Challenging the built environment with Marisa Yiu

Co-founder of the Hong Kong-based studio ESKYIU and the DESIGN TRUST initiative, Marisa Yiu aims at designing a possible future that responds to everyday needs by challenging the role of architecture in the city and across global networks.

Marisa Yiu is the Co-founder and Executive Director of the DESIGN TRUST initiative, supporting creative and research content related to Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area. Her background belongs to architecture and design; in 2005 she founded ESKYIU studio together with her partner Eric Schuldenfrei. They were exhibited widely and awarded prestigious prizes such as the ‘Architectural League Prize’.

Always interested in the notion of “Social Philanthropy”, Yiu has taught at London’s Architectural Association, Parsons, HKU, School of Architecture at CUHK. Her architectural practice operates in an open and collaborative environment, at various scales (product-objects to urban scale projects). Most recently, she has participated in the Business of Design Week event with the panel DESIGN TRUST: Critically Homemade.

Eager to learn more about the processes and challenges she addresses among architecture and design, DesignWanted had the opportunity to interview Marisa Yiu, finding out more about her jorney, milestones, projects, initiatives and further steps.

Marisa Yiu - Critically Homemade booklet
Critically Homemade micro-initiative exhibition at Soho House Hong Kong. – ©Design Trust

What was your journey in architecture and design like? What moved you to begin your careers?

Marisa Yiu: “I have been exploring over a decade now; maybe more precisely as a young architect after graduating with a Masters of Architecture in 2001, where I luckily had a scholarship to study the importance of access to education, to design mentors and thinkers, and how learning is critical to growth in all sectors. I have been extremely determined to see how architecture, design and the built environment can go beyond its traditional disciplines and engender more open and collaborative processes.

I have been long interested in the notion of “Social Philanthropy” and how communities can participate in designing a city, and the environment- where cities are and should be engines of generosity, and should be places where human capital, innovation can be fully expressed. At the same time the cultural aspects, heritage of our city and culture, our unique characteristics need to be fully explored, and especially public spaces for communities to come together to old heritage buildings to be restored, revitalized, and not be torn down; to knowledge of our understanding of DESIGN Values, and how design discipline has power to impact society and the environment.”

Marisa Yiu - Small is meaningful
“Small is Meaningful”, 2017 – MobilePark by Wendy Wu, Ricky Lai and Xavier Tsang. Mentor: Sam Jacob. Lead Curator: Marisa Yiu – ©Design Trust

Can you tell us more about the milestones achieved within your work, starting from your design studio launch?

Marisa Yiu: “I started my design studio with my partner Eric Schuldenfrei ESKYIU in New York City, back in 2003; ESKYIU is a creative practice composed of architects and multidisciplinary designers challenging the built environment in dynamic ways. We integrate art, design, culture and technology to create novel and exciting social experiences that embrace the public realm and empower positive interactions amongst communities.

One of our first interactive public architectural installations called CHINATOWN WORK 2006 was based in New York, yet connected with Hong Kong and Pearl River Delta both in content and research. This piece has now been recently acquired to be part of the M+ museum collection here in Hong Kong.

After working in large companies based in NYC on skyscrapers and urban projects in Hong Kong, US to Shanghai, and teaching at the Architectural Association in London, I moved back “home” to Hong Kong back in 2007 for teaching positions and to expand on our research and work in HK. At that time I also joined the board of Hong Kong Ambassadors of Design in 2008, a newly registered charity, supporting first ever free design festivals,  to workshops and programmes free to public.”

Marisa Yiu - workshops
DTFS 2018 Round Table Discussion. Through design dialogues, workshops and public lectures, Design Trust fosters a community of exchange – ©Design Trust

Marisa Yiu: One of my seminal journeys was the appointment as Chief Curator back in 2009 for the Hong Kong Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture on the West Kowloon promenade site which is now the West Kowloon Cultural District. I curated alongside committee members and co-curators, a whole series of events under the theme “BYOB: City Mobilization” a three month long festival with a fascinating opportunity to work with Shigeru Ban to create the first ever paper tube pavilion.

I have always been fascinated in how public spaces, public assets to public imaginations can be more inspiring to benefit all members of our community. And this leads me to your question below.”

Curious to know more designers who participated in this year’s Business of Design Week event? Don’t miss Zaha Hadid Architects’ principal Patrik Schumacher on “parametricism and the coming cyberspace”.

Marisa Yiu - Heritage is Innovation
“Heritage is Innovation”, 2019 Feature Carpet design ‘Dancing Phoenix’ by Elaine Yan Ling Ng – ©Design Trust

About your design process and practice: what is your focus and why did you choose it? What is the purpose of your design process?

