AIA Hong Kong’s Young Architects Group promotes next-gen thinking
As young architects and graduates look overseas to start their careers, what opportunities can they create for themselves?
The Young Architects Group (YAG) of AIA Hong Kong started in early 2015 to address specific needs of young architects and Associate AIA members in Hong Kong. Since then, the membership of the YAG has expanded to include emerging professionals, young architects from the United States moving to Asia, and graduating architecture students entering the profession. Parallel to the mission of the AIA’s Young Architects Forum, YAG is committed to facilitating the development of future leaders within the Hong Kong chapter. AIA Hong Kong chapter president Kenneth Hau, AIA, and YAG Chair Vikki Lew, AIA, spoke about the mission of the committee and the programs they offer.
What inspired you to start a young architects/emerging professional group and what resources were available to you in order to do so?
AIA Hong Kong (AIAHK) as a chapter has experienced steady growth in the number of young members participating in AIA events. In 2015, the Executive Committee (EXCO) decided to establish the YAG to advance and foster young members. Many of the social and networking events hosted by YAG were well received, so the EXCO decided to integrate the YAG more fully as part of the chapter’s initiatives. The primary focus of the young architects program is to develop the unique skills vital to emerging professionals, including advanced technologies and processes, integrated digital tools, materials, construction methods, project delivery and clients presentation skills. Additionally, our EXCO and committees share news about scholarships and awards launched by AIA National or knowledge communities.
Many of the members of your chapter were educated and worked in the US. What are the reasons they decided to practice overseas? Does the design profession in Hong Kong have a demand for US architects?
The majority of the chapter members were educated in the United States' architecture programs and licensed in the US as well. Some of them are Chinese citizens who returned upon graduation, while others sought professional opportunities or challenges in a new milieu and ended up staying and practicing in Hong Kong. We also have US architects who have relocated to Hong Kong from major firms working on international assignments. Many firms appreciate architects with a US education due to their different background and overseas experiences, so there is definitely a demand for US architects in Hong Kong.
What do you think are the fundamental differences between practicing architecture in Hong Kong and in the US? How do people view young architects (or young design professionals) like yourself in Hong Kong?
This is a dialogue we are having with our young architect members. The differences are not so much cultural, but rather professional. They range from the definition of "architect" and required skillsets to standard of care and design control.
Let’s take the term “architect” as an example. In Hong Kong, university graduates from HKARB-recognized architecture programs become registered architects after passing HKARB/HKIA licensing examination, which is analogous to the ARE in the US. However, registered architects do not have the authority to legally “stamp” drawings. Registered architects have to take an additional exam to become an “authorized person” in do that in Hong Kong. The authorized person qualification is open to architects, engineers, as well as quantity surveyors. In other words, the majority of registered architects do not have the authority that we as licensed architects take for granted in the US. Therefore, the responsibility and liability that fundamentally defines the professional are very different.
In terms of design execution, construction drawings are produced and issued in a slightly different manner. Depending on contract conditions, Hong Kong architects may rely on the contractor to take on more of a design-build role. Some construction details may be omitted from the bid drawings to expedite the bidding procedure. But of course the architects will issue the final set of construction drawings to 'lock in' the design intent, cost and contract conditions before the award of the contract (project). This is different from our common practice of having a fully coordinated set of construction document before bidding with the architect as the leader.
When it comes to complex projects, I feel that architects may not have the same level of control over the final aesthetic of a building. It has been a bit challenging for those of us who were used to the US system, and it definitely took time to adjust to the Hong Kong way of practice.
What are some of the programs your chapter hosts specifically geared toward emerging professional members?
We believe young architects bring a new and unique perspective to the profession. During the inauguration of the new YAG officers, we asked YAG committee members to present their works and journeys of their architecture career. A panel discussion was also held to facilitate dialogue between established architects and emerging professionals. Leaders Christine Bruckner, FAIA; William Lim, FAIA; Grover Dear, FAIA; and Sean Chiao, FAIA, all graciously shared their advice. The program was hugely popular and we look forward to hosting similar programs in the future.
