When common interest and ambition intersect, the outcome can sometimes reach far beyond any expectations. So it was when eight friends and colleagues had a bright idea back in 2014 to start their own business and combine their varied areas of expertise.
Their idea was simple – to create the freedom to work on projects together, expressing their own visions in design, commercial opportunities and community space.
From those early meetings in 2014 Lead8 was born, and today boasts more than 250 staff in offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and London.
It’s a band of design specialists and multi-disciplined professionals ready to transform the built environment – something they are already doing, with more than 260 live projects around the world.
The name Lead8 is derived from ‘living environments architecture design’, says Co-Founder and Executive Director Christine Hau, and is a succinct summation of its priorities.
Lead8’s cross-pollinating expertise, under latest Co-Founders and Executive Directors Christine Hau, Claude Touikan, David Buffonge, Meeta Patel and Simon Chua, has led to its involvement in high-profile projects in more than 40 cities around the world.
Lead8 takes once traditional utilitarian projects such as airports and shopping malls and transforms them into vibrant experience-led, mixed-use, transit-oriented destinations for millions of people.Christine brought to Lead8 her experience in leading the management, operational, legal, financial and corporate governance strategies for multi-award-winning design firms.
Her expertise has seen the firm successfully establish global channels, unite complex legal and compliance frameworks across multiple studio locations and empower regional leadership.
Her expansive role also steers the marketing, branding and corporate social responsibility endeavours of the Lead8 brand. “I’ve always been interested in design,” Christine says, reflecting on her career.
“I love design, beauty and the forms of cities and buildings. Architecture is a creative field that allows you to bring your own vision to shape the world you want to live in. Seeing the work come to life can be incredibly rewarding.”
According to Christine, Lead8’s co-founders share the same vision, yet think differently and are individual in style and personality.
Theirs is a formula proven through successful collaborations over the past decade on projects around Asia, setting the groundwork for the foundation of Lead8.
“When we started the business, we believed in our future. We had all worked together for many years, each one of us knowing and trusting in our unique positions in the architecture and design industry. We were all passionate about design and creating places for people that would positively contribute to the communities in which we worked,” she points out.
Lead8 has achieved spectacular growth in just six years, with four offices now working on a busy schedule of major projects in several countries.
Christine calls it organic growth, with additions to the Lead8 team based on expertise and specific skills required for new projects won.
“Many businesses have rigid growth targets, and sometimes that puts pressure on a company’s culture and creative output. Our business expands based on where opportunity takes us,” she explains.
“I’m passionate about leading and encouraging connections between people, cities and projects globally. Because ours is a design business, it really comes down to talent and creativity.”
Staying ahead of the curve
Architectural trends change over time and deliver prospects for those who accept the challenge of predicting, and then pursuing, new waves in design. In its brief history Lead8 has recognised the rewards of being a design pioneer, and has taken on projects that now bear its imprimatur.
Never stop learning, as life never stops teaching. Think smarter and learn quicker.
“Trends always change from generation to generation,” says Christine. “Architecture 10 or 20 years ago was different. Now we have innovative technologies which have expanded the possibilities of our industry.
The demands on different sectors have also changed, which means we need to adapt. For example, the aviation sector has evolved the nature of airports from being predominantly transport hubs to commercially vibrant destinations for the modern traveller.
Located on a prime 16-hectare site adjacent to the city’s iconic Lumphini Park, One Bangkok will be Thailand’s largest integrated development once complete. The destination will feature premium grade-A office buildings, luxury and lifestyle hotels, luxury residential towers, interconnected retail precincts, art and cultural hubs, and public space to accommodate the expected 200,000 daily visitors. The scheme will be Thailand’s first Platinum LEED Neighbourhood Development, using environmental sustainability and smart-city principles to establish a unique lifestyle in Bangkok. Almost half of the site’s footprint has been designated as public realm, for the benefit of all Bangkok residents. Lead8 is working with a team of local and international design consultants on the multiretail development component of One Bangkok, which is set to be completed in 2026.
“Today, more than 60% of airport revenue comes from the leasing of retail, office space and advertising within and around airport terminals. Many airport owners are now looking for experienced retail and commercial architects like Lead8 to design terminals that can increase traffic and connectivity, and place the passenger experience at their core.”
We have to trust young talent … we should always keep our imaginations open to the ideas of our future leaders.
Lead8 is collaborating as lead designer for Beijing’s new Daxing International Airport Commercial Landside Terminal.
