The art of architecture

31 Jan 2024

Beijing Capital International Airport isn’t a bad way to launch your architectural career.

The renowned building was the first major project of Old Boy Young Chiu (10238), later followed by Saudi Arabia’s 453-kilometre Haramain high-speed railway, London’s Unicorn Theatre, Dubai’s Index Tower, Shenzhen’s DJI headquarters together with a swag of other stunning international designs.

Closer to New Zealand, he has designed several projects including a mixed-use complex on Auckland’s North Shore.

But it wasn’t the path Young had envisaged. He originally had his sights set on becoming an artist but has now fused that into his work.

“Earlier in my studies I was more interested in the creative side of architecture and less of the technical or business side which comprised the majority of the course. Perhaps I wanted to be able to create without any restrictions.

“But, now, having done it for more than two decades I realise that the best work is always born out of layers and layers of the toughest problem solving – whether it’s the site history, budget, construction conditions or personalities. These constraints become the best inspirations,” Young says.

“I have had people that tell me they enjoyed the experience of going through the buildings I worked on. People can engage with the work and form an appreciation of the buildings. Perhaps it’s not so different from being an artist after all.”

After finishing from Christ’s College, Young gained an architecture degree from Auckland University and then a Masters in Architectural Design at University College London.

Young was a senior partner at the highly regarded design firm Foster and Partners for nearly 20 years. Moving to Hong Kong more recently, he now leads the design department for Gemdale real estate group. Their portfolio includes projects all over China and in many major US cities.

He also mentors a newly-established architectural firm, Quality Innovation United, headquartered in London, with teams in Tokyo, Shenzhen, Taipei, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and St Louis.

Young believes the built environment can inspire trends and shape behaviour.

“We can make places more sustainable by utilising more sunlight or airflow, we can engage more with nature by introducing more landscaping into the buildings, and we can encourage more social interactions by creating more opportunities for people to meet. Being able to make a difference through the projects I design, even just a little improvement, is what still drives me.

“Buildings always have to adapt to our way of life, we can clearly see the difference between buildings built in different periods. Our focus is increasingly on creating more sustainable spaces. When I approach a building, I will always ask myself ‘how can we innovate?’ How will this building make a positive difference to society? I approach these with more urgency now rather than something that’s nice to have,” Young says.

Apart from having an artistic eye, he thinks you need to be a people person as an architect.

“It is through a constant curiosity, conversations, observations of what people do and why they do things that we will find the right answers. We design spaces and places for people. Not being afraid to change is another characteristic. I find that innovation happens when I come out of my comfort zone, when we start doing things differently.”