All interventions require design. One of the distinctive approaches of HKUrbanLabs is the recognition that physical design and institutional design of the built environment go hand-in-hand.


HKUrbanLabs is the newly branded research arm of the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Architecture (FoA). It draws together the research and outreach energies of scholars of architecture, conservation, construction management, housing, landscape, planning, real estate, surveying, transport, urban design, urban economics and urban studies. Its collective endeavour is to better understand, plan, design, produce, govern and manage cities of the 21st century.

Being located at the epicenter of an urbanization experiment unprecedented in history, HKUrbanLabs has a strong emphasis on research into high-density and rapidly growing cities, including rural-urban linkages and settlements in the hinterlands and heartlands of mega-city regions.

HKUrbanLabs is anchored by the researchers in HKU’s Faculty of Architecture, but provides a focus for urban researchers across the University and in international and Mainland China partner universities via the research labs and centres described below. Its home is the ten-floor 1960s Knowles Building perched on the forested hillside of HKU’s 100 year old Pokfulam Campus, where it is supported by various technical facilities, all currently in operation but in the process of moving to newly renovated bespoke homes over the next two years. These include an urban big data iLab (completion expected early 2016); Urban Gallery (completion expected 2017); Architectural Conservation Laboratory  (ACLab); Built Environmental Science Lab (completion expected 2017); and Fabrication Lab (completion expected 2017).


A highly regarded centre well known across the world for three decades of urban research on Asian cities, CUSUP is currently focusing research on sustainable urban development and high-density environments; urban and regional development in China; urban GIS methodologies; spatial economy and planning; housing policy and social development; and urban policy and governance. Its researchers are spread across FoA departments and Faculty of Science (Geography Department) and it works closely with scholars in the Ronald Coase Centre for Property Rights Research.


Unique in the world, this Centre is linked to the US-based Ronald Coase Institute and conducts urban research through the powerful lens of institutional economic theory, inspired by the heterodox economics of Nobel Laureate, the late Ronald Coase. Current foci in the Centre include institutional real estate market analysis; institutional analysis of land development, conservation and urbanization; low-income housing in China; gated communities and private urban governance; empirical analysis of regulatory urban planning; and linking spatial analysis, economic optimization, institutional analysis and urban design.


The Centre focuses on the study of historical Chinese architecture and urban spaces, addressing the culture, social and geographical relevance of tradition for contemporary design. Facing the challenges of accelerating development of urban and rural landscapes in China, the Centre studies traditional architecture, landscape and urban spaces to develop strategies for sustaining architectural, cultural, ecological and community landscapes. Its work includes design, conservation, history and theory, architectural criticism and curatorial research and practice.


HealthyHDCities brings together researchers from the Faculty of Architecture and Faculty of Medicine and conducts research on the underlying links between built environment and public health; built environment epidemiology; big data, urban mobility and healthy transport; building climatology and smart health profiling of indoor environments; landscape urbanism and health; and healthy construction practices. It emphasizes innovative technology and big data, for example being the first in the world to develop the spatial technology for conducting large-scale gene-built-social-environment studies of urban health at a national scale (in collaboration with the UKBiobank); using serious video gaming and smart construction object modeling for health and safety planning and training on construction sites; developing new algorithms for optimizing walking and landscaping in urban design; and lab experiments of landscape-health effects. HealthyHDCities is at the centre of a new healthy cities international consortium that includes HKU, Oxford University, Cambridge University, Lund University, Melbourne University and Queen’s University Belfast.


SustainableHDCities brings together researchers from HKU Faculty of Architecture, Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Science to create a lab that specializes in multi-scale environmental modeling and built-environmental physics and other science. Multi-scale means building-interiors, single buildings, clusters of buildings, spaces between buildings, up to the entire city envelope, mega-city regions and systems of cities. It has projects that look at built environmental performance at the microbial level, such as transit systems and bank notes as urban pathways for pathogens, and at the urban system scale, for example, modeling pollution performance across the entire Chinese settlement system. SustainableHDCities is part of the network of building, architectural, environmental and urban physics research labs in National University of Singapore, Cardiff University, Tianjing University, Tongji University, University College London, CUHK and Cambridge University.


