Ar. Hans Brouwer- India is a Long-term Growth Market
Ar. Hans Brouwer has started HB Design Pte Ltd in 2004 as a single-man practice, has today, grown to a 40 man practice with projects in 9 countries. The firm, strongly feels that the real foundations of design lie in the combination of vision, sound problem-solving structure and the ability to create exceptional spatial experiences. The key thing, it believes, is to have the right intention - that is to try to be as responsible and efficient with its resources and the way its structures are used. "We entered into the Indian periphery in 2008 and since then worked on number of projects here. We see this country as a long-term growth market and are keen to be involved with visionary clients with intentions of creating exceptional architecture," says Ar. Hans Brouwer, Founder, HB Design Pte Ltd in an interview with Maria R.
Could you please tell us in brief about your architectural firm HB Design Pte Ltd, its global operations, and journey so far?
I started my professional (architectural) journey working in the office of Sir Norman Foster. In my 8 + years there, I was fortunate to be involved with and responsible for a number of world-class buildings, taking them from inception through to completion. It was a very good introduction into the professional world of design and architecture.
I started HB Design in 1995 in Hong Kong, where I grew up. Asia was booming at the time and I felt that my personal timing and professional aspirations pointed clearly towards coming back to my roots and setting up my own practice.
The journey since then has taken many twists and turns. At first, we grew quite quickly, growing to a 14 man firm within the first year. Unfortunately, I still had no real understanding of how to run my own practice. We went bust after 3 years.
I re-started HB Design in 1998 in Singapore - alone. Unfortunately, this timing coincided with the great economic downturn that started at the end of 1997. I started by working out of my apartment and taking on whatever work I could get.
I consider this time very important in my growth as an architect and professional. Since then I have always been very prudent about work- and cashflow.
Our growth from a single-man practice to what we are today started in earnest around 2004. Since then we've grown to a 40 man practice with offices in Singapore, Phuket and Bangkok with projects in 9 countries.
What architecture means to you and how do you see at the current key architectural trends?
I have always been intrigued by architecture's ability to mean different things to different people - ranging from the poetic to the pragmatic. I have always been very process driven. I like to fully understand both the inherent properties of a project (site, brief, climate, economics, etc.) and to explore what the design could be in as much breadth and depth as possible.
This design exploration process becomes "evolutionary" in nature with multiple design solutions tested over a series of rounds - good ideas prevail, while inappropriate ideas are not propagated.
Today, we live in an era of instant gratification and impulse consumption. This has also affected how architecture is processed and appreciated. I feel that there is too much emphasis on style and appearance - and not enough on content and function.
Please tell us about your Firm's design philosophy and areas of focus? Also please elaborate on your design expertise.
Architecture is a slow-growth profession. It takes time to accumulate real-life experience and the understanding that comes from seeing design transformed from idea to building. At this stage in my career I feel things are starting to come together in ways that weren't possible when I was younger.
Vision and ambition is now tempered by experience and knowledge. This leads to a design approach that is more confident and sure-handed - at the same time more grounded and relevant.
I am often asked what my area of design expertise is: residential, commercial, hospitality-- I always answer the same: good design. I feel strongly, that the real foundations of design lie in the combination of vision, sound problem-solving structure and the ability to create exceptional spatial experiences. This is not restricted by brief, programme or typology. Whether you are designing a door handle, a tower or a house, the fundamentals of design remain the same.
Please shed lights on some of the unique and most recognized projects, designed by you?
As their creator I don't like to qualify which projects are more unique or recognized. To me, each project has meaning and merit - whether they were early, small scale projects, or more recent large scale ones.
I am as proud of the delicate urban canopy project I did for the Coffee Club on Orchard Road (Singapore) as I am of The River, a 71 storey high-rise residential project in Bangkok.
I try to approach each project with a view to creating something - as opposed to engineering something. This pays double dividends in that the process of design, which can all too quickly become "routine", remains fresh and explorative, whilst leading to a building that has merit and will hopefully survive the test of time.
If pressed, I would highlight the following projects as milestones in my career:
- Whitehouse Park - a private house in Singapore featured on the cover of the book "Tropical Houses"
- The Heights - a 52-unit hillside residential development in Phuket based on an Italian hilltown concept. This project was awarded best condo in Thailand in its day.
- Northpoint - a twin tower, high rise beachfront condominium project; our first completed high rise project.
- The River - Thailands tallest residential building (at 71 storeys and 256m) and one of Bangkok's largest inner city developments (over 2 million square feet). It was awarded "Southeast Asia's Best Condominium" at last year's (2012) Southeast Asia Property Awards.
- The Gateway - a recently launched project for Tata Housing in New Delhi is a massive housing development based on a dynamic "Manhattan" skyline concept. It was recently launched as, despite India being in a slowdown period, was heavily oversubscribed.
Sustainable is one of many words used in the context of ecologically responsive design. Ultimately, it's just a word and it can be easily abused and misrepresented.
The key thing, I believe, is to have the right intention - that is to try to be as responsible and efficient with our resources and the way our structures are used.
My approach to ecologically responsive design is subject to the exact same process I use for any other aspect of design. Multiple issues are explored and tested - ranging from orientation, material technology and performance. What "works" or doesn't depends on more factors than just theoretical performance. Practical concerns, budget, market forces and maintenance are just a few of the other criteria that come into play when assessing what is appropriate.
