Nacasa & Partners

Takeshi Nakasa with leading figures #4
Andre Fu
Designer, Founder of AFSO

“Who the heck has created these places?!”

Ever since Nakasa saw “them”, a question has been remaining on his brain.
That was the time when he stepped into 3 rooms in Shangri-La Hotel Tokyo, one of the newest luxury hotels opened in Tokyo in March 2009. They are “Piacere”, an Italian restaurant, “Nadaman”, a Japanese restaurant, and an executive lounge, “Horizon Club Lounge”.
Later, he learned that these 3 distinctive styles of eatery were initiated by a single designer.

It was Mr. Andre Fu, a designer based in Hong Kong.
He is one of the edgy and leading designers in the world, working with many luxury projects with a rather young age in the industry –– in the mid 30s. Growing up in Hong Kong and the U.K., he is also known for studying at the Univ. of Cambridge and trained under Mr. John Pawson, a minimalism figure.
Having an appearance that can trace an essence of “young enthusiasm”, Nakasa has finally met Andre at one the origins of his question – the Horizon Club Lounge.
Nakasa tried to unseal Andre’s design concept and design process. (July 2009)

01. Cambridge-Style Architectural Education

02. Self-Interpretation of Minimalism
03. Design with a Package
04. Design with Emotion

Andre Fu:
Designer, Founder of AFSO

Born in Hong Kong in 1975. Mr. Andre Fu left for education in the United Kingdom at the age of 14. Graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2000 and founded his design practice, AFSO in London. In 2004, Mr. Fu returned to Hong Kong and continues his practice, including many restaurants and boutiques. Recently, many fashion and design magazines cite Mr. Fu as “Asia’s best-known designer”.

01. Cambridge-Style Architectural Education

Nakasa: You grew up in Hong Kong and the U.K. and later, graduated from the Department of Architecture at the University of Cambridge. In Japan, a major, architecture is usually housed under the College of Engineering and hence, its educational approach is rather from an engineering perspective. But at Cambridge, it is housed under the Faculty of Architecture and History of Art and hence, its approach is from a social science perspective. Has such educational background affected the way you work now?

Andre: I guess at Cambridge, there was a strong focus on architectural
theory and art history. It has taken me to appreciate historical aspects of
how architecture influences the way people live and how designs relate to
the social context of the time. These essences are something that has
inspired my career.

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02. Self-Interpretation of Minimalism

Nakasa: I’ve heard that you had worked for Mr. John Pawson, known for his minimalism works, while studying at Cambridge. Have you had any influences from his architectural works?

Andre: John Pawson is known for his minimalistic approach, and when it comes to an architectural approach, which can also be defined as facilitating spaces, there is a similarity. A lot of people try to draw a reference to John's work. Piacere at Shangri-La Hotel Tokyo is so glamorous and obviously, it's very different. But if you go back to the fundamental of design, which is how people craft and divide the given space, you can draw a line with my work and John’s work. One can say that a utilization of white, plain wall and untouched wooden pieces are defined as minimalism. But a use of space is also a constituent of it. My design approach is always related, or more conscious on of life style.

Nakasa: In that sense, how do you define your design style?

Andre: I get asked that question a lot. I usually say that my designs are 'approach' driven, rather than 'style' driven. In essence, I can find similarities between my approach as that of a film director. A good film director should be able to direct different types of film. But there will be an underlining feeling that is hidden at each of her/his work. If you look at Piacere, it is very old school type of dining room. Nadaman is much more architectural, very poetic. Horizon Club Lounge is very masculine, with a lot of intricate details that I drew from travel references. So they can all be quite different, but I hope that when you walk into these spaces, hopefully, you will feel that there's something -- DNA of AFSO or Andre Fu -- that underlies each of the project.

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03. Design with a Package

Nakasa: In order to dwell Andre Fu’s DNA at each installment, is there anything that you are aware when it comes to your design process?

Andre: Especially in restaurant venues, I usually spend a lot of time with operators and potential clients. Say, there is a great design, and if its uniform is wrong, if the music is wrong, food is wrong, service is wrong … even if the design is stunning, it's not going to pull off as a total package. So, I have been spending a lot of time, doing all the other stuff –– trying to create this idea of a total package.

Though I am neither a graphic nor a uniform designer, I try to tackle on non-expertise fields. For Piacere, I’ve designed a menu cover so that its pattern is same as the pattern on the wall. The same case applies to a pattern of a carpet. All the creative lightening was also designed by me. It takes time, but it is necessary for the design to pull off.

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04. Design with Emotion

Nakasa: At Shangri-La Hotel Tokyo, all the public space and rooms are designed by Hirsch Bedner Associates and your design comes on the top of them. In the future, is there any design opportunity that allows you to design literary everything in a package?

Andre: At the moment, I am working on my first full-scale hotel project in Hong Kong. It is going to be called Upper House and it will be located in a multi-complex called Pacific Place, Admiralty. Swire Group, the owner of the mall, is the project’s developer. It’s a small hotel and if people ask me what this is going to be like, it will be like Bulgari Hotel and Resorts in Milan.

In this project, I am taking much more minimalistic approach. It will be completely different from Piacere and even Nadaman. The hotel will open in October and that’s what I am putting my efforts now.

Interview Supported by: Shangri-La Hotel Tokyo, Work Techt Corporation
Text: Hiroki Yanagisawa (Freelance Editor)
Edit: Nobuko Ohara (Nacása & Partners Inc.)

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