Try a Little Slenderness: Explorations on the Hong Kong Pencil Tower

Related Staff : Jason Carlow

Instructor: Jason Carlow
Students: Stanley Cheng, Joyce Lee, Jan Henao, Joni Low, Li Liang, Sharon Zhang, Mae Yeung, Wu Yue, Meng Tingzhen, Jenny Tong, Kenneth Leung, Javidh Shaik

Hong Kong’s political system, geography and population make it one of the densest urban environments in the world. In recent years skyrocketing real estate prices fed by profit driven developers and a deluge of investment and speculation from the Chinese mainland has led to shrinking apartment sizes and more expensive real estate. Hong Kong’s pencil towers are an architectural byproduct of these extreme urban conditions.

Students in this studio studied the economic, architectural and regulatory conditions that make these extreme buildings possible to build in Hong Kong and focused specifically on residential towers with only one apartment per floor. Initial student research work included the survey and documentation of over 50 pencil towers in Hong Kong as well as research on Hong Kong’s restrictive building codes. Students were encouraged to bend the rules of the building code to create new possibilities for the world’s most slender building type.

Using digital software and physical models, the studio worked within extremely tight constraints to develop innovative structural, programmatic and circulatory strategies. The semester included workshops with real estate developers, structural engineers and local practitioners. Students worked collaboratively in teams of two on the final project to design towers sited in the Kowloon City neighborhood of Hong Kong. The resultant projects explored a range of new ideas that included mixed public/private programs, alternative siting strategies, making double use of circulation spaces, variable unit sizes and extreme structural proposals.