scale of things. Sometimes we need the right scale, the right distance, for people to mingle around, to communicate, which is now the main focus of AmCham.Gary Chang, Founder and Managing Director, EDGE Design Institute
Aesthetically, the American home is the main point of inspiration for Chang and Lam, a Hong Konger who spent his teen years in Canada and holds a Master in Architecture I from Harvard. AmCham’s brief specified that the office should not look like an office. Therefore, “We are looking at really making it a lot warmer, a lot more casual, a lot more cozy and homelike,” Lam said.
In lieu of the traditional receptionist’s desk, a bar and pantry area will be the first thing people see. By making this space the focus of the AmCham “home,” Lam and Chang hope to remove barriers between staff and AmCham members, encouraging engagement and collaboration.
Lam and Chang are studiously avoiding touches like faux marble and imitation wood tiles, seeking out what Lam calls “honesty” in materials instead. Genuine wood siding, bronze, bamboo and stone will lend warmth and authenticity. An abundance of potted plants will bring the interior into harmony with the park views and underline AmCham’s interest in sustainability and wellness.
DESIGNING THE FUTURE
Lam praised the attitude and vision of the AmCham committee leading the design process, saying, “They really want to ready the entire team for a very unknown and flexible future.”
Chang and Lam share an interest in the future of work. Viewed through their democratic, pragmatic lens, compact spaces can be an invitation to creativity and collaboration, rather than an impediment.
“These days people forget about the human scale of things. Sometimes we need the right scale, the right distance, for people to mingle around, to communicate,” Chang says. “Which is now the main focus of AmCham.”