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30UNDER30’s Hugo Chan’s love of architecture started with SimCity 4

30UNDER30’s Hugo Chan’s love of architecture started with SimCity 4


Australian Design Review (ADR) is heading to Bali this week with the 30UNDER30 Architects and Innovators of the Built World for 2023/2024. To celebrate, we are getting to know this exciting multidisciplinary cohort, the passions that drive their work and what makes them tick creatively.

Hugo Chan’s passion for architecture materialises through various roles in advocacy, research, teaching and practice. In his practice management role at CLA, he uses his project coordination skills. Meanwhile, in his own practice – Studio HC – Chan is an architect specialising in adaptation and repurposing existing building fabric for his clients. 

Bringing adaptive architecture from the “peripheries of heritage and conservation into mainstream thinking around sustainable architecture” has been a core driver of Chan’s approach to the built environment.

ADR: How did your love for architecture originate?

Hugo Chan: Growing up, I was obsessed with two games – SimCity 4 and Civilisation IV. I remember being immersed in trying to map out the ‘perfect’ city; how could I improve a place, improve public transport, or diversify my city with the ideal mix of civic, residential and commercial architecture? I would look up maps and configurations of cities to figure out what I could do better and learn from for my own imaginary metropolis. 

With Civilization IV, I was drawn to the sheer magnitude of incredible works which have existed across the fabric of our collective history. The game brought me, at home, everything from the Colossus of Rhodes to the Sistine Chapel and the Forbidden City. It deepened my curiosity about architecture.

ADR: What does sustainability mean for you?

HC: At its heart, sustainability is a social and cultural concept. It is just as much about respecting and moving together as a culturally diverse society. Through approaches like adaptive reuse and renewal, we must conserve not just the physical aspects of a place but the social, historical and cultural aspects of our environment. This is important to me personally because I think it provides a more holistic framework for us to approach sustainability beyond the tangible, material world.

ADR: Is there a particular project you’ve worked on that has been the highlight of your career so far?

HC: In 2018, I published my first independent research report – ‘Alternative Realities: Approaches to Adaptive Reuse in Architecture’, supported through the Byera Hadley Travelling Scholarship. Over a period of 15 weeks, I travelled between Sydney, Hong Kong, London and New York, cataloguing 40 adaptive reuse buildings and interviewing 20 architects and urban designers. 

This experience transformed how I approach architecture and gave me a deep dive into the world of adaptation, heritage conservation and renewal. This thread of adaptation has stayed with me, and my projects at Studio HC have often been about the renewal of existing spaces. In Barrel Vault (Vincentia, Tharawal Country) an unused garage was converted into an inter-generational home. At Apartment Monochroma (Sydney, Cammeraygal Country), a ‘70s apartment was given a contemporary minimalist retrofit.

Apartment Monochroma
Apartment Monochroma. Sydney, Cammeraygal. Photo: J&O Productions
Hugo Chan
Barrel Vault. Vincentia, Tharawal. Photo: J&O Productions
ADR: What drives your work and what do you hope to achieve in your architecture career?

HC: The diversity of what architecture is and can be is my primary driver. When I first started in architecture school, I had a very conventional idea of an architect as a person who draws buildings. In the decade since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to research the intersection of architecture and cultural diversity, write about how architects can shape policy, and teach architectural history and design to the next generation of designers. Being able to share what I love and enjoy keeps me driven and excited across all these aspects of architecture. 

Someday, hopefully in my twilight years, I would like to be able to reflect on my work across these aspects and be content that it was time well spent.

ADR: How did it feel to make it into Australian Design Review’s 30UNDER30? 

HC: I am both incredibly humbled and excited. The sheer breadth of talent in the current 30UNDER30 cohort presents me with an incredible opportunity to meet new people, learn new approaches and ideas, as well as forge lasting friendships and collaborations.

Lead image: Hugo Chan by J&O Productions.

ADR’s 30UNDER30 Architects and Innovators of the Built World stream is brought to you by major sponsor Neolith, alongside Miele, Interface and Tongue & Groove. The program is also supported by practice partners BVN, HDR INC, SJB, Richard Stanisich, Williams Burton Leopardi, and Billard Leece Partnership. To find out more about the final 30, including their places of work and discipline areas, head to the 30UNDER30 page.


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