Despite being in his 70s, architect and interior designer Kenneth Ko talks with passion about his plans and concepts for the next ten years: how he wants to take Chinese design to the world; how he wants to inspire Chinese designers with what the world has to offer them; how he wants to bring traditional Chinese culture into rural areas like the Ningxia desert; and how he is fully dedicated to the expression of traditional Chinese culture. Read on to find out more about what Shanghai-born, Hong Kong-raised Kenneth Ko thinks about the state of Chinese design today.
According to Ko, China is gradually getting wealthier and as a consequence the country’s citizens have started to demand more out of everyday life. In the interior design field, the focus is on the movement of people, which is different from other design disciplines. People move in and out of work and live in interior spaces every day; the best interior design is one that satisfies both their needs and their ideas.
Do not continually compare your house to those of others, Ko advises. Whether the interior design of a home is intended for a Chinese client or a client from a Western country, there is one common theme. ”The home is not a museum,” he says. “It is a medium of warmth, a space that understands and enjoys life. Design should help people to grow.” Referencing his previous interior design projects, Ko explains that the design of a home has to take care of every member of a family. For example, a common feature in his interior design projects is the installation of a transparent glass panel between the kitchen and the living room. “If a woman is cooking for her family while her husband and children sit in the living room and read the newspaper or watch TV, the use of the glass panel ensures there is interaction between all family members, even when they’re in different parts of the house.” For Ko, this warm scene is the definition of the traditional Chinese family home; designs that focus on this kind of concept of the home should be encouraged in the interior design field.
According to Ko, the social habits that have developed around the concept of the traditional Chinese family are the most intelligent aspects of Chinese interior design. The true calling of every Chinese designer is to understand and acknowledge the traditional family values inherent in Chinese culture and promote them internationally. Chinese designers should not look down on themselves; the rich history and culture of the 5000-year-old Chinese tradition is unique and is something that should be celebrated through design. Today’s Chinese designers should also head out into the wider world in order to both broaden their own horizons, and to share Chinese concepts and traditions with other cultures.
The world has become a cultural melting pot, Ko says. Chinese designers must reflect on and respect traditional Chinese culture while also absorbing international attitudes towards life. They must integrate all of these ideas into their designs. When a client cannot clearly verbalize what they want in a design, a designer needs to have the ability to help them express their thoughts and design the space accordingly. Design should not just be a draft on paper, it should add value to the life of the client.
About Kenneth Ko
Born in 1943 in Shanghai, Ko is a highly experienced interior designer who lives in Hong Kong. An architecture graduate of The University of Melbourne, he is a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, The Hong Kong Institute of Architects, and The Royal Australian Institute of Architects. In his nearly 40-year-long design career, he has completed over 5000 interior design projects, and is widely regarded as the “father of Hong Kong interior design.” At age 70, he was awarded the Hong Kong Interior Design Association Lifetime Achievement Award and was named a Fellow of the International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers (IFI).