André Fu is having an extra-long moment. In March, the Hong Kong-born architect was named Designer of the Year at Singapore’s Maison & Objet Asia, the high-end interior design trade show where he presented his vision of a new modern Asian sensibility in an installation called Artisanal Blocks. Using examples from his landmark hospitality projects along with products from his newly launched André Fu Living (AFL) brand, Fu’s installation expertly distilled his signature calming yet captivating environments – most intriguingly, perhaps, in an eau de toilette with notes of bamboo. There was also Skyliner, a collection of bold yet refined bath fittings for Cooper & Graham; a rug collection for Tai Ping, in which he married traditional tweeds with calligraphic motifs; as well as the second edition of his richly illustrated monograph, the first devoted to an Asian designer that Assouline has ever published.
ANDRÉ FU. IMAGE COURTESY OF AFSO.
That Singapore event marked a consecration of sorts for the boyish-looking 41-year-old, who first rocked the hospitality world with The Upper House, a new kind of Hong Kong luxury hotel that opened in 2009. At the time, massive branded hotels with look-at-me lobbies and spas were the vogue in the status-conscious city. Fu simply ignored that model and conceived what he has called its antithesis. With a discreet street-level entrance and just 300 rooms in the top levels of a high rise, The Upper House lavished space on guest accommodations. Twice the standard size and with capacious open bathrooms, all lodgings feature bespoke furnishings and finishes, distinctive art and stunning views of Victoria Harbour. Playing with the ubiquitous motif of the Chinese parasol, Fu introduced subtle architectural interludes throughout the vertical inn. His clever scheme even found space for a small, boxwood-enclosed lawn on the sixth-floor terrace. The Upper House was an instant hit.
A host of major hospitality and luxury brands have been knocking on Fu’s studio door ever since, leading to his design of the award-winning Fullerton Hotel in Singapore; Lane Crawford’s enormous Shoe Library and a branch of Galerie Perrotin in Hong Kong; the multilevel bamboo-fantasy Kioku restaurant in Seoul; and, in London, the Berkeley Hotel’s grand Opus Suite and the Shard’s dramatic Gong Bar. Soon-to-be-completed projects include several restaurants in Sanya, China’s exclusive seaside resort, the interiors of a Waldorf Astoria in Bangkok and a Rosewood hotel in Bali. And set to open this summer: a restaurant and spa Fu designed for Villa La Coste, the new hotel on the grounds of the Provençal vineyard and contemporary art destination.
A LOUNGE (LEFT) AND BEDROOM (RIGHT) AT THE UPPER HOUSE IN HONG KONG. IMAGE COURTESY OF AFSO.
Did you always want to become an architect?
I always liked to draw. As a boy I loved drawing mazes and getting my friends to try to figure them out.
You’ve described your work in terms of “modern Asian sensitivities,” but it also feels grounded in a Western framework. Can you speak to that?
People always want to differentiate, but I believe that my work goes beyond the boundaries of East and West. I left Hong Kong when I was fourteen to go to boarding school in the UK, and the cultural encounter at that time in my life enlightened me in many ways. The worlds were so different; I saw how context could affect perception, which later became very useful in my design work.
What was an early architectural influence?
Mies van der Rohe’s German Pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona. Its purity, the tactility of the stone and its timelessness remain an inspiration .
NEW HOTEL VILLA LA COSTE IN PROVENCE, WHERE A FU-DESIGNED RESTAURANT AND SPA WILL OPEN THIS SUMMER. IMAGE COURTESY OF AFSO.
You responded to the experience of the pavilion rather than its form. Is that the response you strive to elicit in your own work?
Yes, I try to make environments that will evoke responses in people. When the proportions, sounds and lighting work well together, they create an experience. For me that’s more interesting than how something looks.
Can you give an example?
Take the Opus Suite at The Berkeley. I like to give a sense of storytelling to each project, and the Opus has 270-degree views of Hyde Park and Knightsbridge, so it became a celebration of modern Knightsbridge. The space itself is very large – 2,800 square feet – and we deliberately broke it down to make it more human in scale. Three different artists created sculptures that interact with the space, especially the passageways, to provide visual anchors. With these interventions, we brought an Asian sensitivity to London.
THE OPUS SUITE AT THE BERKELEY IN LONDON. IMAGE COURTESY OF AFSO.
Speaking of artists, what was it like designing Galerie Perrotin?
Galerie Perrotin is not just a white box – it needs to inspire artists to use it in different ways. The gallery has five rooms of different proportions and shapes, and amazing views of Victoria Harbour. With its palette of oak flooring and solid bronze, it has been designed to provoke and to serve as a backdrop, so that it provides another kind of journey for the appreciation of contemporary art.
How did André Fu Living (AFL) come about?
The desire to extend the platform had always been in the back of my mind. I’d had requests for pieces. But clients can’t easily commission one chair from the Opus Suite. So last year I decided to take up the challenge, creating an online platform where you can see and order all the products. We are adding a series of decorative lights for residential use; we introduced it at the Salone del Mobile in Milan in April. It’s been a different and exciting exercise, transforming spatial experiences into objects. And I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with people I admire.
AFL’S EAU DE TOILETTE. IMAGE COURTESY OF AFSO.
Do you have a dream project?
Yes! I would love to design a performing arts space. I am a great fan of theatre, dance, musicals and opera. In my view, designing such a venue is very much like a hospitality project, because there also is a spectator and a backdrop. Theatre has historically been perceived as a dramatic and grand institution, yet all these transient activities take place there, activities that take you into another world. It too is about a journey.
Marisa Bartolucci lives in New York where she writes about art and design.
Lead image: The multilevel Kioku restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seoul, created by Fu. Image courtesy of AFSO.