Cover Frank Leung, founder of Hong Kong-based studio Via.

“I’d like to think we all work for happiness; to design is to bring delight into every project we do,” says Hong Kong-based architect and designer Frank Leung. Here, he shares more about designing during the pandemic as well as the design icons that inspire him.

For Hong Kong architect and designer Frank Leung, there’s no structured modus operandi that he adheres to; the award-winning creative prefers to embrace both ambiguity and spontaneity in his design approach. “​​For me, creativity happens as part of an ongoing conversation with the project and a continuous exploration of possibilities,” he explains. “I always keep an open mind to new approaches so a design can develop into the best version it can be.”

Embracing the journey is clearly a process that Leung appreciates, and it’s also reflected in the name of his multidisciplinary practice. Founded in 2009, Via. signifies “a process, a journey and transition”, as well as the studio’s collaborative culture with groups of creatives and craftsmen from varying disciplines. The firm has since amassed an extensive portfolio across high-end commercial, hospitality, and residential spaces, clinching awards and gaining global recognition along the way. 

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Leung, who helms Via. as its founder and principal, is propelled by the drive to consistently refine his craft and to create better projects.  “As an evolving practice, I always say our latest work is our best work,” says Leung. “The recently-completed Atrium House show gallery has been a milestone for me personally, and for the studio as a whole; (it has) a holistic design scheme in which we took the essence of a Chinese courtyard to create a sense of tranquillity.” The design visionary also highlights the new flagship for the House of Madison in Hong Kong, an internationally award-winning project that Via. completed last year. 

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Falling back onto his belief that some of the best ideas will gradually unfurl through the course of the path, Leung does not believe in waiting for the clouds to part; je prefers to dive right into the process. “I’ve always liked the Chuck Close saying: ‘Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work’,” he quips. 

“The core of what we do is to present meaningful solutions to elevate the potential of a space, while working within time constraints. With that in mind, I get my inspiration from the unique cultural and historical contexts of each project, from the talented and dedicated people we work with, and from giving joy to the people who interact with our spaces.”

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Above all, finding and embracing the joie de vivre in every project is a spirited philosophy that he sticks to. “I’d like to think we all work for happiness; to design is to bring delight into every project we do,” he says. Here, Leung shares more about designing during the pandemic as well as the design icons that inspire him. We also got the arbiter of taste to highlight the decor pieces and artwork that he currently admires. 

How have you been coping with the challenges of the pandemic? 

Frank Leung (FL): My home is the ultimate refuge for me; I don’t do much productive work there. Rather than making homes more ready for work, we’re incorporating other elements into our studio space so our community of designers can grow through working, collaborating, learning, socialising, and relaxing together. The pandemic has taught us that (even) with today’s connectivity, much of the collaborative work still gets done in-person and face-to-face.

Could you give us a brief overview of your creative design process? 

FL We begin each design by examining the locale, purpose, and aspirations of the project. From there, we’ll interprete those elements to describe a setting for life to happen within. At the studio, we make conscious efforts to foster a collaborative environment where we encourage everybody to contribute ideas at any stage of the design process. We also work closely with our peers and creative partners—lighting designers, landscape designers, architects and other consultants—drawing from their expertise to achieve our holistic visions.

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What is the mark of a well-designed space to you?

FL: Being simple and impactful at the same time. A space that touches me without calling attention onto itself.

Who are the design icons that have had the most impact on you and why?

FL: I lean towards (inspiration from) powerful minds like Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier and American architect Louis Kahn, and at the same time, meticulous hands like Italian architect Carlo Scarpa and Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei.

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What are some collections and art that you currently love? 

1. “nao” by one k edition

FL: This is our first designer lifestyle piece for One k edition, the product creation and decoration arm of Via. The sculptural work was inspired by a week-long trip to Naoshima in 2019. Working with Hong Kong artisans, we created three concrete textures with complementing candle scents—yakisugi, aubergine and fern—to reflect the memories from this trip, crafted into a sensorial experience. 

2. Model 65 Chair by Alvar Aalto

FL: A perfect embodiment of timelessness and simplicity, the Model 65 chair by Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto is a mid-century classic. I’m lucky to have a vintage version of this chair in my collection, made from birch with original red-painted seat, circa 1960s. It was bought on a trip to famed antique expert J F Chen in Los Angeles.

3. Yuet Tung china works

FL: Yuet Tung is the only surviving ceramics factory in Hong Kong specialising in hand-painted porcelain ware. The studio has been around since 1928 and is known to have produced special pieces for royal families and officials of foreign countries. One of my favourites is the plum blossom range, which adds colour and a nostalgic quality to any dining table.

4. Artworks by Chen Chi-kwan

FL: Taiwanese artist, architect and educator Chen Chi-kwan, known for his collaboration with Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei on the Luce Memorial Chapel in Taichung, was also instrumental in shaping a new direction for Chinese modern art. His works, combining both modern and traditional aesthetics, reveal abstract concepts of nature and humanity through decorative colors and architectural lines. Peaceful Coexistence is one of Chen’s works I acquired from a private collector in 2005.

5. Rimadesio Cover Freestanding shelving system

FL: From their sliding door systems to their wardrobes, Rimadesio’s highly engineered range offers customizability that’s second to none. Featured in our House of Madison Hong Kong project, the Cover Freestanding is built with a sleek aluminium frame, making it a standout piece as a two-way display unit, a room divider, as well as wardrobe. The components and accessories can be completely tailored to the space or needs of its owners. 

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