06.11.19

A talk with Collective Studio

Portrait by Kevin Mak @ 1KM STUDIO – Photography by Katja Lam @ COLLECTIVE
In 2015, Betty Ng founded COLLECTIVE, a Hong Kong-based architecture studio that nowadays has two more venues in Madrid and San Francisco. Even though the firm is rooted in Asia, the team wants to emphasise that they are globally oriented and approach projects insisting on three principles: clarity, beauty and function. During our meeting, the architects told us about their personal approach, the importance of having a multicultural background and, especially, their project for the new Valextra showroom in Honolulu, where they experimented around the three-dimensionality of Mistral collection by Barber & Osgerby.
In 2015, Betty Ng founded COLLECTIVE, a Hong Kong-based architecture studio that nowadays has two more venues in Madrid and San Francisco. Even though the firm is rooted in Asia, the team wants to emphasise that they are globally oriented and approach projects insisting on three principles: clarity, beauty and function. During our meeting, the architects told us about their personal approach, the importance of having a multicultural background and, especially, their project for the new Valextra showroom in Honolulu, where they experimented around the three-dimensionality of Mistral collection by Barber & Osgerby.

What’s the history of Collective Studio?

COLLECTIVE was founded in 2015 by Betty. After a year of experimenting alone, in 2016 she recruited Juan and Katja, both her previous colleagues at OMA, and later, in 2019, she invited Chi Yan, her ex-colleague at Herzog & de Meuron, to join the firm. The studio is now directed by the four of us, together as a creative entity of around twelve people from different parts of the world. We always like to emphasize that we are globally oriented and strongly rooted in Asia.

Which values does the company pursue through its work?

Learning the unknown and, on the contrary, unlearn the known is something we value very highly.

Your first Headquarters is based in Hong Kong, but now you also have venues in Madrid and San Francisco. Furthermore, you can rely on a heterogeneous team of architects. How does this international background influence your work?

Our team is very international also in the sense of having experienced life, education and work outside of one’s comfort zone. This allows all of us to be always “out of context”, which offers various perspectives and a lot of edge to be slightly different in any project, any program and at any location.

How would you describe Collective Studio’s approach to architecture?

We have a narrative driven practice that focuses on powerful concepts. We place importance on the abstraction of architecture to expand it through thinking critically, from spatial experiences to context, program, organisation, materiality, culture, economies, psychology, technologies…

Learning the unknown and, on the contrary, unlearn the known is something we value very highly.

You recently worked on the setting of the new Honolulu-based Valextra showroom, located in Ala Moana Center (the largest open-air mall in the world). How did the project develop?

We worked very closely with Sara Ferrero, Valextra’s CEO. She has a very clear vision of what the brand is and should be, while offering absolute freedom for us as architects to present our interpretation of what Valextra at Honolulu could be. The strong mutual respect between the two parties became a very professional collaboration that nurtured a common vision. It developed into a powerful aesthetic and material experimentation which contributed to the success of the project, both architecturally and commercially.

How do the tridimensional ceramic structures produced by Mutina interact with the surrounding space?

We wanted to break the facade threshold to enhance the open-air shopping experience by creating a series of 4 meter tall rotating glass doors, serving as a truly accessible and luminous entryway. This naturally draws visitors inside the store, making them to confront with a perspectival three dimensional mountain that we designed and put together with Mutina ceramic structures. We have always been an admirer of Mutina’s product, and we particularly like Mistral collection. The company generously sent over a few samples and we took a rather unorthodox approach to manipulate and “abuse” them. We tried to amplify the three-dimensionality of the collection, by stacking, drilling, filing the elements, trying to fit wires through the hollow interiors… All these experiments led to the creation of “The Mountain” inside the new Valextra store, reconfigured and redesigned with a custom blue color.

What kind of relationship do you engage with your clients?

We consider our clients as part of COLLECTIVE. There are various layers of collaboration, from the very internal within our team, to our contractors, clients, consultants… Everyone has stake and passion on contributing to a project. We engage our clients with professionalism, a high level of creative responsibilities and, of course, an open and trustful working relationship, which is intrinsic to successful projects.

How much is sustainability important in your projects?

Very important, yet very challenging. We have the constant struggle of wanting to build even though not building is probably the most sustainable act. We try to approach practicing sustainability by using long lasting architectural materials and minimizing waste. The most important of all: we believe sustainability lies in the wellbeing of dwelling, which we hope to achieve through our architecture and design.

Do you remember the first time you heard about Mutina? What did strike you the most about our company?

We have heard about it a while ago, when we were all working in European architecture offices. Mutina seems to be constantly finding new ways to break through that generic “flatness” of ceramic tiles. There are so many beautiful collections, yet we are most drawn by the texture and three dimensionality of the products, which leave room to imagine the vast range of possible applications.

Do you have a favourite Mutina collection?

We definitely like Mistral, but there are too many beautiful Mutina products. It is very difficult to pick one, it seems like there is always a collection that can be suitable for any project.

We believe sustainability lies in the wellbeing of dwelling, which we hope to achieve through our architecture and design.
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