In celebration of the opening of Sandtable, the Hong Kong Pavilion at London Design Biennale 2021, we reached out to the design teams to share their thoughts and reflections on Hong Kong, resonance, and the collective process of designing the pavilion. Interview by Jen Wong. Special thanks to Lesley Cheung for helping with translation.
Resonances: Sandtable’s Spatial Design with Charles Lai / aona architects
Jen Wong (JW): Can you tell us about the design concept of the Hong Kong Pavilion at the London Design Biennale?
Charles Lai (CL): It is an interactive design. At first we came up with several keywords: the history of Hong Kong; the nature of history itself; text as a communication tool for recording history; and its relationship with design. These themes have been coming up throughout the project. For me, this is a project about the past but not history, and this past has more flexibility that allows for the audience to re-experience and redefine. Our starting point is ‘Ah Kwan Leading the Way’, [a story about] the early history of Hong Kong which [involves elements that] can be defined as history, but also mythology, as no one knows whether the story is true or not. The whole project has been an experience that comes out of this ambiguity and state of confusion, and we wish for the audience to engage with and define this experience.
JW: How do these themes respond to the theme of ‘resonance’ of the biennale?
CL: I think resonance can be on a spatial level as well as a temporal level. Perhaps the easiest thing to imagine is spatial resonance, the resonance between A and B—two points or two people. But apart from that, I think there can also be a kind of resonance at a point in time, that is, the relationship or resonance between the present and the past, and this involves the relationship between history and people of our age, what about it is true and what is not. This actually depends on the writing of history itself, or the intention of the person who wrote it. This is why we explore resonance through history or timeline.
JW: How is this presented in the space of the Hong Kong Pavilion?
CL: I wanted sand to be an obvious element in the space because it is a very primitive material. Before Hong Kong became Hong Kong, it was just a pile of sand, which represents the very nature of Hong Kong as an island, its beaches and sand. So I think that sand as a material represents Hong Kong of a certain time and place, especially the early Hong Kong Island, where there was sand everywhere; a lot of sand was also used in land reclamation. This is the primitive element. Then what represents the future? It is the whole installation, projection and capturing of images. The materials representing these two points in time automatically stand for their temporal significance.
JW: The design team this time was quite large (Trilingua for graphic design and K2 for digital design), plus a curatorial team of six. How was your experience of working together this time?
CL: It was actually interesting. I felt we had a lot of discussions about a very small thing, so [the result] was very refined. Although it didn’t quite meet the typical standard of refinement, we invested a lot of heart and consideration into it. The consideration now is whether the line of thinking could be [reflected in the installation].
JW: We visited different collectors and archives early on in the project. Was there any experience that impressed you particularly?
CL: The visit to John Wu was very memorable, for example, looking through his collection of business cards. On their own, each is just a name card, but once they become a collection, they become something else entirely.
JW: How do you think this has inspired the final design concept?
CL: There must have been something, but [the cause and effect] is not so direct. It is also hard for me to explain what exactly the relationship is, but I know something is there. These experiences have in turn influenced me to think about the direction of my other projects in the last two years, such as the chair project [with Cou Tou Wood Working at deTour 2020]. It was the first project I had a clear methodology and sufficient resources to develop to fruition.
JW: Thank you for your time.
黎：其實一定是有的，但並不是那麼直接，我也很難說清那個關係是什麼，但我覺得一定是存在有的，反而這些經驗影響到我這一兩年來思考做其他項目的方向，比如［與草途木研社於 deTour 2020 合作的］椅子那個項目，是第一次有很清晰的方法和足夠資源去完成的項目。