At the age of seven, James Law happened to watch a film that, coupled with his sky-scraper surroundings, inspired him to change the world through architecture. The film was, fittingly, the adaptation of Ayn Rand’s masterpiece – The Fountainhead. Much like the celebrated author’s groundbreaking philosophy, Objectivism, Law has gone on to develop his own design ideology that serves to accomplish nothing less than building a better world, designed with technology, to alleviate suffering. “My philosophy is called Cybertecture. It is about using design to create a better world by implementing new technologies and concepts. I draw a lot of my inspiration from my daily life and experiences from travelling. I think of each design as a filter, collecting information in its own ‘creative mind.’ The world is so diverse and one has to be humble enough to learn about the circumstances, needs and concerns of each place and culture. You can’t just apply the same idea or concept to every site,” says Law.
His inspirational, futuristic designs are far more than just glamorous, modish structures that integrate technology. “I believe that humanity is undergoing a new renaissance of rapid change, so every project we design and build should contribute to a sustainable and better world for all,” he says. From architecture and interior design to technology, industrial design, artwork production and consulting, his firm, Cybertecture, offers a plethora of services.
“The most humble, the smallest project, is what we call the Opod, which is a concrete water pipe housing that is designed to respond to the affordability problems of the world. We’re also doing projects like the iPod building which is a ‘device architecture’ which allows people to use the building like they use their iPhone. The biggest projects are the ones where we work on breaking big boundaries, like the Hyperloop and new, robotic-manufactured structures like the AlPod, where we try to use robots to construct a whole new kind of building concept,” says Law.
When asked about which project he has enjoyed working on most, the Edison Award for Innovation winner was initially diplomatic, but eventually selected the Opod as the one that ‘gives him a sense of magic.’ The OPod Tube House is an experimental, low cost, micro-living housing unit to ease Hong Kong’s affordable housing problems. Using readily available 2.5m diameter concrete water pipes, the design utilises the strong concrete structure to house a micro-living apartment for up to two people, with living, cooking and bathroom spaces inside 100sqft. Each OPod Tube House is also equipped with smartphone locks for online access, as well as space saving furniture that maximises the interior. Furthermore, these structures can be stacked together to become a low rise building or a modular community.
Law chanced upon the concept when visiting one of his other construction sites, and put it as a challenge to his team to transform the pipe into a living space in under 10,000 dollars. “It wasn’t a commercial project and it was never meant to be something that would necessarily be popular, but in a very magical, unexpected way, it has grown with the response of society. I think it’s been a truly satisfying thing in my career – it’s a kind of confirmation for me that the world actually responds to design. When there’s something that the world feels is good or can do good, it will come and support you.”
The defining element of this particular project, however, is a program in collaboration with the government. Students who apply for Opod Housing pay one-fifth of the average rent rate in Hong Kong. Of this, two-thirds of the amount is kept in escrow and invested for them. When applying for this housing, students are asked to declare their future dreams and goals. When they leave, this money is returned to them in the hope that it will help them on their journey towards fulfilling it.
A question that James is often faced with, due to the nature of his work, is that of the detrimental effects of utilising and integrating too much technology. His response to this concern is, “One shouldn’t get obsessed with technology just as we shouldn’t get obsessed with drugs, alcohol or gambling, it’s the same. Just because technology tends to be benign, doesn’t mean it’s not harmful. However, I think we need to continue to believe in technology and curate it very carefully. We also need to educate ourselves and become very acutely aware of our place in it. If we do this, we will never step into the realm of it controlling us. So, let’s be optimistic, let’s keep building a better future, with better environments, spaces, buildings, cities, services, and technologies, because ultimately, that is what civilisation has always strived to do and worked towards. Otherwise, we will only be going backwards.”