For most people, life remained essentially unchanged until the Industrial Revolution, when everything from what they consume to where and how they live underwent a drastic transformation. Now the world is in the midst of another upheaval and Dennis Cheung thinks architecture needs to advance accordingly.
“Architecture is actually barely catching up with the fast changing lifestyle that artificial intelligence, big data and the shareable economy are shaping,” says Cheung, who graduated from the University of Hong Kong with a Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies in 2009, and a Master of Science in Construction Project Management in 2017, completing a master’s degree in architecture at MIT in between. Cheung is now a founding partner of Studio Ryte, an interdisciplinary design studio that, together with sister studio Levt, brings together architecture, furniture design and branding.
Cheung first became interested in architecture when he began wandering around Hong Kong with his film camera at the age of 16. “I was taking 20 rolls of films every month, capturing light and shadow in the city as well as my daily life,” he says. “I was intrigued by the city’s landscape and amazed by the old and new communities intertwined. I was not just interested in buildings on streets but also infrastructure like bridges and the underground.”
That early curiosity helped guide him towards his current path in architecture. Many of his projects involve experimenting with materials, including reclaimed teak wood, different types of plywood and, most recently, metal tube structures and folded sheet metal. “Exploring new materials not just aligns with my interest in engineering and fabrication but also creates the tools for architects and opens up possibilities for new functions and new experiences,” he says.
It’s something that is particularly important given the variety of his studio’s work. “I am experimenting with architectural thinking in different scales,” he says. “As a studio comprised of architects, product designers, furniture designers and interior designers, we exchange knowledge across disciplines through close collaborations in each project.”
Cheung says that approach is crucial at a time when architects need to be nimble and ready to address rapidly changing ways of life. Older, more hierarchical ways of designing just don’t work anymore, he says. “Better design is delivered as we operate beyond silos.”