We speak to the Hong Kong-based founder of world beating Alexander Wong Architects who, as well as designing luxury homes for A-List clients in the movie industry, creates cutting edge designs for retail, leisure, hospitality and cultural projects.
Alexander Wong is a tour de force in the world of architecture and design. He has numerous key projects to his name from cinema chains to supermarkets, and a haul of over 60 awards, including ‘World’s Best Interior Design’ at The International Property Awards in 2016. His incredible designs might be described as futuristic, sometimes even ‘space age’, but with his use of light, shape and sculptural structures this is something he terms “thinking ‘Out Of The Planet’ rather than Out of the Box.”
A graduate of Princeton University, his career began in 1989, working for a company which designed hi-tech hospitals. The move into his own business came in the year 2000 in a story intriguingly involving a Swiss banker, two entrepreneurs, and movie star Jackie Chan:
“Back in 2000, I left Henderson Land and briefly worked as the Director of Business Development for another architectural firm. Then, I quickly realised clients recognised my abilities to listen, to design and to actualise their visions, or at least they believed I could. These special individuals included Mr. Jackie Chan, the world famous superstar, Mr. Michael Ying, Ex-Chairman of Esprit, Mr. Roger Liang, Chairman of a luxury boat manufacturing company called Kingship Marine and the renowned Swiss banker Mr. Philip Jehle. These unique individuals gave me the confidence I needed to become more independent. So in 2001, I started my own firm.”
At the outset, his ambition was “…just to survive and possibly grow.” Almost twenty years later, the glittering projects he has to his name are many and varied, but he says that creating cinemas is the “freest” he is in his work. “Altogether, our cinemas were created in 11 different cities for 9 cinema chains totalling 200 screens and 30,000 seats. At the same time, we grew organically and branched out into different areas including residential (Golden Eye, Maison Belle), retail (De Rucci Palace of Sleep, Toy Cathedral, Mura Futura), high-rise towers (Bamboo Futura), office hygiene (Aqua Futura), exhibition & conference (Novotown), hospitality (Lamborghini Hotel Phuket), and now we have just started luxury yacht interiors with an Austrian company whose shipyard is based in Bangkok. So it is like coming full circle with our first project being a shipyard and I guess life is stranger than fiction sometimes. But our core belief remains the same which is ‘Design and innovation has to be based on the cultural context of our clients’.”
So what inspires this brilliant imagination? “An image online, a memory from the past, a new kind of technology, a plant (as in the case of Bamboo Futura for example), a painting, a brushstroke from Chinese calligraphy, films (as in the case of Cinema Futura and Carmen Futura). I also find submerging myself completely in water combined with deep inhalation of oxygen extremely conducive in getting inspirations and new ideas. After a ten minute swim, I get a lot of interesting perspectives on any of our previous ideas regarding a particular design we discussed as a team during the day. In fact, as soon as I get out of the water, I need to write everything down right away. It is that intense.” He tries to swim every night.
Is there one project which serves as a defining moment for his business? “There are way too many and all for different reasons which makes it impossible to pick just one. But in the context of allowing the public to notice our designs, then our Carmen Futura for winning the World’s Best Interior Design in 2016 was simply huge for us… It is very hard to look back and try not to forget how we went through all the challenges and reached this point in our development as a team and a company as a whole. It can get quite humbling, as well as becoming quite emotional for me.”
Of course, it’s his name above the door, but Alexander is the first to recognise that these days his team are absolutely key to everything he does, “Design is teamwork and therefore, we need each other like any other collaborative endeavours. It is of paramount importance that we work with the best people in the industry to produce good work and nurturing the best chemistry between individuals to produce the most dynamic output in design is the ultimate goal. That is the Holy Grail.”