Interviewing Gary Chang

EDGE focuses on altering space and using it in the best possible way. Why is space so important to you?
I was brought up in Hong Kong, arguably one of the most densely populated cities on earth and also one of the most intense in terms of competition for space due to Hong Kong’s geographic, political, and social issues.

I grew up in a very compact and confined space (I lived in the same 344-square-foot apartment for more than four decades) where space was treated very sensitively and creatively … without any input from professionals or architects.

I recall having to sleep on the “sofa” in the living room, or rather in the corridor, after all of my relatives had gone to bed, turning the furniture into my makeshift bed. These days, most home furnishings are “transformers” by nature – be it the table, the chair, or the sofa!

For the above-mentioned tiny apartment, you came up with 24 different layouts to make perfect use of available space. Could you take us through the process?
Like several other architects, I had already been using my own apartment as a test case and proving ground for more than 25 years. This latest model, from 2007, calls it a “Domestic Transformer.” I envisioned a domestic space with multiple transformations and at least 24 use scenarios. To this end, I mainly used movable walls on wheels and ceiling tracks, hinged tabletops, electric blinds and screens, folding plates, and sliding doors. It is what I call time-based design: an optimization of both space and time!

Let’s switch from private to public space. You recently created The Cascade, a multi-purpose installation on a public staircase in Hong Kong. What stands out about this project?
The Cascade project is all about possibilities within a “fixed” installation. Unlike the Domestic Transformer, the Cascade doesn’t feature any movable elements, but rather depends on the temporary occupation and adaptation of space by passers-by, turning “public space” into an ever-changing installation.

You have stated that you wish to improve the environment with your works. How have the Cascade or other projects in public space helped to advance this goal?
If you take the Cascade project, for example, then it explores the notion of expanding its original purpose – the piece of public art requested by our client – by adding different layers of purpose. It takes advantage of the staircase’s natural slope and this is something no one else, at least not the government, would have thought possible beyond its obvious use as a staircase. At the same time, it offers convenience and comfort within a seemingly hyper-dense environment. 

A lot of your projects focus on your own hometown. What makes Hong Kong such a great place to be?
The city’s development is extremely three-dimensional, yet also closely connected to nature: One building, for example, allows you to access a hillside road by simply pushing the 17th floor elevator button – a very surreal experience indeed. I go to gym on the 34th floor and take a swim on the 118th. This ultra-three-dimensional and self-adaptive urban pattern, coupled with high efficiency and a close-knit relationship between urban space and nature, is unique to Hong Kong.

And what about the challenges Hong Kong faces? Apart from the obvious space limitations?
Hong Kong’s government is very intrusive and anti-creativity (inspiring ways of using space are usually initiated by the private sector), it lacks initiatives for the young (we don’t even have a culture of competitions), and then there is the strong bias towards business and commercial models. The city’s crazy-high rents, for instance, kill most small-scale endeavors!

You have also worked in other cities. How do you approach projects in foreign places?
To me, new places might seem different, but I find it more inspiring to consider their similarities: We simply have to get down to the fundamentals to notice shared issues and problems. Right now, we are curious about and interested in applying our own local strategies to global situations. 

Generally speaking, what are the challenges faced by today’s cities?
Efficient use of resources is certainly a challenge for cities worldwide. Also, there is the eternal challenge of growth that results in high levels of congestion and pollution – plus the growing number of poor. These are pressing issues around the globe. 

Thank you very much for your time and insights. We are looking forward to your future projects – best of luck! 

Interview: Lia Pack
All pictures, incl. the header image: Edge Design Institute


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