This mixed-use commercial terminal is representative of changing architectural demands in airports, showing how they can be better utilised for earning greater revenue by integrating more involved spaces for travellers and customers.
It includes new generation workspaces, varied retail zones, dining and fast-food areas, and entertainment precincts to interest the anticipated 100 million passengers every year at the new airport.
The company’s reputation as an aviation architecture pioneer will also be on display at SkyCity, a Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) project. Still under construction, it will open in stages from 2023 to 2027 and deliver a first-of-its-kind retail, dining and entertainment experience for one of the world’s leading airports.
“Every project is individual and unique,” says Christine. “We seek innovative solutions for each scheme, and in doing so we are not defined by one project.” This is evident in Lead8’s extensive retail portfolio.
The firm has recently led the design of major retail developments under the MixC brand. In Shenzhen, the 80,000-squaremetre high-end retail complex known as MixC Shenzhen Bay has won a number of awards for its design since its opening.
With MixC Jinan, Lead8’s concept, which celebrates local artists throughout its design, has become a new destination for more than 500 brands in the city.
Furthering its presence in the market, Lead8 has been engaged to design a future retail destination featuring one of the largest indoor botanic gardens in China, Yorkville – The Ring, in Chongqing.
An expanding portfolio
Looking into the future, Lead8 is in the process of taking its expertise to new markets. A yet-to-be released plan for an aviation client will see the firm provide its expertise for a new project in Australia, its first in the nation.
SKYCITY is one of the most high-profile projects currently under construction in Hong Kong. The 350,000-square-metre scheme will introduce a new retail destination at Hong Kong International Airport as well as a major integrated development offering state-of-the-art entertainment and dining experiences. Located directly adjacent to Hong Kong International Airport, SKYCITY is set to be a super-regional connector accessible by air, sea and land via trains, cars and buses. Connected by a series of sky bridges, the project is centrally linked to the airport, Airport Express, Asia World Expo, Future Regal Hotel, and the surrounding Northern Lantau NCD sites. The scheme’s positioning will see it play a key role in driving the future growth of the Greater Bay Area and the Belt and Road initiatives.
“We work within an extremely dynamic market in Asia and the expertise we have gained across the region is capturing the attention of clients in new markets abroad. Boundaries are blurring, but our approach to delivering people-centric design remains at our heart. It is the value of this quality that is now being called upon by a wider range of sectors,” says Christine.
Recently, Lead8 won the international competition for one of Shenzhen’s largest urban regeneration projects – the Hubei Coordination Urban Renewal Project.
It is a significant scheme for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and presents a challenge as a high-density site for renewal of a 500-year-old village. The team is delivering the retail architecture design and retail planning for the A1-A4 plots.
Ultimately, the renewal scheme will deliver commercial and residential real estate, as well as cultural and tourism opportunities in a major urban complex based around five subway stations, with the regeneration of Old Hubei at its core.
I’m passionate about leading and encouraging connections between people, cities and projects globally.
Their expertise has also been called upon by clients stepping into new sectors. In one such case, an international hotel group appointed Lead8 to lead its foray into mixed-use destinations with the transformation and expansion of a single-use hotel into an urban resort combining luxury hotel, business, retail, dining and entertainment.
“We always adapt and evolve, thinking beyond trends and perceived boundaries. We believe this is why our clients trust us as a partner to venture into new realms and possibilities,” says Christine.
Management by design
Christine sits comfortably in an intermediary role between the design and operational divisions of the business. She must balance the creative input of architects and designers with the financial and operational realities of maintaining a secure business.
While that requires careful balancing, finding synergy between the platforms of creativity and operations is an immensely rewarding facet of her position.
“Our approach to business is creative. My greatest achievement here at Lead8 is the platform we have built to support our designers to deliver the work they do so brilliantly while at the same time growing our business successfully. It’s not always easy, but working in a creative industry has also shown us how to be creative in the operational management and leadership of our company,” she explains.
“While running a successful architecture and design firm involves the close collaboration of our creative people, operations teams and management groups, we like to keep our business model simple. At the end of the day, it is about allowing your teams to focus on what they do best.”
At Lead8, that means recognising that they are the sum of their people. As Christine explains, “Our people drive our business – we want to look after them, nurture their growth, and expand their opportunities. If you have great people, you get great results.”
Leading by example
Christine’s discreet leadership style hinges on motivation and guidance rather than overt authority. She is a devotee of teams working to achieve outcomes based on considered agreement between the best talent for each project.