I am proud to say that we are always trying to push the envelope of the "possible" on all of our projects. This intention manifests in myriad ways depending on context, client, and project specifics.
Northpoint in Pattaya - Thailand was one of the first large-scale residential projects to adopt double-glazing for all apartment windows. The River in Bangkok - Thailand introduced water-cooled, split-unit AC systems into a residential project. President Place, our first office building in Vietnam was awarded LEED Gold certification. Marvel Edge, in Pune - India, a 40m tall groundscraper (stretching over 200m in length) has been pre-certified as LEED Platinum.
Since how long you are providing your services in India and what inspired you to enter into this region. How are you blending your architectural expertise in Indian architecture which is quite different and contemporary?
I was first approached in 2008 by Marvel Realtors from Pune. They had seen some of my work in Thailand and came to Singapore to discuss working with them in India.
This led to our first project. Since then our portfolio has grown to over 15 projects with almost 13 million square feet of real estate.
I have found the projects that we are doing to be extremely challenging, both in terms of scale and complexity. In addition to dealing with the unique aspects of building in India, there are the differences of climate, culture, and market demands.
If you are asking how our work is different in India from others in other countries, the answer also goes back to process. The solutions we seek are driven by the project specific questions we ask, therefore they are, by default "Indian" as far as we are concerned.
Please tell us something about the ongoing projects KYRA and Marvel EDGE in Pune, India and their USPs.When do you expect the projects will get completed?
Marvel Edge is nearing completion. The first tenant will be moving in towards the end of this year, so the construction completion is being phased to suit - the completion of the whole project will be sometime in 2013.
It has been a challenging project due to its size, geometry and the sophistication of the façade systems.
The curved plan, combined with the layered façade (curtain wall, terraces, solar screen) has resulted in a journey of design, detailing and fabrication. This is always the case when innovation and exploration are involved. The task of translating design into reality is another journey in and of itself - no less "design" than the creation of the architectural ideas.
Kyra has had its own challenges. Being a highrise project it is subject to significant movement under earthquake conditions. Linking the 3 towers with sky decks required considerable structural innovation.
In terms of statutory approvals, it also ran into some challenges with the 100m height being questioned. This issue now seems to be almost resolved, so we are looking forward to seeing the project go on site soon.
You designed number of projects for Pune region and have confined yourself to that city. Are you planning to move to other part of the country as well? What are your thoughts on maintaining and growing your practice?
We started out working in Pune and our growth there has been hinged entirely on one client - Marvel Realtors. Our work tends to lead to repeat clients - a product of a "satisfied client" and the developer market.
In the past 2 years, we have worked with other developers in different cities:
- Peninsula Land in Bangalore
- Tata Housing in New Delhi
- Sheth Creators in Mumbai
You have been bestowed with several recognitions and Awards; please shed some lights on your milestone achievements.
I honestly don't actively pursue or follow what awards my projects garner. Some projects have received acclaim from various professional bodies, but the most important accolade should be if the building is well received by those it was designed for.
Would you like to share any of your incidences that has changed your line of thinking and brought a new revolution in your designs?
I don't believe in revolution - it's all about evolution!
What would you recommend to a future architecture student?
- Stay humble - remember, we provide a service.
- Dream big, but keep your feet on the ground.
- Learn to communicate and collaborate - they will be invaluable skillsets in your career.
Client: Lasalle Inv. Mangmnt.
Located footsteps away from Orchard Road, 111 Ermerald Hill, the project is created as an exclusive and intimate residential haven that is grounded in tradition and balance and yet strives for the best of contemporary, urban living. This development offers a comprehensive suite of recreational facilities and houses 40 exclusive luxury apartments offering sweeping views of Ochard Road and beyond.
When investigating the best design for the site a premium was placed on the ability to create an environment of space, privacy and luxury. Building position and orientation were extensively studied in order to ensure unobstructed prime views out from every unit.
The low-rise curved form fulfils the promise of uncompromised views, while at the same time creating a new landmark within the Emerald Hill district. The building was completed in 2011.
Client: Raimon land
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Floor Area: 65,000 square metres
185 Rajadamri was conceived as a new benchmark for grade A+ living in Bangkok. Located in the heart of Bangkok's CBD with expansive and unassailable views across Lumpinipark and the Royal Bangkok Sports club and the property is poised to become the most sought after residential property in the city. The building was carefully designed to maximise views, and the cleverly designed floorplate allows the flexibilty to create a wide range of innovative unit types while still delivering great efficiency. A multi-million dollar sales office has recently been completed. The main building has begun construction with completion targeted in 2013.
Client: Marvel Realtors
Location: Pune, India
Floor Area: 452,000 square metres
The project Marvel Kyra heightened Marvel's philosophy of premium lifestyle apartments and gives luxury a whole new meaning with 'living in the sky'. The Kyra homes are 'homes in the sky' - complete with large double-storey outdoor living decks, landscaping and a private pool that embellishes every unit.
The expansive floor sizes and the dramatic outdoor spaces give one the feeling of a large house, as opposed to an apartment. All the units face towards north or south and hence offer unobstructed views and exceptional cross-ventilation.
Multiple communal zones are housed within the towers - in the two sky boxes. Irrespective of which apartment one live in, he/she will still have the opportunity to spend quality leisure time 'up in the sky', with the lounge, gym and dining restaurant all situated in these plush sky-boxes.
"Kyra aims to exceed client expectations by not giving them what they want but by showing them what they never could have imagined they could have - a life in the sky,"- Hans.