2013.11.24 Sun, by
Dashilar Hutong Toilet Project

Michael Young is a well-known British industrial designer, working in product, furniture and interior design.  In the past 20 years, Young has distinguished himself within his field with the unique nature of his work.  He constantly questions “typologies and habits, combined with his innate passion for technology and his driving desire to discover new ways to interpret space.” [link]  His Hong Kong studio captures the “strengthening ties between local industry and design, and exemplifies the skills of Asia’s industrial and manufacturing innovation.”

While Hong Kong Designer Michael Young has worked on buildings to watches, we caught up with him regarding his project for Dashilar Pilot. His deeply approachable answers to our questions have given us clarity into why he chose such a human-oriented project—toilets.

Stephany Zoo: Since this is design for the people, how did you collaborate with the local constituency on the project? 

Michael Young: At the outset we paid a visit to the local area with some government officials and a local creative team. I was very nervous so I decided to speak to the old ladies of Dashilar in pajamas, and they were so nice to me. It was not unlike going to your grandmother’s house. A new toilet is a new toilet, and it’s a good thing—it’s such an amazing human project; I would not disrespect my position. I need to respect the past and what the community understands but I also need to create the present. I believe I have found the balance in this.

SZ: You picked a project that isn’t necessarily sexy or glamorous— toilets.  Why did you choose this element of the Hutongs to re-imagine?

MY: Funny, I met Ron Arad close by the site last week and he said, “It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it!” But really, for me, this is the greatest project I could be asked to take part in as it is not superficial, it’s real. I design for real reasons—I am not from the Facebook generation, love hurts, and for me this is a great as it gets.  I could have used the opportunity to do some crazy design, but lucky for the hutongs I have more soul than that. I love the past and this is made for me.

SZ: Space is the one of the most basic definers of community interactions and relations. How do you think redefining the space of a very traditional area will influence the residents culturally? Is this something you considered when designing? 

MY: My approach to this project was really that less is more. I put two male and two female units in a space that feels unique and comfortable. I am not trying to define anything; I’m only trying to bring a situation up to normalcy, as you might find in a shopping mall for example. This is just the standard of what we all expect. Toilet culture  is universal.

SZ: You are quoted saying that this structure “shows a respect for local history.” Can you go into a bit more depth about how it does?

MY: When I arrived in Asia nine years ago, I arrived in a hard place in Taipei. I was asked to work with many Chinese firms and they all demanded to respect their history. They broke my bones every day—if not on a contract, then mentally.  So I have been here trying to work out many things. I’m still not an expert but I feel I’ve learned in the past nine years how to respect the culture. I would not use this project as a chance to get my face in a magazine or some 1980s-ego form into the mainstream. At the end of the day, it’s just a simple idea but it is definitive and meaningful. Not wanting to sound humble as I am not, but it’s my job to step back and consider.