Open Studio: JJA / Bespoke Architecture

While finance and property may rule the city’s skyline, Hong Kong is also fast becoming a hub for creative entrepreneurs. Old and buzzing neighbourhoods alike are home to start-up ventures—not surprising given the city’s long history with cultivating and growing businesses. We speak to architect JJ Acuña of JJA / Bespoke Architecture—which most recently did the interiors of the fourth branch of home grown coffeehouse Elephant Grounds, newly opened earlier this month. JJ tells us about founding his new design practice right here in Hong Kong.

What was your impetus to begin your own business?

I’d been doing corporate architecture and interior design for blue chip clients in Hong Kong for about a decade when I decided that enough was enough. I thought it was time to do something different and work on smaller scale projects, which has its own rewards mostly on the creative front. A few months in after establishing JJA / Bespoke Architecture, I’m so happy to be working on projects with people I love collaborating with.

Being a Hong Kong-based studio, what would you like to improve most in the city? 

If I can work on lifestyle projects that address how people can have a better connection with the city and the street despite the weather and strict building requirements… that would be a nice place to start. I find that the urban landscape of Hong Kong in the 1950s and 60s used to be more extroverted, but the advent of air-conditioning and road traffic changed this street-level dynamic. With my projects like Elephant Grounds in Wan Chai’s Star Street district, I hope to shift our introverted tendencies to something more open and inviting to the larger community.

Tell us about the design process behind Elephant Grounds:

Elephant Grounds in Star Street is their first outlet with a designer on board. Since they envisioned it as a version 2.0 of their cafe, my job was to absorb their current material palettes and updated operational aspirations as well as maximise the advantages of the corner site and adjacent public plaza. We wanted to create a refreshing cafe space that Hong Kong hasn’t seen before. I feel with our indoor-outdoor concept and spacious seating and dining proportions, we were able to achieve our goals.

Elephant Grounds

What do you think is the most overused design element today?

I don’t consider it “design” but everyone loves fake Tom Dixon-style lamps and exposed light bulbs.

Which materials are you currently into?

Right now, I’m into 60s and 80s interiors as well as terrazzo stone tiles—there’s something about a mixture of stone in a composition that’s really sexy.

Your client list already reads like a dream. Tell us about your dream project:
I’m still pinching myself! Every time I get or sign a new project that in it of itself is already a dream for me. But if take your question literally, I’d love to have a furniture shop in the city and to build a house in Hong Kong. That would be interesting.

Finally, if your studio were a song, what would it be?

Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley

Little Bao in Bangkok