This management style also gives every employee an opportunity to speak their mind about projects or internal office activity, supporting contributions to and direct involvement in most facets of the business.
The results, she points out, are engaged employees and greater productivity. “To be successful is to show your colleagues that you believe in them. It helps to build resilience,” Christine says.
“In any business, there are ups and downs. Fostering leadership in our teams brings confidence and an ability to stay measured, calm, and remember the big picture when responding.”
Based on a glance around the offices, it seems Lead8 has a spirit and dynamism that only youth can provide. It comes as no surprise then that they place a great importance on fostering and supporting the next generation.
“We might look young, but our mindset in the way we operate is actually based on experience. I believe that generations change trends. We have to trust young talent in our studios, our universities and our schools. We should always keep our imaginations open to the ideas of our future leaders,” Christine declares.
Each week, Lead8 conducts Design Review Forums in the studio and all project team members are invited to join in. Engaging young designers in discussion brings fresh insight and innovative ideas, while constantly reviewing and critiquing internally allows the best minds to challenge the process.
“Unlike other studios, we empower and encourage the younger generation to contribute their new ideas to real projects. Through mentorship, we are building our own collaborative community,” says Christine.
“In my job, I love to energise and inspire people and give them the opportunity to grow to who they want to be. We allow them to explore opinions and share them within the studio. I have seen people grow, projects built and communities thrive. I love that.”
The power of relationships
Central to every building project is having the expertise on hand to see them come to fruition. Lead8’s relationships with its contemporaries in the building industry have developed on a personal level through mutual respect.
They now count some of the world’s most recognised property owners, developers and operators as their trusted clients and partners.
“To influence change and bring new ideas to the industry, we need to have the trust and belief of our clients and partners. Being able to build meaningful relationships with the people and businesses we have collectively worked alongside for many years is a real source of pride for us,” says Christine.
We always adapt and evolve, thinking beyond trends and perceived boundaries.
“My advice to any professional is to keep connecting, because when you connect with people you can learn from them. That desire to learn from others pops up in her own advice from mentors in her career. It’s also a driver of her obvious ambition.
“I’m an achiever and observer,” she says. “I was told once, by far the best thing you can do in life is invest in yourself and never stop learning, as life never stops teaching. Think smarter and learn quicker, because nobody can take that away from you.”Giving back what she has learned and achieved drives Christine and her passion for philanthropy, which she has perpetuated at Lead8.
Building a company culture which saw the value in being a model corporate citizen was a personal mission.
“Co-founding a business has given me the opportunity to contribute to the world around me on a larger scale – and invite my colleagues to join me on this quest,” she enthuses.
“Building up the next generation, supporting communities in need and doing our part to make a difference through our corporate social responsibility program brings tremendous fulfilment.”
Lead8 takes most of her attention, but Christine does find moments for herself when the opportunity arises.
Typically of many senior executives, though, her business life is her primary focus and will likely be for the foreseeable future. But the satisfaction that her dedication to the business brings more than makes up for the many hours she gives it.
“The business does take over, and it’s hard sometimes to balance between work and my private life, as the clock is always ticking and trends are always changing,” she says.
Located in the heart of Shenzhen’s HouHai district, Shenzhen Bay MixC is an 80,000-square-metre high-end, contemporary, lifestyle-oriented retail, dining, entertainment (RDE) destination that blends the urban context with art, landscape and cultural elements. The project vision for the four-level MixC Shenzhen Bay was to create a new lifestyleoriented and landscape-enhanced urban retail experience for the wider community. The architecture of the retail complex, a new civic heart and commercial hub, is inspired by an open box concept. Lead8 chose to invert the retail complex from the traditional ‘closed box’ to an open box, delivering a vibrant and vivid visual effect. Since its opening, MixC Shenzhen Bay has gone on to win multiple design awards with the International Council of Shopping Centres in Asia Pacific and China, MIPIM Asia and A&D China.
“At the end of the day, it’s very important your closest relationships are always there for you.” Christine is a voracious reader – “I’m always learning,” she says – which keeps her motivated beyond the confines of work, and she enjoys time away from the office with her family.
Her love of books even stretches to her perspective on people and their quirks. “In a way, everyone I meet is just like a book on a bookshelf. Everyone has a unique character, and the content of each book showcases the characteristics of individualism,” she quips.
“But I’m focused on work at the moment because I’m passionate about Lead8. I have the support of allies and fellow pioneers in my life. Their belief and encouragement are powerful.” Powerful indeed, as Christine and her colleagues in Lead8 embrace the rewards of major international success.