Hong Kong–based architect Patrick Lam is no stranger to small spaces. He lived in a small tenement apartment in Kowloon for many years, and the experience of living in such a tiny home was the driving force behind his approach to architecture. Today, as the founder of Sim-Plex Design Studio, his focus is on investigating the possibilities to expand limited space. His latest project, an apartment renovation for a young family in Hong Kong, makes the most of its small footprint through a combination of high-tech functionality and Zen philosophy.
"We are good at designing transformable space to create flexible, multifunctional and imaginative environments," says Lam. "Our name—Sim-Plex—is derived from the idea of searching for complexity amongst simplicity. We believe every space can be expanded by finding complex spatial transformations in the simple details of living."
The Smart Zendo apartment is located in Tung Chung, an area on the Northwestern coast of Lantau Island, and has stunning views of the surrounding hills. It takes its name from a zendo—a place for Zen meditation. Lam has used elements from both Zen and Feng Shui design philosophies alongside high-tech, adaptable features to create a harmonious living space that can meet the ever-changing needs of family life.
"This project challenges the idea that a home with a high-tech system must look futuristic," says Lam. "It can be poetic and, like this home, respond to the surrounding natural scenery. This is a spiritual space where tradition and technology, people and scenery are combined."
The owners of the apartment, Eric and Lory, had moved to Hong Kong from Taiwan many years ago. The apartment originally had two rooms—one used as a bedroom for themselves and their young son, and one used for storage. Both, however, travel frequently for work, and they often have one of their mothers staying at the apartment to help look after their young son, as well as a live-in maid. They also missed the scenery of Taiwan’s countryside, where they had vacationed in homestays before moving to Hong Kong. So, their brief to Lam was for a home that could act as a refuge from their busy lives, and adapt as needed to different living situations.
Lam responded by reconfiguring the entire space to become a three-bedroom apartment with an optional fourth-bedroom in the living room. Surfaces are clad in plywood and timber veneer, a natural facade which conceals a number of "smart" features, including voice-activated synthesizers, lighting and air-conditioning switches, curtain mechanisms, a retractable coffee table, projection screens, and smart door locks.
"Smart homes have become common in Hong Kong in recent years, but generally they have been shaped into a futuristic form," says Lam. "This preconceived approach does not seem to explore the integration of smart intelligence into living."
Lam’s interpretation of the "smart" home, however, is driven entirely by how the clients live day-to-day, and spaces can be transformed to respond to different situations. The entire living room was elevated onto a wooden platform, which conceals a large amount of underfloor storage. One section of the platform is a high-tech coffee table, which can be raised to create a gathering point for tea ceremonies and other social events, or lowered flush to the floor to create a lounge area or a play area for the couple’s son.
The gray, timber-veneer TV cabinet—which takes up almost an entire wall in the living room—features a number of "nooks" in which the clients can display treasured items. It has been designed to reflect Feng Shui principles with a symmetrical design and a form that is similar to the Chinese character for "wood."
The TV cabinet also conceals a folding timber partition, which can be used to create an extra bedroom for visiting family. Louvres at the top of the partition offer ventilation, while the embossed strip glass allows for natural light to penetrate the interior while maintaining privacy to both the bedroom and the living room.
An open-plan kitchen was built adjacent to the living space, and the old kitchen was transformed into a maid’s room and storage space. The quartz dining bench has built-in storage, and the two timber benches also double as storage units, fulfilling the clients’ desire for a clutter-free environment.
Other clever features include the timber platform in the son’s bedroom, which conceals storage and doubles as seating for the desk, and a hidden make-up table in the master bedroom.
Large, timber-frame windows throughout the apartment flood the spaces with natural light. In the bathroom, which was inspired by the style of boutique hotels, white marble tiles have been used to reflect light from the single, small window.
The large windows also frame views of the surrounding hills, evoking the same connection with nature the clients had experienced during their homestay vacations in Taiwan. "The four seasons and the scenery are introduced into the room, perfectly merging home and nature," says Lam. "This apartment is based on the spiritual details of Zen, combining natural scenery and the emotions of a homestay with traditional Feng Shui aesthetics and smart technologies."
More by Sim-Plex Design Studio: This Tiny Transforming Apartment Is a Playground For Pets
General Contractor: Le Syndicat Company Limited