Meet the Minds – One Plus Partnership

May 24, 2017
Ajax Law and Virginia Lung

Photos: Recent Projects

As co-directors of Hong Kong-based interior design practice One Plus Partnership, Ajax Law and Virginia Lung are known for their inventive and wholly unique cinema designs that embrace the wonder of the movie-going experience. Here, Law and Lung discuss their striking and bold aesthetic, their paths into design, and how they remain innovative.

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
Virginia Lung:
I was only interested in drawing when I was a kid. Until secondary school, I had to attend an art and design lesson and one of the assignments was to design a home utensil. This was the first time that I learned something about design, and I gradually built interest in it. Other than this experience, I was thinking that drawing and design were correlated when it came to choosing my major in university, so I ended up choosing design as my major.

Ajax Law: I’m a person who can’t stand boredom. I always wanted to change the interior of my room to feel refreshed. Not only me, but my family also thought that I had potential in interior design by that time. I was interested in assembling the machines that I would break down things and [bring] them back together, studying the details. Adding that I was good at drawing, these all helped to shape my path toward interior design.

What are some of your first memories of design?
It can be traced back to the art and design lesson I had in secondary school. At that time, the students were asked to create a sculpture based on a theme about the future of Hong Kong after returning to Chinese sovereignty. I created an art piece that is about the size of a basketball. It is separated in gold and red colors to represent Hong Kong and China. It was very memorable because it was featured in the South China Morning Post later on.

AL: Before my degree, I had never studied art and I had no experience in design at all. I recalled the first memory about design was a paper foam assignment during my diploma study. Every student had to make a sculpture with foam boards to present the design elements we had just learned. Surprisingly, the tutor was very impressed with the first model I made. He even used it as an example to explain what design language is to other students.

Did where you grew up influence your career path?
I grew up in Hong Kong, and we were always being told that we can never put in practice the things we learned at school. We were being constrained to follow the usual practice, even in the workplace. It  made me question whether I can get out of the box, and it is this mentality that helps me to come up with new and groundbreaking design.

AL: I’m not from a very wealthy family so I always remember to work hard and strive for the best.

Give us a bit of your background: college, first jobs, early lessons learned?
I went to Sacred Heart Canossian College in Hong Kong. My first job was in Singapore working on school renovations. I went to many schools and found their designs were spacious, even having a similar size with Hong Kong’s schools. And their schools also had better resources. In secondary three, I had to design an A1 size folder in art [class], and I remember I drew an asymmetrical design with paint on some areas while leaving others blank. Some classmates said my design was weird, but the tutor was encouraging. She told the whole class that she appreciated my design and thought that it was stylish. And because of this experience, I started to know that I should insist on my own values and beliefs no matter what others say.

AL: After college, I went to Lee Wai Lee Technical Institute for a two-year design diploma. Then I entered the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and completed the design bachelor degree. My first job was a summer job about design in a Hong Kong design and build company, and I learned a lot of practical knowledge there.

Why and how did you start your own firm?
We first met as colleagues and we both found a lot of constraints working in that company. We tried working in several other companies after that but they were almost the same. We clearly knew that the existing interior design companies cannot fulfill our needs. We didn’t want to stay inside the box so we came up with the idea of starting our own firm.

VL: Both of us wanted to do something more fun and creative. Having freedom is very important as an interior designer. We first started as freelancers, then we gradually changed into a fulltime job. At the beginning, it was just the two of us doing all the work, but things turned better when scaling up after a few years.

Can you discuss some of your recent projects?
Wuhan Insun International Cineplex (Guanggu Shishangcheng) was just completed in March 2017. We used traditional film editing for its theme, as a tribute to filmmakers who have contributed all these years. A lot of lightboxes are hung throughout the cinema. They are made of four different types of metal mesh, as the light penetrates the metal mesh, the interplay between light and shadow enriches the lighting effect in the lobby. Some lightboxes are painted with single Chinese character to abstractly indicate areas of the cinema and represent images on roll films. The nostalgic lighting signifies the passage of time and imitates lighting in the past.

AL: Shanghai Omnijoi International Cinema was also completed in March 2017. The rail used for filming tracking shots is adopted as the theme of this cinema, illustrated through copper-colored metal tubes that stretch throughout the entire cinema. In the lobby, metal tubes overlap each other on the ceiling. Some of the tubes reach down and become seats, some enlarge and act as ticketing counters. These straight tubes bend sharply at random places into different angles, abstractly imitating the form of rails. Elongated lights are installed along these tubes, adding variety to the ceiling feature and illuminating the space. In the auditorium, the walls are decorated by segments of the metal tubes. The bent segments are modified with lighting at both ends and are arranged to point toward different directions to enhance the lighting effect. The tailor-made carpet has patterns similar to the form of the metal tube decorations, hinting at the theme of rails of the design.

Is there a challenging project that you are especially proud of?
 The Wuhan Exploded Cinema. We are very glad that our clients gave us a lot of freedom in designing it, thus we could create an unforgettable design without any concern. The cinema turned out to be very impressive. We have already received 23 international awards alone for this cinema. It’s a really big encouragement to us.

AL: A number of clients came to us because they were impressed by our design [of the cinema]. They were amazed by how we actually carried out the design, and believed we have brought cinema design to a whole new level.

What are you looking forward to at your office?
AL: We always want to break the traditional designs that are being stereotyped like banks, hospitals, and funeral parlors. These spaces have a lot of areas for experimentation and it could be very fun in producing a brand new image for the public. We dare to move forward and create more unbelievable designs.

What do you find are the most challenging and exciting aspects of your job?
Since our notion is to never repeat the previous designs or ideas, it is difficult to surpass what we already have. Every time we generate ideas from our everyday lives and come up with a theme that suits our clients. It can be a very long process and sometimes we get stuck in there.

AL: We want to improve ourselves every time by bringing better designs. Even though the process is hard, we are very satisfied when seeing the design in our minds put into practice. Most importantly, the public’s appreciation gives us motivation to do better.

What approach do you adopt when designing venues outside the hospitality industry?
An innovative design is most important to me, no matter if you’re designing restaurants, residential areas, offices, or shops. A good design provides a different and unique image to the public. Theme-driven design is also our signature. It is very crucial that a theme represents the soul of the design by telling a story and standing out from the crowd.

Is there an architect or designer you most admire? Why?
Rem Koolhaas is one of my favorite architects. He brings a totally different design every time and always surprises others. I’m very impressed by his ever-changing style. To me, it is meaningless to repeat things. His approach perfectly matches mine and our company’s. Thom Mayne is my other favorite architect. Even though his designs are not as changeable as Rem’s, they still surprise the public. I particularly admire how he masters form and spacing. His designs are cool and give me a strong feeling.

VL: I also like Rem Koolhaas because his designs are surprising. The designs are different every time and for sure no one could guess what’s coming next.

What would be your dream project and why?
VL: I would like to do a design museum that houses design projects of all kinds. There is a lot of room for creativity in this kind of project. Just the display method can already be a fun element to design.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
It would be fun to have dinner with God. It can be any kind of God.

VL: I would like to have dinner with me 10 years from now.

Where would you eat and what would you be having?
God should decide what and where to eat and to reward me for working so hard in life.

VL: As she should have more knowledge than me, she should be able to find a nice place to surprise me.

 If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
I would like to be a chef because I always enjoy good food. Cooking is fun and I feel satisfied when presenting a nice dish. It’s a pity that currently I do not have much time for cooking because of work.

AL: I want to be a private detective. It would be very interesting and challenging.