Heart of a poet beats hard in the pragmatism of his design

Kent Lui studied architecture in Japan and worked with Lord Norman Foster on several projects, including the world famous Hong Kong Bank headquarters.
Heart of a poet beats hard in the pragmatism of his design
courtesy of Kent Lui

Kent Lui

Who is he?

Kent Lui studied architecture in Japan and worked with Lord Norman Foster on several projects, including the world famous Hong Kong Bank headquarters and Hong Kong International Airport. Since 2000, he has flown to more than 30 Chinese and Asian cities to develop architectural and masterplan projects. More recently, he’s concentrated on working on mega-scale masterplan projects in major cities in Vietnam, such as Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang and Halong Bay. He’s also developing conceptual art for different themes, related to the future city and the way of living for the society. 

Tell us some of your works and name the one you are most proud of.

The Times Square Building in Ho Chi Minh City and The Reverie Saigon Hotel housed within it, is the one I’m most proud of to-date. It’s the third tallest building in the city and the hotel was just ranked as No.4 amongst the 50 best hotels in the world in Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards — which I think is an extraordinary feat. 

The building’s exterior reflects a modernist design with colorful LED lights embedded into its facade to put on spectacular light shows, while its interior is decorated with the grandeur of an Italian palazzo. The building — with its world-class hotel, luxury apartments, grade-A office space, premium retail spaces, impressive dining outlets and Saigon’s most exclusive spa — symbolizes the best multi-function destination in Ho Chi Minh City. 

Are you currently involved with any projects?

We are presently developing a concept for a new city located approximately 20 kilometers away from Ho Chi Minh City that will be able to accommodate a population of 300,000. The 4,000-hectare site is located along Can Giuoc River and will have its own government center, CBD and modular residential district. 

The whole city is being developed based on environmentally friendly criteria — capturing the best orientation for natural daylight and natural wind. 

Public facilities such as a piazza, convention center, sports area and museum will be nestled along the 20-kilometer-long riverside promenade, offering an impressive lifestyle along the beautiful riverfront. 

The CBD will be situated at the north and south of the city to strategically support commercial activities for the whole region. 

Describe your design style.

I call it pragmatic symbolism. I’d like to think I’m poetic, but pragmatic at the same time. We use natural elements such as the moon and stars, and even volcanos for my designs as metaphors for different situations and functions within a city. The image is powerful and appeals to the public, from young to old, with no cultural limitations.  

Where are you most creative?

 My flight back home after site visits. All the master concepts for projects will come to mind within 2-3 hours of being mid-air. And the most creative and original concept is always the one that comes to mind first. It has never failed and never missed and represents a distillation of my desire to create. 

What does your home mean to you?

 Home means a lot to me. From my window, I have a good view of the harbor of Hong Kong, and the building I designed with lord Norman Foster, The Hong Kong bank headquarters building. This building marks the starting point of my career and reminds me to be creative, be original, be bold and have no fear in being very different. 

What do you collect?

I enjoy collecting books and the drawings of some futurist artists about “future city” concepts — famous artists such as Syd Mead, Yona Friedman, Hugh Ferris and Paolo Soleri. Their drawings of the “future city” inspire entire generations of architects and planners about the way of living in the future. Nowadays, we are talking about how to potentially live beyond earth, on other planets, so very soon I will try to begin collecting works about this as well. 

Where would you like to go most in Shanghai?

I enjoy visiting the Pudong area of Shanghai a lot. It is the place where China’s magic happened in such a short period of time. The whole Pudong New Area represents the advanced development strategy for city planning, real estate as well as the cultural development of China. 

What will be the next big design trend?

Narrative architectural concepts. Every project or building should have a story and its story should be bold and have a strong relation to the local culture. The stories should appeal to the mass public instead of a selected intellectuals.

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