Interview: Kelvin Ho AKIN | Yellowtrace

 

Today’s interview takes out the award for being THE LONGEST EVER IN THE MAKING. And when I say the longest, I mean it’s taken over 6 f*#$&!g years to get us here. I know, it’s disgraceful, and if it was anyone else I would’ve probably blacklisted them, but I’m sure most of you will agree it’s been well worth the wait.

Of course, I’m taking about Kelvin Ho, the super clever Sydney-based in demand architect, and founder of . Heralded as one of Australia’s finest designers, Kelvin is known for creating retail spaces that manifest as engaging brand extensions for his A-list clients. Of course, it’s not just retail spaces he designs. There have been plenty of hospitality and residential projects, with commercial, hotels and set design thrown in for good measure.

What struck me most about K-Dog after meeting him on a couple of occasions, apart from his height (he is probably the tallest Asian dude you’ll ever meet), is his calm demeanour and a certain nonchalance that’s incredibly disarming. For a man who has managed to singlehandedly build one of Australia’s pre-eminent design practices, Kelvin remains unaffected and cool as a cucumber. In today’s age where PR hype is perceived to be the king, this man remains dedicated to his work, and his work alone. I say this because, up until very recently, AKIN’s website and portfolio was completely out of date, the practice was never to be seen in any of the design awards, and their work was not often published in the media – at least not through Kelvin’s direct efforts (most of the PR for AKIN would’ve been generated by his fashion and hospitality clients). Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that this guy is the real deal, which is basically the only reason I haven’t blacklisted him after all this time. Ha!

So without further ado, thank you Kelvin for allowing me to eventually wear you down, and for being a part of Yellowtrace. I mean, a person with a design pedigree that isn’t afraid to admit they enjoy Kebabs and Chicken Twisties is totally my kind of person.

 

Camilla and Marc, The Strand by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Camilla and Marc, The Strand by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Camilla and Marc, The Strand by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Camilla and Marc, The Strand by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Camilla and Marc, The Strand by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace
, The Strand. Photography by .

 

+ Hello Kelvin, welcome to Yellowtrace and thank you for taking the time to e-chat. Could you please give us a quick introduction on yourself? When did you first decide you wanted to become an architect? And what path lead you to starting your business?

Hello Dana! Its nice to be here. I feel bad because we started this interview in March 2011! At least I have worked on a few more projects since then and hopefully learnt a few things.

So – I am the principal and founder of . I started AKIN in 2006 after 2 years of post grad work and studying Architecture at Sydney University.

As a child, I wanted to be a fisherman but I remember when I was in Grade 3 I told my teacher that I wanted to become an architect. I feel there are parallels between fishing and architecture – long days, being very patient and knowing that any day your world could end upside down!

 

Dion Lee Armadale by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Dion Lee Armadale by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Dion Lee Armadale by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace
, Armadale. Photography by .

APC Store in Melbourne by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

APC Store in Melbourne by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace
, Melbourne. Photography by Sean Fennessey.

 

+ What is your main priority when starting projects? Is there something that is fundamental to your practice – your philosophy and your process?

There has to be a really strong reason for why we will take on a project. The client, the brief or the creative opportunity. I love that our profession is part problem solving, audience engagement and creative expression. I have a relatively short attention span unless I am totally engaged with a project… Luckily, most of our current projects are awesome. The philosophy of AKIN is about a like-mindedness and familiarity which is how we hope our team, clients, builder and suppliers to interact with each other.

 

Sam's House by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Sam's House by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Sam's House by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Sam's House by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Sam's House by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Sam's House by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace
Sam’s House. Photography by Toby Peet.

 

+ How is your studio structured? i.e. How many of you work in the studio, what types of skills do you have in-house, is there anything you are outsourcing, and how many projects do you handle at any one time?

Right now we have 12 people between the Sydney and New York offices. Office/ business management and HR is not my strength so we have grown very slowly to accommodate the needs of the business. Currently there is myself, a studio manager, 4 senior staff and 6 junior/ mid level staff. We have a good mix of Architectural and Interior Design staff and we work collaboratively across projects. On average, we would be running 50-60 projects across residential, retail, hotels and hospitality. 90% of projects are managed by us from concept design through to contract administration.

 

In the Studio with Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

In the Studio with Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

The Australian Ballet, Set Design for Filigree and Shadow by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace
In the studio with Kelvin Ho. Photography by .

 

+ How do you organise and manage the competing demands of modern business and life? Do you have any tip or tricks you could share with us that help you in your day to day?

We have a weekly Monday team meeting where we run through all the projects and general admin and we all have the opportunity to flag any issues and deadlines. We also rotate the role of providing breakfast so each team member will bake, cook, buy, steal. I find these weekly meetings allow the team to get organised for the week. Beers on Friday bookend what is normally a very busy week for us. Its the small things that make a huge difference.

Online time sheets and tasking/ listing programs help us stay on top of the day to day running of projects. We have a lot of work outside of Sydney, so there is usually 1 or 2 staff either interstate or overseas. We are currently working on developing our server systems to make all of our project data easily accessible from external locations.

 

Bassike Venice by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Bassike Venice by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Brook&lyn Bassike by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Brook&lyn Bassike by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Brook&lyn Bassike by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace
, Venice Beach, California, designed in collaboration with .

 

+ Although you are now quite well established, the world of design and architecture is really competitive and it can be difficult to get a break. In retrospect, what do you consider to have been a turning point in your career? Has there been one project, one client, or an important set of skills you’ve developed that has changed the course of your career?

