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Designing for a Better Life

“Win-win” development is what drives Ronald Lu & Partners (RLP), explained Bryant Lu, Vice Chairman of the architecture and design firm.

“To design for a better life and redefine sustainability in every part of our projects,” he said.

Ronald Lu founded the firm in Hong Kong in 1976: today, he remains as Chairman, and his son Bryant joined in 2000.

Hong Kong people will be familiar with RLP’s work. The company has been involved in major projects such as the Xiqu Centre in West Kowloon and transport-oriented developments like Lohas Park, as well as community and education facilities including swimming pools and university buildings across the city. Sincy Bryant Lu joined the firm, it has expanded successfully into the Mainland market and today has offices in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

One of RLP’s recent major project is Lee Tung Avenue in Wan Chai. To redevelop this long-settled part of Hong Kong Island, the firm had to consider how to serve local residents and businesses as well as homebuyers and commercial tenants within the new development.

“A positive impact in every project requires long-term research and continuous meetings with multiple parties,” explained Lu.

The result of this process is that Lee Tung Avenue, completed in 2015, includes open spaces as well as shops and restaurants, and also provides an underground pedestrian link between Wan Chai MTR station and Queen’s Road East.

Large-scale urban developments often face opposition, and coming to an agreement with local residents and other stakeholders is a crucial part of the process. The Xiqu Centre faced some resistance initially, Lu explained, but sharing the details about its facilities and benefits can help win acceptance. One key aspect of the Xiqu development is its natural ventilation design, which cuts down on the need for air-conditioning.

“I am very proud of the Xiqu Centre in West Kowloon,” Lu said. “It is the first cultural building in the area, focusing on the Chinese Xiqu art form, which includes Cantonese and Beijing opera.”

A similar approach at Victoria Dockside in Tsim Sha Tsui encourages the flow of air to help cool Salisbury Garden. After the completion of the project, RLP partnered with the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong University, launched a post-occupancy evaluation, and the firm formulated an evaluation methodology to monitor the effectiveness of the urban systems through site data analysis and post-occupancy feedback.

“We are not just looking at the aesthetics and the beauty of a project,” Lu said. “We also look at a lot of data, the science and the technology, to help us create a feedback system where we can continuously improve our design.”

Such natural ventilation is more environmentally friendly by cutting energy use, and also improves the local microclimate.

This focus on sustainability has long been part of the company’s ethos. Lu has worked with Chief Executive Carrie Lam since her time serving as Development Secretary to help improve the sustainability of buildings in Hong Kong, and ultimately to help the whole city to breathe more easily.

Besides creating entirely new buildings, the firm also offer redevelopment and remodelling services. One example is the China Resources Building in Wan Chai North, a multi-purpose grade-A office, retail and hotel complex that was built in 1983. Rather than demolish the building, Lu suggested a range of upgrades, including adding exterior curtain walls with double low-e film to help insulation, and an energy-efficient external LED lighting system. The win-win here is that the overhaul has cut energy consumption as well as delivering more attractive offices for tenants.

Hong Kong’s severe shortage of land creates many challenges for developers, but Lu can see benefits in the city’s unique geography, despite the demands it places on architects.

“Density creates an opportunity,” he said. “For example, the city has the lowest carbon footprint on transportation globally. So, having such high density gives us a lot of efficiency in public transit and connectivity.”

This density, combined with the city’s excellent transport links, makes life more efficient for businesspeople, Lu added. “In Hong Kong, I can do three meetings in one morning, while, in Beijing, I can only do one.”

One of the company’s projects outside Hong Kong demonstrates the scope of mixed-use development. Guilin Integral is an industrial tourism park – it contains a factory and workers’ accommodation, as well as high-end shops and displays for visitors to learn about the history of the region.

This project gave RLP the opportunity to create a sustainable development garden to ensure a comfortable workspace for employees. Guilin Integral also has spacious courtyards to provide an attractive environment for the workers in their free time.

Architecture is a very practical and precise discipline, and practitioners must also keep up with developments in technology to ensure their buildings are fit for purpose. On the other hand, the creative side is extremely important, Lu explained, and one of the reasons why it is such an interesting career.

“Having a deep interest in the arts and the humanities is essential,” he said.

Lu takes inspiration from some of the pioneers of early 20th century architecture, including Antoni Gaudi, whose distinctive style is encapsulated in the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona. Lu also pointed to the work of Le Corbusier, who created many groundbreaking and dramatic buildings in his long career, but who was also focused on improving people’s living and working conditions.

Lu has worked in in design, project administration and business development in Hong Kong, Mainland China and New York. It was perhaps inevitable that he became an architect, given his family background.

“I think I was deeply influenced by my father,” he said. “When I was growing up, I could see what he was working on, and he shared with me how enjoyable the work was.”

Architecture is something quite tangible, Lu added, so you can see how buildings and spaces can improve people’s lives.

“That aspect of architecture brings me a lot of fulfilment,” Lu said. “Thinking of how I can make the world a better place. You have to consider how people live, work, sleep – all of the very personal aspects of life. So I think that understanding people is the first step.”

Company: Ronald Lu & Partners (RLP)

HKGCC Membership No.: HKR0142

Established: 1976

Website: http://www.rlphk.com/eng/

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