I think art or design is something that everyone can appreciate, whether you’re someone who works in the creative field or otherwise.
William Lim, architect and founder of CL3 Architects

Hong Kong’s Central district is a hodgepodge of new and old buildings, high-rise and low-rise. To one of Hong Kong’s most renowned architects, William Lim, that blend of new and old culture is unique to the city and poses both challenges and opportunities in property development.

His latest pair of projects in Central, the H Queen’s (HQ) and H CODE (HC), demonstrate his design firm CL3’s expertise in urbanism and planning, and showcases Lim’s love of blending modern architectural styles with local cultural and artistic references.

H Queen’s represents the amalgamation of Lim’s personal and professional interests: it’s a 24-storey high-rise originally intended by its developer, Henderson Leasing Agency Co, to be an office building, until Lim convinced the developer to establish it as an art-centric establishment. The building will play host to a number of art galleries, studios and restaurants, one of which belongs to renowned art dealer David Zwirner, his first in Asia.

VCA William Lim

“There are plenty of office buildings all across the island,” Lim explains of his suggestion to Henderson during the pitch four years ago. “It was around this time the art industry was steadily booming. But art galleries in the city are scattered across different buildings and areas, and when a collector wanted to visit them, they would have to be familiar with addresses, building access and the MTR [public transport] system, especially on weekends.”

Lim felt the Hong Kong art market had sufficient appetite to establish a building specifically designed to fulfil the needs of the industry. It’s similar to CL3's pitch for H CODE, an entertainment-centric development and a sibling to HQ, situated a couple of streets away and wedged between two older buildings.

HQ is particularly significant for Lim. A collector and supporter of local artists, Lim is a key figure in the Hong Kong local arts scene. He is also a committee member of L’École, the School of Jewelry Arts supported by French luxury brand Van Cleef & Arpels. The school, based above Van Cleef & Arpels’ flagship store at Place Vendôme in Paris, travels around the world offering the public a glimpse of the art behind its jewellery. Courses range from jewellery craftsmanship to art history and more. Lim became involved with L’École when he was invited to speak at the debut of the program in Hong Kong and found he shared a number of values with it, in particular the sharing of knowledge and ideas with the public. That’s something he advocates with CL3, which hires a lot of new, young architects.

VCA art painting course

“A lot of what we do can’t be learnt in school because it’s an academic environment and what we do has to have practical applications,” Lim says. “We have summer internships and year-out students – these are the ones we try to attract back to our practice upon their graduation. We allow them to explore under guidance. A lot of people my age may have the experience but not the technical savvy that young architects do. There are things that we can learn from each other across generations and even industries.”

Cross-disciplinary learning is something L’École also advocates. In 2014 it introduced the Legacy Program that’s open to gifted, young artists from any field to encourage meaningful engagement in the creation through different interpretation and ongoing transmission of design, art and culture. Successful candidates are invited on a sponsored three-day cultural exchange with the L’École team in Paris to learn more about jewellery arts. Furthermore, L’École’s general programs are open to anyone and Lim encourages everybody, including children and teenagers from 5 to 16, to participate, whether it’s evening conversations or day courses.

“I think art or design is something that everyone can appreciate whether you’re someone who works in the creative field or otherwise. It has to do with a way of thinking, gives us a rich environment to live in,” he says.

“The Hong Kong arts scene has always been rather unusual because it’s more conceptual. Most of the artists I collect started out creating expressive works for themselves as there wasn’t a big market for it then. That gave them a lot of freedom and it meant what they produced was very personal. A lot of these artists hold a day job because their artistic endeavours aren’t financially sustainable. But they create really extraordinary projects.”

VCA-Chow-Chun-Fai-Taxi-#9

He felt their works would one day tell a story about Hong Kong and began to collect them nearly a decade ago. “The market is beginning to mature today and galleries are beginning to pay attention to them,” he says.

Some prominent artists he avidly collects include Wilson Shieh, who mixed ink-painting techniques with modern art ideas, and Chow Chun Fai (above), but other notable artists who have emerged since then include concept artists such as Lee Kit, who represented Hong Kong previously in the Venice Biennale.

“Lee Kit was one of the first young conceptual artists to be recognised and represented internationally by galleries,” says Lim. “Samson Young is another artist whose work I’ve followed from the beginning and he uses sound as a medium, relating it to colours, and he paints based on his reaction to certain sounds or music.”

The growth of the art market has made Lim optimistic about the future of Hong Kong’s artists and the creative industries in the city. “Hong Kong has a reputation as a financial capital and most people tend to focus on that,” he says. “With more galleries recognising the quality of Hong Kong artists, they are able to establish that balance between commercial demand and their creativity which I believe is important.”

For young creatives in Hong Kong looking to succeed in what can often be perceived as a commercially focused market, Lim has one piece of advice. “Stay true to your design thinking but also grab every opportunity that comes along to realise it. Every project you do has an opportunity to become something different. Don’t think ‘why’. Think ‘why not’. That’s something I like to challenge my colleagues and my clients with.”

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