The first turning point would have been during my university degree in architecture when I began studying post modernism in architecture and literature, which opened up a new way of thinking about architecture and the role of the architect. This led me to write a thesis about skateboarding and the built environment, using post modern literature as a way to explore the notion of decontextualisation and the relationship between the audience and the built environment. This conceptual and physical shift in my understanding of architecture helped me create my own point of view and subsequent foundation of design philosophy for AKIN.

When I started AKIN, this architectural thinking and narrative was a way for me to engage with potential clients and present a way of thinking in lieu of an established portfolio.

The second turning point was when a client liked my ideas and gave me my first commercial commission. The client was , who is one of the pioneers of Australian Fashion. Belinda threw me into the deep end of high end fashion retail and we worked together on numerous projects which helped establish my position in the world of design and architecture.

 

Papi Chuio by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace
, Manly Wharf. Photography by Murray Fredericks.

Queen Hotel by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Queen Hotel by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Queen Hotel by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Queen Hotel by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Queen Hotel by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace
, Enmore. Photography by .

The Paddington by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace
. Photography by Murray Fredericks.

 

+ What do you feel is the most challenging part of being an architect today? And if you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

I feel the Design educational system needs to be looked at. I employ a team with local and international degrees ranging from diplomas through to masters. I am finding that a lot of the students coming out of design school or university are not prepared with the basic fundamentals in design/ architecture; e.g. how to draw, read a plan, communicate an idea.

 

Derby by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Derby by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace
Derby House, Vaucluse. Photography by .

Askill Apartment by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Askill Apartment by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace
Askill Apartment, Elizabeth Bay. Photography by Murray Fredericks.

 

+ What are some of your methods to staying motivated, focused and expressive? And your top 3 main sources of inspiration and references you are drawn to regularly – i.e. books, magazines, websites/ blogs etc?

I like to visit galleries, read magazine, listen to music, see the ballet and I travel. I am extremely analogue so I like to have something real and tangible in front of me… oh, and yellowtrace.com.au of course!

+ Who or what are some of your influences?

Fashion, art, philosophy and theory are some of my influences.

 

Newport Arms by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Newport Arms by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Newport Arms by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

Newport Arms by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace
, Northern Beaches. Photography by Murray Fredericks.

 

+ What advice would you give to emerging designers who want to follow your path? What was one of your biggest lessons learned since starting your practice?

Have fun.
Listen.
You have to be in it 100%.
Follow your intuition.
Do work experience. I did work experience when I was 15 during summer holidays with a super classical architect who made me draw lines on tissue paper with a 0.1 Rotring pen. The idea was to learn the basic fundamentals of drawing and to hold the pen with the exact amount of pressure and at the right angle to draw a line without tearing the tissue. I leant a lot of valuable lessons with him and future mentors/ employees.

I also leant that the experience you gain in your formative years really sets a trajectory for your career. I had a lot of experience working within small offices that have quite intimate relationships with the projects. I guess that helped define the way we practise now.

 

Coogee Pavilion by Kelvin Ho Akin Creative | Yellowtrace

Coogee Pavilion by Kelvin Ho Akin Creative | Yellowtrace

Coogee Pavilion by Kelvin Ho Akin Creative | Yellowtrace

Coogee Pavilion by Kelvin Ho Akin Creative | Yellowtrace

Coogee Pavilion by Kelvin Ho Akin Creative | Yellowtrace
. Photography by Murray Fredericks.

 

Let’s Get Real:

+ What’s the best mistake you have ever made?

I once got locked out of a job interview which made me realise I am probably better working for myself.

+ What rules do you live by?

Family first.

+ Your most treasured belonging?

After my kids and dog (if they qualify as belongings??) it would be my vintage Porsche 911.

 

Amilla Resort by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace
Amilla Resort, The Maldives.

 

+ What’s one thing other people may not know about you?

After I finished architecture, I studied to be a personal trainer… just in case this whole architecture thing didn’t work out!

+ It’s not very cool, but I really like…

Kebabs – I really love a kebab… and chicken twisties.

 

The Australian Ballet, Set Design for Filigree and Shadow by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

The Australian Ballet, Set Design for Filigree and Shadow by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace

The Australian Ballet, Set Design for Filigree and Shadow by Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace
, Set Design for Filigree and Shadow.

Portrait of Kelvin Ho | Yellowtrace
Portrait of Kelvin Ho. Photography by Kelly Geddes.

 


[Images courtesy of . Photography credits noted.]

 


About The Author

Dana Tomić Hughes
Founder & Editor

Dana is an award-winning interior designer living in Sydney, Australia. With an unhealthy passion for design, Dana commits to an abnormal amount of daily design research. Regular travel and attendance at premier design events, enables Dana to stay at the forefront of the design world globally. While she is super serious about design, Dana never takes herself - nor design - too seriously. Together with her life and business partner, Dana is Boss Lady at Studio Yellowtrace, specialising in Design Strategy, Creative Direction and Special Projects. The studio takes a highly conceptual and holistic approach to translating brands & ideas into places & experiences.

3 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Liang

    Great interview, thanks. Can you lose the tallest asian dude line? It’s a subtle othering that takes away from the article. And in Australia if you talk with most asian men, they do experience subtle or overt discrimination based on their physicality so this is a bit on point. I was reading thinking, yeah it’s so great how blogs don’t just cover all the same white people and then this line…

    Reply

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