Career Advice Industrial Changes from Generation Y & Millennials

Born to design

Bryant Lu’s architectural achievements on the mainland proved he was destined for big things

Bryant Lu was a bright student who earned himself a spot at Cornell University in New York to study to become an architect – his dream career.
Everything in life was going great for the son of well-known Hong Kong architect Ronald Lu until he graduated in late 1997. With the Asian financial crisis getting into full flow, several companies withdrew the job offers they had made to him. Then something even worse happened.

“I was a little disappointed but I was confident that I would find a job. Then I had a life-changing moment. My parents were seriously injured in a car accident in Boston,” Lu says.

The accident, however, proved to be a blessing in disguise by forcing Lu to grow up quickly. “After the accident, I rushed to Boston to take care of my parents. They were in different hospitals, so every day I travelled back and forth between the two. At that time, there was no e-mail. Phone and fax were the main forms of communication. I was my father’s messenger for a month and a half, helping him manage his company from the hospital ward. I learned a lot and my father saw that I was a grown man who was able to withstand the pressures of the professional world,” he says.
Before returning to Hong Kong to join his father’s firm, Ronald Lu & Partners, Lu worked for two years at Fox & Fowle Architects (now FXFOWLE Architects), a firm known for its green buildings. “My parents were urging me to come home. I was really enjoying New York but I thought it was time to move on, so I took my parents’ advice. In Hong Kong, I had no choice other than my father’s firm. Our competitors would not take me because they were worried I might be a spy,” he says.

At first, he focused mainly on design work. “As a newcomer, I knew I was nowhere near ready to be a leader yet, but I knew that day would come so I tried to get myself ready. I took a close look at the management systems of the firm that I had worked for in New York and that of my father’s firm, comparing their strengths and weaknesses. I also gained insights from listening to my father talk to my mother about the hardships of running the company. Whenever he talked about the company during dinner, I would listen very carefully,” he says.

Lu’s big break came when he decided to handle mainland projects. “We had done some mainland projects before but it was not a focus until I stepped in. I believed that in order for the family business to continue developing, it must have a new direction, so I took up the job that nobody else was willing to do – dealing with mainlanders,” he says.

With no experience of doing business with mainlanders – and speaking only broken Putonghua – Lu initially had difficulty on his mainland business trips, but soon started getting results. “I learned from my mistakes. I was humble and willing to listen to others. I was not prepared to force on them the way we do things in Hong Kong,” he says.

Thanks to Lu’s efforts, Ronald Lu & Partners started building a reputation on the mainland. “My first project was the Shanghai Ladoll development, a large residential project in [Shanghai’s] Jin’an District, the old French quarter. The development consisted of 11 residential towers of various heights, a retail mall that faced the street front and a restaurant area which was historically preserved,” he says.

His achievements on the mainland proved to his father and the firm’s senior management that he was capable of big things. He built up an impressive résumé by designing luxury housing projects, such as the Larvotto in Ap Lei Chau, and other notable structures, such as the CIC Zero Carbon Building in Kowloon Bay, the Ko Shan Theatre Annex and the equestrian venues for the 2008 Olympic Games. Today, he serves as the firm’s vice-chairman.

Green elements play an important part in today’s architecture and Lu is impressed with how the government has motivated developers to go green. “The government has introduced new laws to ban structures that will create wall effects. There are various incentives for developers to add green features. I expect to see more buildings with green features and higher standards for green buildings,” he says.

Lu thinks Hong Kong has many world-class architects, but laments local people’s attitudes to home-grown businesses. “I am saddened by the fact that Hong Kongers are not keen supporters of local brands. Many local professional-service providers have sold their businesses to foreign firms. Look at today’s banks, law firms and accounting firms – how many are owned by Hong Kong people? I am worried that Hong Kong people are losing their identity in the business world,” he says.

Lu also believes that Hong Kong’s talented designers make the city proud. “I was a judge for the student section of the Perspective Awards, a design competition hosted by the architecture magazine Perspective. I looked at students’ designs and was deeply impressed with their talent. Hong Kong people are talented. They should be proud and not think that foreigners are superior to them,” he says.
As an art lover, Lu supports the Hong Kong Arts Centre and its promotion of art education for the public. “My father’s generation focused on making ends meet, but now our generation has more resources. We no longer worry about hunger and people can focus on art and sports. I think young people should chase their dreams,” he says.

Looking back, Lu think it is no surprise that he became an architect. “From a young age, I loved looking at the diagrams that my father drew. I would sit on his lap and listen to him explain to me what they meant. He also took me to see different buildings,” he says.

When he was in kindergarten, he surprised his teacher with a drawing called “My room”. “Every other child drew things they had in their rooms but I drew a floor plan of mine,” he says.


Lu reveals his top five favourite architectural masterpieces
Ronchamp “A chapel in eastern France built in the 1950s, its use of natural lighting is amazing.”
Miho Museum “Located in the mountains of Kyoto, it is a perfect example of architecture blending with nature.”
Kaufmann Residence “This house in Pennsylvania in the US was built partly over a waterfall. It is a great design based on nature.”
Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre, Tuen Mun Hospital “This is the first counselling facility of its kind outside Britain and is a perfect place for cancer patients to rehabilitate.”
Siu Sai Wan Complex (Ronald Lu & Partners, pictured) “This is a special green building that makes use of natural ventilation to help save costs on air-conditioning.”