Rural Urban Lab is dedicated to investigating the processes of rural to urban transformation. The Lab is a platform for both design and research, supporting writing, exhibitions and the design and construction of buildings.   Through a multi-disciplinary approach, the Lab collaborates with engineers, landscape architects, academics, charities and local governments. Projects include schools, community centers, hospitals, village houses, bridges, and incremental planning strategies. Building on almost ten years of active engagement in such work, the Lab has developed a unique approach to creating links between social, economic and political processes and the physical transformation of rural towns and villages. Much of its work operates as Rural Urban Framework – an award-winning collaboration between Joshua Bolchover and John Lin.


The HKU Fabrication and Material Technologies Lab is dedicated to the exploration of innovative construction techniques. With state-of-the-art fabrication facilities at the University of Hong Kong and situated within the Pearl River Delta’s global manufacturing region, the Centre is well-positioned to conduct research that spans boundaries between academia and industry. Research ranges from projects that deal with advanced computational techniques to projects that tap into low-tech, regional labor skill sets.  A series of industrial partners connected to the Centre expand the potential for knowledge exchange and open pathways for practical applications and large-scale production. Current research foci include re-configurable form-work systems for concrete casting, development of novel structural systems, non-standard modules for building facades and automation of traditional joinery systems.


The Urban Ecologies Design Lab aims to explore socially and environmentally responsible design strategies for the contemporary city. Its mandate is to explore design in parallel with research in social science, arts and humanities and architectural history and theory. By understanding the city as interacting and evolving urban systems comprising communities, economies, environments, and constructions. Designs become hypotheses to test theoretical ideas. They adjust the way urban systems interrelate and create spaces of connections at multiple urban scales. UEDL has a strong interest in the informal high density living conditions of low-income households in East Asia, including China’s so-called villages in the city and Hong Kong’s so-called cage-homes.


iLab is an urban big data hub housed on the 7th floor of the Knowles Building, the University of Hong Kong that supports the entire suite of HKUrbanLabs. It facilitates multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary urban big data collection, storage, analysis, and presentation to inform decision-making in urban development. iLab is a repository for urban big data from Geographical Information Systems (GIS), Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Urban Remote Sensing (URS), satellite and airborne Remote Sensing (RS), Building Information Modeling (BIM), facilities  and asset management and other sources. iLab is a focus for research across the urban disciplines and works closely with other groups in HKUrbanLabs, especially the Centre for Urban Studies and Urban Planning, HealthyHDCities, SustainableHDCites and the Ronald Coase Centre for Property Rights Research, all of which heavily use urban big data. iLab also has its own unique research remit to integrate big data in pursuit of integrated modeling of smart urban development, combining smart community, smart infrastructure, smart construction, smart property and facilities management and Internet of Things (IoTs).  iLab’s research into integrated project delivery (IPD), serious video gaming technologies and virtual design and construction (VDC) is underpinned by conventional research in the field of construction management and links with architectural, urban design and urban planning data and modeling to yield new insights about optimizing design and production of the built environment across scales and professional disciplines. iLab contributes to teaching within and across the disciplinary boundaries in urban development by use of its computational technologies, research output and integrated approach to problem solving. iLab runs a specialist 5D-BIM Lab in Shanghai, which occupies the 4th floor of the Faculty’s Shanghai Study Centre. 5D-BIM Lab is a partnership teaching and research investment with leading German technology firm RIB, providing a unique facility to work on projects that integrate digital models of the entire building life-cycle specified in 3D+time+cost (5D). The lab provides an outreach facility for teaching, research and industry engagement in China and beyond, in collaboration with our partner universities.


The mission of the Virtual Reality Lab of Urban Environments & Human Health (UEHH) is to understand how and to what extent urban environments, especially urban green spaces, influence human health and wellbeing.  Researchers in the lab are concerned with understanding and measure the influence through multiple approaches including psychological, physiological, and hormonal measures of human health.
The lab uses two types of experimental sites for research: Virtual urban environments and real urban environments. Researchers will use the immersive virtual environments as surrogates of real urban environments. In a controlled lab setting, researchers will expose participants to a variety of stimuli while record participants’ responses through a variety of physiological devices or psychological instruments. Researchers then can gauge and compare impacts of different environment features or conditions. Researchers will also conduct experimental research in the real urban environments by using mobile devices or instruments. The research will contribute to the body of knowledge on how to create appropriate urban environments to promote human health and wellbeing.


The Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities Initiative (AUHI) comprises a group of designers, theorists, and historians at the University of Hong Kong. Collectively, we work to understand how buildings and cities shape our relationship to each other and to the world at large.
Our research methods are qualitative in nature. We acknowledge and embrace the difficulties in measuring the affects, ambiguities, ethics, and impulses that often comprise architectural and urban space. Our scholarship incorporates a range of interdisciplinary approaches, including visual forms of argumentation native to the design professions as well as archival and ethnographic modes of inquiry. We also situate our research in conversation with emerging scholarship on buildings and cities in fields ranging from anthropology to history to science and technology. Our research materials comprise images, objects, and texts. Collectively, we consider architecture and the city as temporal as well as spatial entities, which makes our work both projective as well as retrospective in nature.

Architectural Conservation Laboratory (ACLab)

The ACLab is a purpose-built conservation laboratory to serve as a teaching, research and professional service unit within the Division of Architectural Conservation Programmes. In the process of architectural conservation, it is not only important to understand the artistic and historical aspects and the social and cultural context of a building or site, but also it is crucial to acquire in-depth knowledge of their materials and properties and degradation processes in order to find an appropriate conservation approach. The ACLab supports material conservation teaching and learning and advocates international best practice for the conservation of cultural heritage. The laboratory combines scientific research with practical conservation procedures in accordance with the highest standards of best practice.

In architectural conservation, the ACLab provides professional services to consult heritage conservation projects, with research and analysis of materials and recommendations for interventions. The ACLab also engages in research in the broader field of conservation science, such as investigation and analysis of cultural heritage materials and historical craftsmanship. The laboratory is equipped with analytical instruments such as an x-ray diffraction analyzer, thermography camera, Fourier Transform infrared spectrograph, portable Raman and stereo- and polarized Light microscopes.

The laboratory collaborates with the HKU Departments of Chemistry, Physics and Earth Science and other overseas conservation laboratories and research institutions to expand its range of conservation based analytical services and professional scientific expertise.

Social Infrastructure for Equity and Wellbeing

Building upon the research team’s two decades of studies on urban (re)development, urban poverty, low-income housing, complex self-organising urban systems,  spontaneous social order, and gated communities; and supported by ongoing GRF and NSFC research projects, the SIEW lab brings together multi-disciplinary researchers from Europe, US, Australia, Japan, Mainland China and Hong Kong. Their shared interest is in probing the long lasting and deep seated problems of growth and inequality in three major types of urban social infrastructure, namely housing, healthcare, and education, with an ultimate interest in improving opportunity, equity and wellbeing among urban citizens. Synthesising theories and methodologies from multiple disciplines, the SIEW lab draws on critical urban theories, as well as behavioural economics, political, sociological, psychological and spatial theories about welfare, health, education and housing systems and regimes. SIEW’s specific foci include 1) formal and informal affordable housing development in developing economies; 2) multi-dimensional housing inequalities under financialisation in pandemic-stricken megacities; 3) uneven distribution of high-quality healthcare resources and resultant patient mobility and physician mobility; and 4) emerging forms of neighbourhood order, including for example, gated communities featuring privileged access to education service and exclusive residential environments and the systemic implications for equity in education, housing and urban resilience.

Built Heritage Research Collaborative

In recent years, heritage conservation has become a growing subject of concern across all built environment disciplines. Built heritage, including not only architectural monuments but also diverse types of buildings, former industrial sites, large-scale infrastructures and entire landscapes are being increasingly revitalized for new uses and inscribed with new values and significance. These developments highlight heritage conservation as a dynamic, future-oriented practice that will play a key role in guiding long-term planning of cities and regions and providing alternative models of sustainable development.
The aim of Built Heritage Research Collaborative (BHRC) is to develop collaborative research projects and facilitate the exchange of knowledge between different built environment researchers and practitioners working on conservation and heritage-related issues with a focus on Hong Kong and the Greater China and Asia-Pacific regions. By engaging with new challenges to heritage protection in the 21st century, BHRC members seek to generate theoretical and practical insights on conservation and develop policy initiatives on sustainable, long term conservation planning and heritage management.