In June 2015, a social and networking cocktail event with AIA President Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, and CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA was held specifically for Hong Kong young architects to discuss issues of particular concerns. One of the questions raised was how young architects can be taken seriously when they are relatively young, yet highly competent. William Lim, FAIA, past president of AIA Hong Kong, shared that young architects can contribute what they know that the more experienced architects don’t. For instance, the knowledge of new tools and building technologies that would be valuable to design process.
In April 2016, our chapter held a full day event, “Emerge! 2016 AIAHK Young Architects Forum,” which brought together six emerging firms from the region to presentation and discussion of their works.
Do you partner with other chapters in Asia or mainland US for these events? Does AIAHK collaborate with other architect organizations in Hong Kong? What value do you think AIA brings to the profession as a whole?
Our goal is to offer continuing education opportunities to our members through seminars and programs on topics related to the latest trends in the profession that are relevant to practitioners in HK. To that end, our chapter has a reciprocal agreement with the Hong Kong Institute of Architects (HKIA) where CEUs that AIAHK offers are applicable to both organizations. Our YAG events are also open to members of HKIA, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), and the Urban Land Institute (ULI). We believe we have a mission to reach out and share our passion in architecture.
For architects who decided to move to Hong Kong and start a new career, what are some of the things AIAHK offers to help their transition?
AIAHK provides a wide range of networking opportunities to new members to help their transition. We provide mentoring programs to help new members and understand the legality of practicing architecture in HK.
How does AIAHK help its emerging professional members become licensed? What are the architect licensing requirements in Hong Kong?
As mentioned earlier, our YAG membership includes those who are recently licensed or are pursuing licensure, young US architects living in or moving to Asia, and graduating architectural professionals entering the profession. Our chapter assists emerging professionals in achieving career milestones via IDP mentoring and ARE preparation. Hong Kong is one of the three international locations that offers candidates the opportunity to take the ARE exams through Prometric testing centers. In 2014, Hong Kong was selected by NCARB as the examination site in Asia, allowing candidates practicing globally the flexibility to achieve a US architectural license. An examination workshop, with NCARB CEO Michael Armstrong, was held in Hong Kong that was live streamed to AIA Shanghai. Our current chapter president, Kenneth Hau, AIA, is the architect licensing advisor to the NCARB board representing Hong Kong. Given its proximity to AIA Shanghai and AIA Tokyo, the chapter also serves as a resource for these chapters.
Our chapter hosts ARE study groups, which presently are self-organized by candidates. We are working on reorganizing these sessions into division seminars. We also established an ARE library in 2014 with an archive of ARE and HK registration exam study guides. We have digital copies of AIA documents available to candidates for reference. Through members’ donations, we are expanding the collection to include more division-specific reference materials.
For those pursuing licensure in Hong Kong, there are two paths:
- Apply and pass the ARB (Architectural Registration Board Hong Kong) exam. The structure of the exam is similar to the ARE we have in the States.
- Apply as a non-local professional.
A US-licensed architect with more than 10 years of professional experience (local + overseas) can apply for a HK license via the ARB Professional Induction Workshop and Professional Interview process. Our chapter offers a half-day workshop tailored specifically for candidates with a US license that focuses on local practice, building laws, and regulations.
Our chapter also recognizes that site visits are great opportunities to expose members to local practice. We have a site visit program every other month. This year, we have already conducted site visits for three buildings that have won the chapter’s Honor Award. The designer/architect talked about the behind-the-scene stories during different phases of the project and shared their code experiences with the attendees.
Anything you would like to add for young architects in the US?
The built environment and the architectural trends in this region (Hong Kong and Asia Pacific) are challenging. We often see project proposals ranging from urban renewal and mega tall buildings to planning a new city. Any young architects with an imagination of creating a new frontier may consider looking to firms that are active in this part of the world. Some will find the experience quite exciting.
This piece was originally written for Connection, the Young Architects Forum e-magazine.
Yu-Ngok Lo, AIA, is the principal of YNL Architects. He is an Advisory Group member of the AIA CCA Knowledge Community. He is also a member of the AIA California Council Committee On the Environment, Advocacy Advisory Committee, and the recipient of the 2015 AIACC Young Architect Award.