Marisa Yiu: “My main focus in the last years and since 2014 was rethinking Hong Kong Ambassadors of Design a registered charity and transform it from an events-based platform to proposing and transformed in 2014 into a new initiative called DESIGN TRUST a grant-giving and community platform. We have expanded and grown a flagship programme called DESIGN TRUST FUTURES STUDIO platform and have explored themes like building better parks and playgrounds under the theme “PLAY IS FOR THE PEOPLE”-  to collaborating with other NGO’s and companies to rethink a 1930s building in HK under the theme: “HERITAGE IS INNOVATION” that I curated and conceptualised showed the openness and possibility of design.

For example, in our microparks project, we are excited that the community and passionate colleagues are coming together as Mentor and Mentees, and with local government and corporate support, the transformation of concept to reality is happening with the building of real microparks in HK is now underway. This shows the VALUES of design where many walks of life, from grassroots, government to top designers, and advisors, and the public, can come together to build a better city and environment and parks for the community.

Design can bring people together openly, and allow exciting new stakeholders, designers to participate to innovate and work together, and provide more platforms to collaborate. These experts come together to design together not just physical spaces, but guidelines, design systems and ways to benefit the public in practical but inspiring ways or make new objects to allow us to share on education, community design, and the role of innovation in the making of our cities. It’s urgent that humans need to know who to design for and how to design, so understanding the needs of society is urgent.

Marisa Yiu - Play is for the People
Design Trust Futures Studio “Play is for the People” – ©Design Trust

What are your most important and recent projects? What is the project about and the design process behind it?

Marisa Yiu: More important and currently we are remarkably busy on this exciting originally quite organic project responding to COVID-19 challenges, and we all say in Hong Kong pre-COVID19 as a community there was a lot of social activities and uncertainty. So I launched a new project called “DESIGN TRUST: Critically Homemade”, as micro-initiative as part of an effort to draw solutions from the pandemic’s impact on Hong Kong’s design community and beyond, and to inspire creative collaboration in a time of physical distancing.

“DESIGN TRUST: Critically Homemade”, was born out of our survey in April 2020, within the design community in Hong Kong, and I placed a curatorial brief to invite designers for innovative homemade solutions to current social and environmental needs. The initiative invited Design Trust grantees, fellows, advisors, Design Trust Futures Studio (DTFS) mentors and mentees to create and prototype an object (sized 20 x 20 x 20cm max) from home that responds to and offers solutions to current societal and environmental challenges.

Marisa Yiu - Critically Homemade exhibition
Critically Homemade prototype exhibition at Soho House Hong Kong, featuring 76 prototypes – ©Design Trust

Marisa Yiu: “Designers are given three weeks to create the object and are encouraged to collaborate and design for a wide range of audience. The desire to make things with our hands is universal and a significant human expression. While some handicrafts are means of survival, making objects with our hands serves as a creative release. Restricted by the necessary social distancing during an unprecedented pandemic, many designers have expressed a need to connect, collaborate and create.

The initiative has now brought together 132 designers making 76 prototype objects. Bring together our community and foster play, social well-being and sustainability through creating homemade objects and utilizing an immediate process of critical thinking in response to the current impediment. With the greater intention to give back, these objects are now with the support of retailers, developers and patrons expanded to benefit the wider community.”

Marisa Yiu - Critically Homemade
Critically Homemade Winter Showcase at K11 MUSEA Gold Ball, featuring Select Prototypes available in a citywide campaign – ©Design Trust

Marisa Yiu: “More than ever, we hope our platform can do more and critically reflect on the past months of events in the context of Hong Kong and begin to build a positive momentum for our future again. With so many uncertainties, together with my team and board members, this launch of a community platform that reduces the “distance” under social distancing measures, check in to say hello and inspire ourselves on the role of critical making within the home or domestic landscape.

Making things with our hands is more critical than ever as a basic human condition. By keeping creative and open through making, we build dialogue and can immerse ourselves in our craft yet provoke and probe more. And it has been an exciting process and project that is still undergoing.”

Marisa Yiu -
Marisa Yiu - Critically Homemade Collectors Showcase
Critically Homemade Collectors Showcase at THE SHOPHOUSE, featuring 18 select prototypes for silent auction – ©Design Trust

Marisa Yiu: I am also incredibly excited with the recent publication of our inaugural Design Trust Milestone Portfolio, which provides an in-depth review of all the major and minor research projects that Design Trust has supported since our establishment in 2014. 

With 2020 a critical time to reflect, review and respond, the Milestone Portfolio highlights the profound impact that Design Trust has had on the community providing critical funding to support 130 grantees and their research across 16 disciplines through its numerous Feature and Seed Grants, Research Fellowships in partnership with M+ and the RCA, ground-breaking Design Trust Futures Studio, and other community projects such as the ongoing parks programme, and Design Trust: Critically Homemade. Underscoring the importance of our mission, proceeds from the sale of the Milestone Portfolio – available at –  will support Design Trust’s ongoing grant and research programmes.”

