Interview: HB DESIGN
“We find that the new market is towards smaller units; the proximity of apartments to transport hubs has become important. We are also looking at a different market sector of young urban professionals, “DINK” (the dual income with no kids)… .”
What is the concept behind HB Design’s condominium designs?
Generally, there are two different concerns. One of them has to do with the macro scale, which is the idea of how the building looks and the issues that architects usually grapple with: form, composition, architecture, space, material. The other is micro scale, which is the design of people’s homes. There are quite a few architects who deal primarily with one or the other but we feel that truly good design has to satisfy both the architecture with the capital ‘A’ as well as the idea that we have to be diligent professional and humble and serving people’s needs to create their homes. So when you look at our work, you will see that, hopefully, we have managed to combine stunning looking buildings and interesting architecture with very well conceived, carefully engineered interiors, layouts that work, homes that are exciting to be in and remain that way.
How do you see the role and importance of ‘design’ in today’s condominium market?
I think there is an increasing role. Like most service industries, developers also respond well to market-driven concerns and I think our buyers, people living in our condominiums have higher expectations. They’ve traveled. They have seen international project references, they have been to five star hotels, they come home, and they think ‘why can’t I have this at home?’ I think that is driving the developer market towards better design. Fifteen or twenty years ago, if you just had the right price and you were in the right location and you delivered you’d probably do quite well. Now I find that the way products are conceived and the way they are presented hinges quite heavily on the idea of what design can do for you. What I don’t think it is too different in architecture than it is in any other consumer products is that the design is intended to be presented so that that it can change your life for the better.
Can you tell us about the evolution of HB Design’s condominium designs?
For us, it has been quite a meteoric rise. In the early 2000s we were primarily doing small houses, quite a lot of interiors. Later on through good luck or maybe coincidence, we managed to meet up with a group called Raimon Land, who was looking to develop large, design-oriented projects, so we started working with them in projects in Phuket. So we went from house to larger low-rise development on Kata Beach to a high-rise, fifty four story, twin tower condominium in Pattaya.
And then The River came along, which is a very big project, two million square feet right on the Chao Praya River. So very quickly we kind of went from small and boutique developments to some very large scale, almost an urban design scale projects. In terms of design approach, I think we adapt, I don’t think our approach has changed. It has always been very rigorously process-driven. We understand that our clients are businessmen and their business is to sell something and their market is real. They are driven by what people want so we have always tried to be very responsive to the developers’ concerns, which I think is imperative for architects because you don’t just talk about form and architecture, but it is also what the clients and the market wants. What I think has changed over the years; especially in Thailand, is the economic climate. 2004 to 2008 were pretty good years, the economy was striving, a lot of foreign buyers were coming to Thailand and the sales were very buoyant. That gave the clients the enthusiasm and interest to design some of more flamboyant, outgoing design. But the turns in the economic cycle forced us to respond to the market, which has become more competitive. Unit pricing got more aggressive. Lots of foreigners aren’t coming anymore and the market has changed to more of a Thai market. Out of that came some unusual projects, very high-density small unit typology. The design has to be much more compact but at the same time offers design more details, which I call the Swiss Pen Knife approach where small units can be extremely well-conceived and work very well without having to rely on large areas.
What are your thoughts on environmental design?
Well, I think it is definitely a growing arena. I think the overall intention and ideas behind it are all good and there are probably degrees of how the green agenda is involved in a project, sometimes it could be a matter of lip service. There are certain accreditations, which obviously are benchmarks whether it is LEED, BREEAM, or a Green Building. But always the Green initiatives need to be balanced against the economic viability. If you design a home or something the developer and the owner continue to maintain in terms of energy expenses, utility bills, then they are going to be more open to spend a bit more upfront if the bills come out lower in the long run because there will be a point when your monthly or annual expenditure outstrips the capital investment at the outset. The condominium market is more challenging that way because the downstream benefits go towards the buyer and not back to the developer so they have to be very careful how much they invest in green strategy because it increases their outlay. Having said that, I think that some more green things that architects can do is design a smart building that tends to at least reduce energy expenditure with very simple measures: orientation, shading, and natural ventilation. Many of these things are more about smart planning than they are about intelligent systems or extensive technology that makes the building become smarter.
How do you see the future trend of condominium design in Thailand, which way is it heading?
We find that the new market is towards smaller units; the proximity of apartments to transport hubs has become important. We are also looking at a different market sector of young urban professionals, “DINK” (the dual income with no kids), so studio, loft, one bedroom and two bedrooms seem to be the products that are in higher demand whereas five to seven years ago, it was two, three or four bedrooms with some very large units on the market. With smaller spaces, you have to work very hard to make it work and make it feel larger. We have been very good at trying to improve design with compact spaces. It is still an exciting area to be as an architect. We are continuously innovating, that is our main drive. Clients are always asking me ‘what is the differentiating factor in the design of my buildings?’ It is something you have to think about. Hopefully it is not color or something superficial but something more fundamental that people like because it changes their lives on a daily basis.