As the founder of Panorama Design Group, Horace Pan explores exciting new domains in interior architecture. As a university educator, his mission is to help the next generation of designers build a distinctive Hong Kong identity…
Tell us about your early years.
I’m Indonesian-Chinese, though I was born in China as my parents had emigrated there from Indonesia in the ’60s. Because of all the uncertainty during the Cultural Revolution, they wanted to relocate to their homeland via Hong Kong. Ultimately, they never made it all the way, and I’ve pretty much spent my whole life here. The international influences of my childhood have really left their mark on me, giving me a unique perspective that informs my work as an interior designer.
What led you to found Panorama Design Group?
I practised interior design for seven years before starting Panorama. Then I had a gut feeling that I should explore new domains of interior design and new methodologies, taking a different approach to what I was already doing. I thought the best way to accomplish this was to found my own company.
Does your firm have a particular area of speciality?
Panorama is headquartered in Hong Kong, with branches across Chinese cities such as Shenzhen and Chengdu, as well as an upcoming location in Malaysia. We specialise in many different domains of interior design across the region. We do hotels, club houses and F&B venues, for example, and health- and wellbeing-oriented spaces, so we are pretty multi-disciplinary and also cover many different topologies of space.
What would you say are the unique selling points of Panorama?
It’s really in the name itself, and for us ‘Panorama’ means ‘wide-angled’ and ‘full-spectrum’, so I would like my team to have a different, unexpected approach to any projects and initiatives we collaborate on. Let’s take a hotel, for example. We don’t want to follow the traditional precepts of design, but rather focus on creating a kind of crossover experience. This is exactly what we did for MeeHotel in Shenzhen last year, a project that’s garnered us 12 international awards so far, with several judges praising us for breaking new ground in the boutique hotel domain. I think its success is largely down to the fact that we combined a keen understanding of the local culture and bamboo materials with a unique spa-like overall concept for what is actually a business hotel.
Ultimately, whether you call it a surprise, a breakthrough or a point of difference, our design firm is known for creating something unexpected. We’re famous for conceiving this kind of branding or commercial design strategy before we come up with any proposal. This leads to another of our strengths – research – which is critical to any successful project.
How has the ongoing coronavirus pandemic affected your business?
The biggest issue is that we can’t cross the border into mainland China, where the bulk of our projects are located. Right now, we can only see the sites virtually through apps like Zoom, which some clients are understandably not thrilled about. Though our ongoing projects have adjusted to the new normal, it’s with new proposals that we encountered the most challenges. For Chinese clients, we are considered a foreign consultancy, so we really had to go the extra mile to persuade them that they should choose us rather than, say, a local contractor who can oversee everything in person. The onus has been on us to prove – be it through past success stories or a cohesive agenda that outlines the entire design and construction process – that we can still produce a superior product for them despite our location.
Do you have any exciting new projects in the pipeline?
Absolutely. We are in the midst of designing new elements and experiences for luxury brands in department stores in China, which we will be rolling out soon. In the first of these, we’re exploring a crossover of the spheres of art, technology and fashion to set a new benchmark for how consumers experience high-end brands.
Your projects have earned more than 150 international accolades. Which one is particularly close to your heart?
That would have to be my first award-winning project, the one that won me top honours in the Living Space category of the 2000 Asia-Pacific Interior Design Awards. This was roughly around the time I started Panorama. I was the only one of the five finalists who was an independent entry, and I got the shock of my life when my name was called as the winner. Interestingly enough, the project – Pan House – was actually my own home. It was a small three-storey village house sandwiched between two other similar structures. I think the reason why it garnered such critical acclaim is because I successfully transformed the traditional space into an entirely new domain. Each floor features a uniform grey cement motif, but I fitted different coloured filters to the windows to create separate atmospheres for each level.
How do you rate Hong Kong’s interior design industry on a global level?
I think our biggest strength is that we are used to delivering projects within a short time span, with capabilities of revamping restaurants, residences and the like within a few short months. This is our unique edge, because other countries can’t match our fast-paced work ethic.
Having said that, there is one serious shortfall in that we don’t have a true ‘local identity’ per se because a lot of our cultural heritage and architecture has pretty much been erased. This is no good for local designers. You need to have roots and craftsmanship traditions that inform your designs, as they have in other countries like Japan and Sweden. There’s no such thing as a ‘Hong Kong style’, I think, and I feel conflicted about this and try to address it in my capacity as an Assistant Professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Finally, could you tell us something people don’t know about you.
I was approached by Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s team to lend Pan House as the set for the romantic drama film 2046, starring actres Faye Wong. Ultimately, I declined, as I didn’t want too many people in my personal space.
Interview by: Tenzing Thondup
Photos: Jack Law
Videography: Kingsley Lau
Styling & Art Direction: Jhoshwa Ledesma
Venue: Panorama Design Group office