From his high-rise office in the heart of Causeway Bay, Dennis Lau Wing-kwong has a bird's-eye view of many buildings his firm has designed over the past three decades. The panorama takes in local landmarks such as Lee Theatre Plaza in Causeway Bay, K11 in Tsim Sha Tsui, the Harbourfront in Hung Hom and Central Plaza in Wan Chai, and five-star hotels and apartment blocks towering above Mid-Levels and Happy Valley. It is a changed prospect from his early days with a small local firm, working on tenement buildings and learning on the job from site foremen and engineers after graduating from the University of Hong Kong. Later, as a partner, he pushed for expansion to capitalise on the city's construction boom. And now, as chairman and managing director of the 300-strong Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man Architects & Engineers (HK), he is overseeing some of the world's most ambitious development projects.
What first interested you in architecture?
I was one of a big family growing up in Hong Kong after the second world war. At the time, many people were poor and buying toys was a luxury. So, I started making toys for myself from paper and old furniture, a habit which trained me to look at things in 3D and create something out of nothing. Later, I was always making models of ships, aeroplanes and houses, but what I especially remember is when my school - St Joseph's College - redeveloped an old European-style building. I found the process fascinating and spent an hour a day visiting the site, looking at the construction plans, scaffolding and foundation work, and determining that's what I wanted to do.
What are the turning points for the firm?
There were three important periods. In the late 1970s, local Chinese developers started to pop up and gave us more opportunities. Up to then, five or six established firms of architects had monopolised the bigger projects. Then, when the [MTR] Island Line started in the '80s, we worked on new development sites like Kornhill and Vicwood Plaza. And when we designed Central Plaza * the fourth highest in the world in the early '90s - we used new techniques with reinforced concrete, which helped us become famous for high-rises.
Which parts of the job can still prove difficult?
These days, I leave project manag