Marisa Yiu - Milestone Porfolio
Design Trust Milestone Portfolio Book launched in December 2020, featuring 130+ grantees across 16 disciplines – ©Design Trust

Participating in the Business of Design Week, what do you look forwards to the most, what is your perspective regarding this year’s theme?

Marisa Yiu: “I believe I have been supporting, advising and moderating/ curating since 2008 in BODW on the “Culture & the City” stream for years! Every year I look forward to BODW event as it bring so many speakers together to share knowledge. With this years theme it resonates so much with me, and our foundation’s work so hence the main panel I put together with my team is on “DESIGN TRUST: Critically Homemade” micro-initiatives and city culture. How small project harness to collective impact. 

Design Trust now expands the initiative with City wide and e-platform Winter Showcase featuring 39 select designs to engage and inspire the public with the support of seven 2020 Design Trust Champions (partners/sponsors) – kapok, COLOURLIVING, WOMANBOSS, K11, ZS Hospitality, Chinachem Group, and VSFG.

The conversation involves myself as Lead Curator, partners, designers and retailers will share on this panel about the Hong Kong micro-initiative from their unique context to support cultural invigoration and community resilience.”

Marisa Yiu - videocall
Critically Homemade first-ever VIP Virtual Dinner, featuring Hans Ulrich Obrist as mini keynote sharing ‘In memory of Enzo Mari’ – ©Design Trust

What is next for you? How are you planning to implement your projects?

Marisa Yiu: DESIGN TRUST: Critically Homemade has launched its Winter Showcase and campaign and will enter into 2021 in various formats. Since its founding in 2014, our foundation Design Trust has supported a tight-knit community of creative individuals and collectives. Through this micro-initiative, we hope to encourage giving back to the community in ways that allow for connection amongst the global crisis.

We can see the manifestation of the community resilience driving us further and these initiatives may expand in new ways digitally and physical in different cities. For now we are focusing on 18 locations all over Hong Kong, urban centres to outlying islands – bringing this initiative and design to the community through different formats. What is also fascinating is that – for the first time in our organisation’s history – produced an online e-POP-up shop,

Marisa Yiu - Winter Showcase
Critically Homemade Winter Showcase at K11 MUSEA Gold Ball, featuring Select Prototypes available in a citywide campaign – ©Design Trust

Marisa Yiu: “In addition to exhibitions and showcases across the city -including in some outlying districts and islands that don’t typically see cultural initiatives such as these – the Winter Showcase also sees us take the further step where we, with support from our 2020 Design Trust Champions and Partners, are turning selected Design Trust: Critically Homemade prototypes into limited edition products that can be purchased.

As many observers have noted, Hong Kong is in many ways the quintessential example of free market consumerism, a place where shopping is part of the city’s culture. The evolution from conceptual prototype to a manufactured product is an interesting one on a few levels, but our presence in the retail arena (albeit a small one) is a significant one as we continue to engage and influence the city’s culture.

Moreover, it allows us to develop a new and critical source of funding for our non-profit organisation since all sales proceeds will go back to support our research and grant programmes. As with many other charities, the pandemic has heavily impacted traditional fundraising mechanisms and many are struggling to survive; developing this potentially self-sustaining fundraising model will be a critical step for us as an organisation to continue our design research and community programmes.

Marisa Yiu - K11 MUSEA
Critically Homemade Winter Showcase at K11 MUSEA Gold Ball, featuring ‘Pocket Garden’, of Julie & Jesse’s (DTFS 2019 Mentee) Terra Mobiles from DTFS 2019 – ©Design Trust

Marisa Yiu: “Here are a few highlights from our e-PopUp and the Winter Showcase with many more to share, I chose 3 projects from designers who respond to these new initiatives and put forward prototypes relating to the COVID-19 situation:

The Learning House, People’s Architecture Office’s design for an activity kit for kids to construct at home to stimulate creativity and exercise fine motor skills. The Antibacterial Door Handles by Michael Young who designed doors handles out of a metal which utilises lasers and photonics technology to develop fluid-repellent, antibacterial surfaces, taking us a step closer to self-cleaning saucepans, toilets, and dishwashers. Hong Kong Brick designed by Florian Wegenest and Christine Lew who have come up with the Hong Kong Brick, a design artifact created from the construction waste of shops that were taken down during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Find out more about the designer of the Antibacterial Door Handles, don’t miss The transcendental work of Michael Young.

The Learning House – ©People’s Architecture Office
Antibacterial Door Handles – © Michael Young Studio
Hong Kong Bricks – © Florian Wegenest and Christine Lew
Send this to a friend