Composite Hong Kong: urban habitation in section

Related Staff : Eunice Seng

The agenda for the studio is threefold: to ANALYZE the city, so as to SPECULATE new habitation within the city, and to EXHIBIT that city.

Architecture and Urban Design II
Spring 2014 MArch course ARCH 4002
Studio Instructor: Dr. Eunice SENG

In a dense and topographically rugged city, the master plan is rendered obsolete as soon as it touches the ground. At that scale, it encounters too many obstacles, literally. In one sense, other than the capitalist imperatives of this city, it is not surprising that planning has occurred primarily in patchwork manner, one or at most a few blocks at a time. This is a city where tabula rasa is created by addition, through reclamation, rather than removal / demolition. It is also a place where slope management technology and know-how is amongst the most advanced in the world. Paradoxically, in a city where the ground is especially critical in that it is an organic, fluctuating datum that is neither natural nor artificial, the plan remains the only paradigm in the organization of the city and its inhabitants.

The relationship between the plan and the section has been predominantly orthographic. The one either seeks to explicate what the other could not, or elaborates upon what the other hints at. At the scale of the urban, Le Corbusier is typically attributed but not Adolf Loos; his space plan remained referenced mainly at the interior domestic scale. Experiments in the relationship between the two saw artist-architects like Gerrit Rietveld and Theo van Doesburg in the 1920s, the Dutch structuralists in the mid-twentieth century, and more recently the Japanese re-popularized the isometric drawing.

The attempts by Paul Rudolph, the Team 10, Kenzo Tange, and the Southeast Asian SPUR group (1965-71) et al, to integrate the architectural and urban into megastructural networks predicated on infrastructure came to a halt when it became obvious that engineers would take up the task. The networks remain (metro, tube, mtr…) but urban architecture went on its high-rise high-density path aka Delirious New York and a new found skyscraper theorem based on a turn-of-the-century sketch. Arguably, the MTR mode of development overrides any imagination by the public of the underground, ensuring that the city in section exists within itself connected via the commuter network, and less with the rest of the city.

Attempts by architects in the 1960s to design and present alternate worlds were decried as utopian. Yet many of the projects, when examined closely, asked the problematic questions of air rights, the value of urban accretion over demolition, temporal and impermanence, and posited the expansion of experience beyond the gravitational to incorporate the visual and psychological / psychogeographic. These questions invariably escape the conventions of the plan. This is not to say that we do without the plan or planning on the horizontal. Rather, the myriad conditions in Hong Kong point to the urgency of: 1. revealing the spaces that escape the plan 2. rethinking planning development in the vertical dimension.

2014. The city is a vast complex of networks. But people still inhabit and desire to dwell in the city at a domestic scale. This studio contends that by analyzing the parts of the city which contain the layers of historical time, we will be able to find those spaces and the architectures that reintroduces back into the city the layers and complexities that are gradually flattened and demolished by the relentless onslaught of development.

At final, the studio shall produce 6 propositions on urban habitation. Each must be a reconsideration of and a challenge to the singular class-based provision of housing in the city (i.e. low-cost, housing, luxury housing,…), and delve into the composite nature inherent in urban experience.


The site is the cross-section of the city following the century-old Hong Kong tramway. Within the 15km track system between Kennedy Town to the West and Shau Kei Wan to the East, 6 sites are selected based on the following criteria:

  1. Each site covers an area that stretches between 2 tram stops (~300m distance).
  2. Each site contains a ground elevation change of at least 50m.
  3. Each site contains a population of >15,000 residents.
  4. Each site contains at one or more public space or park.
  5. Each site contains key composite buildings that narrates critical moments Hong Kong’s urban development.


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