Through his studio Akin Creative, Kelvin Ho is responsible for some of Sydney’s most recognisable spaces, from Merivale hotspots like Coogee Pavillion to designer darlings Bassike, Dion Lee and Saturdays NYC – to name a few. Looking through his prolific portfolio, it’s clear Kelvin has a professional curiosity for bringing spaces to life; unlimited by discipline or style, his works are an authentic representation of the people and brands they represent while standing out as unique identities.
Since founding Akin in 2006, Kelvin’s portfolio has grown in both scope and style, with a myriad of commercial and residential projects under his belt. We took a moment to reflect with Kelvin on his incredible past decade of work and who inspires him in his current practice. And of course being a Sydney native, getting a local lowdown was a must!
How did you get your start in architecture and when did Akin come into being?
Kelvin: After studying Architecture at the University of Sydney, and working with a few prominent architecture firms , I decided to start my own business, AKIN, in 2006.
AKIN was a way for me to work on projects across residential and commercial and allow me to explore the intersection of architecture, interior design with art, music, food and fashion. Luckily , from an early point, I had a few clients that were extremely supportive and allowed the business to grow.
Talk us through your creative process – how does an Akin project unfurl from start to finish?
Kelvin: The creative process varies between projects. Typically it commences with an investigative stage where we try to understand as much about the client, brief and site.
Next we dissect the brief with as many responses as possible via, drawings, imagery, models ( both digital and physical ) which we can then assess and critique to create a path forward. Once we have a direction we continue to fine tune the design , incorporating the more specific details and requirements of the brief.
We understand that the design process is an iterative one and we may go through many rounds of design before we are happy with the outcome.
How do you distill a brand for a commercial architecture outcome? For instance, in approaching a retail space or a new restaurant, how do you work with the brand and to further the brand through physical structure and materiality?
Kelvin: Many commercial projects come across our table with an existing brand or ethos. Sometimes we get a commercial brief and there is no existing brand. Both come with their specific pros and cons. Working with a Chef or Fashion designer with a strong style or identity makes the process more collaborative as we a trying to distill their philosophy through all the design touch points.
We like to understand the history, process and vision of the brand we are working with and what defines them in a unique way, then we create a palette of materiality, texture, geometry and composition that reflects the brand.
Having worked on residential, retail and hospitality projects, what do you think makes a space stand out?
Kelvin: A successful space is one that can merge a narrative with contextual historical and social reference points with the physical spatial qualities, whilst embodying the DNA of a brand and also creating an emotional response or connection with the audience.
Has working across a range of residential and commercial projects influenced your approach or values as an architect and designer? If so, how?
Kelvin: It has taken a long time for me to be able to juggle the design and management of both residential and commercial projects. The design process, time scale and emotional relationship between residential and commercial is so different, but I like to work across both as they provide satisfaction in differing ways.
What is something that clients tend to forget or overlook in the design process, and how do you overcome it?
Kelvin: Ha – time and budget! Sometimes we get the most unrealistic timing and budgets for projects. I used to run with them to see if we could make it happen but usually it would end in disaster . Now, I like to sit down with the client prior to taking on a project to map out a realistic program and project budget.
Who are some local designers and creatives that inspire you?
Kelvin: George Livissianis: He’s one of the most considered designers I know… and the nicest guy ever! David Caon , who emerged from the shadows of Marc Newson and holds his own in such an elite environment. Henry Wilson: A true craftsman of the modern era. Embodies a local and international aesthetic and philosophy which is completely unique.
Kelvin Ho’s Insider Guide to Sydney…
Where do you live in Sydney and what do you love most about it?
I live in Tamarama in Sydney’s East. I live right across from Macenzies Bay which is a little bay between Tamarama Brach and Bondi Beach. I love that there is a great sense of community with the locals. Every few years, with the right winds and swell, a little beach will appear in Macenzies Bay which is perfect for the escaping the crowds.
Weekly local rituals: Bike rides down to Earth Food Store on Gould St for a smoothie, swims at Macenzies or Tamarama, and gardening . Our back yard is a wild jungle of plants and trees! Taking our dog Lily for walks to the park at the end of the street, riding bikes and skateboards with my kids out on the foot path and eating pizza on the front terrace watching the sun go down.