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Greening towers

Published on Saturday, 25 Oct 2014
Christine Kwan
Photo: Laurence Leung

DLN’s Christine Kwan says sustainable design is driving demand for architects.

Environmental sustainability and technology are dramatically changing the way architects work, as companies look to minimise the ecological impact of buildings.

“Going green is one of the most important trends in our industry,” says Christine Kwan Siu-yi, director of the Hong Kong office of DLN Architects, whose buildings, which have been at the forefront of Hong Kong’s skyline for 60 years, include Central Plaza, the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, The Centre, K11 and the development of the West Kowloon Cultural District. The company has also created CITIC Plaza in Guangzhou (China’s eighth tallest building), the Grand Lisboa Hotel and Casino in Macau (the 10th tallest hotel in the world), and a host of other projects in Mongolia, Ukraine, Shanghai and Singapore.

Two years ago, DLN set up a department to focus on the environmental aspects of its new projects. “We want to create more sustainable designs,” says Kwan, who has worked for the company since 2005 and was promoted to design director this year. “DLN is very sensitive to the new trends and we provide a lot of on-the-job training to enable staff to understand [what is required]. We have also employed new designers experienced in this area. It is important to us to have a strong team dedicated to sustainable design.

In Hong Kong, the building environmental assessment method (BEAM) is the certification most local companies use. It is one of the most widely used voluntary labeling schemes of its kind in the world. Another global benchmark for measuring green construction is the certification set up by the United States, which is what DLN works towards obtaining, according to Kwan.

Our policy is that, with all the new projects, we go for green. But it is very challenging. It is not free – it requires a lot of investment from the developers. We try to persuade them to look at the long-term – buildings will last longer and you will get benefits such as energy saving with natural light and ventilation that will reduce electricity consumption.”

New technology is also having a big impact on architecture and its related industries. For a number of years the industry has used the AutoCAD (automated computerised drawing) software system. “With that, you have to draw your plans, then your elevation, then your sections all separately,” Kwan says.

“Nowadays, DLN uses a holistic approach with another system called BIM – building information modelling – with which we create designs using a three-form model: plans, elevations and sections together. It is a more integrated design [that helps us work] with other disciplines such as mechanical, electrical and structural engineering. We share the same 3D model on the network – a kind of inter-office environment – with them, a digital platform working towards a common 3D model.” 

Technology is also helping with sustainable architecture in a number of ways, not least with the reduction of waste. “In the past, there was a lot of wastage in the industry in terms of spare parts and materials. For example, previously we would not be able to do an assimilation of tile patterns, so we would over-order and the surplus would just be disposed of. As much as 10 to 20 per cent was wasted. Now, we can assimilate the patterns and ensure there is no wastage.”

Building the workforce

Kwan says going green is a commitment that cannot be avoided, and DLN welcomes new recruits equipped with the latest knowledge. It is not the only expectation, though – there is a certain mindset DLN seeks when recruiting staff, says Kwan. “Architecture is a lifelong process in terms of skill development, design brief and lateral thinking. Unlike science or mathematics, which require step-by-step logic, there is no single solution to a design brief. We have to open our minds and find the most appropriate solution at the time – and then expect it to change. It is an ongoing process. You have to be highly flexible.” 

Good communication and teamwork are also vital components of a successful architectural firm, she says. “Architecture is not a one-man band, it requires teamwork – the bigger the project, the bigger the team. At DLN, we don’t believe in ‘star’ architects. We encourage regular discussion between junior and senior staff on an equal basis in which we exchange ideas.” 

DLN is currently recruiting in a number of areas, Kwan says. “Our doors are always open to young architects, especially those who are passionate and strong in design – this is the most important element of the whole project.

“We are always looking for talent and fresh ideas in design”, Kwan says.

There are also openings for building surveyors, architectural draftsmen – especially those equipped with BIM knowledge – and project architects with practical experience. 

DLN has opened a new office in Shanghai and is looking for talented individuals who are willing to work in mainland China. Applicants will be interviewed directly by the company’s chairman, Dennis Lau Wing-kwong. 

Kwan previously worked for Anthony Ng and RMJM, where she was part of the team that that created the media centre for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She says she was nurtured and given many opportunities, which inspired her to continue the good work at DLN.

She says it is a great company for young architects to join and progress in. Kwan feels fortunate to be part of Lau’s 300-strong workforce. “I’m lucky I joined DLN because we share the same vision and the company has a tremendous number of projects of various scales, so it has allowed me a lot of exposure. Sometimes it is a problem for young architects to find a firm that has enough projects [so that they get] vital opportunities, but DLN is never short of projects. 

 “I love this firm,” Kwan adds. “I like the challenges, the responsibility and the opportunities I’m being given to do something that will contribute to our society, our cultural development and the next generation.”

The sky is the limit

Christine Kwan lists five desirable attributes she looks for in architects

Patience “It can take years to complete a project and revisions and amendments can be numerous. There are multiple factors to take into account.”

Perseverance “I worked for Anthony Ng for two years and his perseverance in continually seeking good quality designs really inspired me.”

Passion “You can’t do this job well unless you really love it. I care so much about people … ”

Curiosity “Exploration is the driving force behind ideas, which are important for us to remain competitive. And new ideas come from curiosity – about your environment, your community and so on.”

Open-mindedness “This is an essential quality as change is a constant and you have to embrace it. Architecture is an ongoing process – you’re always learning and discovering new things.”


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