28 April 2016
Mark Blackwell founded Morphis in August 2014 to develop his passion for world-class landscape architecture. Launching his own company in Hong Kong was an obvious choice after many years working with a multinational firm, an experience that Mr Blackwell, whose career began in London, says was an opportunity to respond to “the extraordinary urban development growth across Asia that is impacting on urban life.”
In less than two years, Morphis has covered plenty of ground, establishing design studios in Hong Kong and Shanghai. But Mr Blackwell considers starting out in Hong Kong the right move. “One of the reasons we set up in Hong Kong is the very collaborative business and networking culture, both in the industry and within the wider community,” he says.
“That most certainly accelerated our business from where we are today over an 18-month period, compared to what would have probably taken two or three times longer in other cities. Hong Kong is very pro-business, which made it an obvious choice.”
Morphis specialises in highly innovative urban transformation, by creating sustainable environments that focus on enhancing quality of life. “The company’s role is very much around celebrating context and memory, emphasised through the connections between people and nature as memorable experiences,” says Mr Blackwell.
Morphis has won several notable contracts, creating mixed-use developments, parks, waterfronts, hotels and university campuses in Hong Kong, Macau and the Chinese mainland, including a 3.6-hectare park for The Venetian Macao resort-casino in Macau.
But it was winning the international design competition for the Kai Tak City urban renewal project soon after the company's formation that earned the young firm recognition, as well as further contracts.
East Kowloon Regeneration
“Kai Tak City was an amazing win for us, in terms of what we’re doing to explore our design approach,” says Mr Blackwell. “The design was inspired by the banyan tree, which is symbolic of the urban jungle growing in time and space, and celebrates the area’s heritage and spirit.
“The concept for the redevelopment is called Living Roots. It will connect the community to nature and celebrate Hong Kong’s unique sub-tropical environment.”
The public open space that it’s designing features a green river corridor around the Kai Tak River, lawns, a waterfront activity zone, community gardens and orchards, as well as cafes and restaurants. The company's long-term vision for the Kai Tak site is based on three planning principles: to become a community jewel in the green infrastructure network for Kowloon; act as a catalyst for high-quality, sustainable urban development; and become a resource for learning about people and nature.
The Kai Tak development will become a feature of the broader East Kowloon regeneration project, called Energising Kowloon East. The project will eventually become Hong Kong's second central business district (CBD), in addition to the existing CBD on Hong Kong Island.
Clinching the Kai Tak project soon after its inception was a major boost for Morphis, which is intent on growing the company despite the initial challenge of putting together a strong team. “One of the most satisfying aspects, generally in my career, but particularly when you’re doing it on your own, is nurturing talent,” he says. “The passion and character from staff with multiple cultural backgrounds creates a fusion to develop innovative design solutions. It’s incredibly exciting to see the way people grow.”
With repeat clients comes the potential of expanding beyond Asia. “The landscape architecture industry is evolving and we’re right in the middle of an extraordinary opportunity to influence urban development and its legacy,” says Mr Blackwell.
“We are focused on Asia. We are getting interest from Europe and the United States, but serving our key clients here remains our priority. Over time, we hope to begin to explore other opportunities, and to continue investing in people and our clients.”
Mr Blackwell is excited about the future of landscape architecture and believes Hong Kong is the perfect place to be for this developing industry. He says the evolution of landscape architecture will see a seamless approach to the way indoor and outdoor areas are constructed. But for that to happen will require a more collaborative approach to working with architects, designers, engineers and developers. Mr Blackwell is confident that Morphis will be there, helping create unique designs.