You look at both the quantity and quality of projects Briar Hickling has worked on… and then you see she’s still just in her 30’s. Barely hitting her stride. Can you imagine her body of work in another decade?
After graduating at Massey, Briar cut her teeth working for one of New Zealand’s leading hospitality designers, Allistar Cox. Then, in 2009, she moved to Shanghai, to a Senior Associate position at Neri & Hu, one of China’s most world-renowned architectural practices. There, she worked on world-class hospitality projects in Asia, Australia and the UK, including restaurants for internationally acclaimed chefs, and hotel projects such as Westin Hotel Xi’an, The Waterhouse in Shanghai, and the Alila in Kuala Lumpur. It was at Neri & Hu she met her work wife. fellow design wunderkind, Alex Mok. After collaborating on a number of big projects together, Briar and Alex founded their own practise, Linehouse.
In Briar’s own words: “…I saw China as an opportunity to start my own practice… to create unique spatial concepts with a contextual narrative. In some ways the design process is more open in Asia, the construction process is faster and there is more room for flexibility. If you can harness this somewhat chaotic process, the result can be very rewarding. This is how I have managed to build an extensive portfolio of work which also came down to hard work and initiative. Now based between Hong Kong and New Zealand, the last 10 years have allowed me to establish a network of local craftsman, creating bespoke designs and allowing for an inventive use of materials to create something new and unexpected.”
That was 2014. It’s been a prodigious 5 years, conceiving and realising 30 (Yes, three-zero – in five years!) of the most incredible, storied, exquisitely-detailed environments.
Above is just one of their most recent projects – John Anthony, an East-meets-West Dim Sum eatery on Hong Kong Island. Named after historical figure John Anthony, the first Chinese man to be naturalised as a British citizen in 1805, and the ‘father’ of London’s original Chinatown. Briar and Alex’s design draws on the story of John Anthony’s life, exploring a fusion of colonial architecture with eastern detailing, to create a British Tea Hall turned Chinese Canteen.
Linehouse have employed the materials John Anthony would have encountered on his journey from his homeland to London’s docklands: hand-glazed tiles, natural and racked renders, terracotta, hand-dyed fabrics and handwoven wickers, hammered copper lights. A celebration of sustainability and traditional craft is communicated everywhere you look. The detail is amazing.
The main dining hall, with its vaulted ceiling, is an interpretation of the storehouses of London’s docklands.
The floors are tiled with reclaimed terracotta from old Chinese village houses
The aesthetic plays on the retro nostalgia of East-London Chinese canteens
The private dining rooms are lined in hand-painted tiles, featuring large scale illustrations of commodities traded between the British and Chinese in the 18th century such as medicinal poppies and exotic animals.
Briar’s very latest project, Tingtai Teahouse, is a series of huge elevated boxes inside a vast old factory. These suspended spaces-within-a-space act as individual private teahouses, all sleek glass, brushed stainless steel and contemporary minimalism, alongside the patina of the original concrete columns and brick walls of the former factory. See photos of this incredible project here. (Actually, pop the jug on and set aside a half hour to tour all their projects – so inspiring)
It won’t be long before Briar and Alex will stretch those impressive wings to other progressive pockets of the globe. They’ve recently opened an office back on Briar’s home turf – I’m hoping that means there’s a New Zealand project on the way….