The housing of the future will be characterised by diversity and constant change

Tian Chiang, Associate at MACH Architecture, talks about flexibility, materiality and contextuality in residential construction.

What considerations are most important when designing living spaces?
It’s important to find an efficient way to deal with the available space. The goal is a natural balance between function and freedom, between density and void. Living spaces have areas that one is eager to show or would rather hide. That should be taken into account in the design, through clear order and clever circulation paths. Today’s living spaces must be more versatile: a living room can be transformed into a home office; the kitchen can be used for home-schooling; and a child’s bedroom can become a gym. Versatility also has emotional significance. It takes into account the ability to personalise the living spaces.

What role does collaboration with the client play?
Communication with the client forms the basis of every concept. We work together to generate a spatial programme. It’s not just a list of rooms and functions but rather, like a film script, a definition of scenarios that take place in those spaces. We also weave in personal memories and the client’s lifestyle.

What do living spaces need in order for people to feel at home?
Your senses play a key role. We always work with multi-sensory concepts. From the choice of materials to the smell and sound and the balance of light and shadow, we adapt all the elements to the scale of a person. But relaxation and comfort do not have to be confined to one’s own four walls. Even when I travel, I want to be able to feel at home – in a hotel, for example.

How strongly does a place influence the architectural expression?
The relationship between inside and outside plays a major role in every kind of architecture. By incorporating local circumstances and particularities, a connection to the place is formed. This averts a sense of interchangeability and achieves sustainable singularity. Building in the future also means building with the past. The best projects come about when the existing built substance can be cleverly reused to produce a dynamic link to the place.

How do new living arrangements or societal changes affect your architecture? 
Societal development will never stand idle. People’s dwellings range from compact, minimally sized apartments in major cities like Hong Kong to luxurious villa complexes with huge grounds. Whether a single household, a patchwork family or large cluster-communities – room divisions and spatial zoning should always be flexibly configurable. We design in four dimensions, taking into account the factor of time. We do so because changes in the working world and in the ratio between young and old also have an effect on designs. 

What building or interior has inspired you recently?
Two colonial-era buildings in Hong Kong that illustrate in exemplary fashion the issue of adaptive reuse: the Tai Kwun Center for Heritage & Art by Herzog & de Meuron and the PMQ, which has been used as a creative hub since 2014. Both projects exhibit a high degree of versatility. The housing of the future will be characterised by diversity and constant change too.