Less Concrete More Jungle: Rethink the potential of urban concrete in Hong Kong triggered by new material science breakthroughs

Student: HE Jialei Constance

Supervisor: Ivan Valin
Thesis section: Toward a New Nature, or, Landscape's reckoning with technology
Programme: Master of Landscape Architecture
Date: June 2020


Cement is one of the most carbon-polluting industries in the global economy due to its heat generated grinding process. About 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions are attributed to concrete manufacturing each year. Hong Kong, as one of the notorious concrete jungles in the world, the expanding reclamation projects and the multilevel metropolis that built on the mountain has all substantiated that how ubiquitous is concrete in this city. However, the breakthroughs in materials science have enabled the concrete industry to obtain a more sustainable production and assembly process. For instance, the new biodegradable concrete, which establishes an organic substrate that can provide a living environment for creature through the net-like structure weaved by plant fibers inside, makes concrete no longer to be a monotonous and non-viable surface. Besides, other progress, like digital fabrication and material recycling, have provided multiple possibilities to challenge the conventional position for concrete in urban construction. Therefore, in responding to the new living concrete system, landscape architects need to re-conceived the existing construction process when using concrete as the building material for urban hardscapes and infrastructure such as roads, engineered slopes, drainage facilities, and structural wall to make way for new lightweight concreteless urban development. The traditional process that mixed sand, aggregate, and water in a large remote factory will also be replaced by a method that can extract the material from the urban natural environment. The new structural details about the conjunction and consumption of the concrete will be transformed due to the progress in materials science, to establish a material ecology of concrete in Hong Kong.

Keywords: concrete; material assemblage; material science; urban infrastructure; Hong Kong

Enlarge Photo: Hong Kong's annual carbon dioxide emissions have been maintained at a high level, the manufacturing and construction industry create over 5000 tonnes of greenhouse gas each year. By HE Jialei Constance.Enlarge Photo: The mapping shows the material dynamic of concrete; the urban infrastructure is used as a touchstone to study the carbon footprint of concrete in Hong Kong. By HE Jialei Constance.Enlarge Photo: The system divides the urban concrete into two types, low-grade concrete can be replaced by sustainable components, and the high-grade concrete can realize ecological function through redesigning their surface. By HE Jialei Constance.Enlarge Photo: The recycled material concrete, cement-less concrete, and biophilic concrete can activate the monotonous and non-viable urban concrete surface through their new ecological property. By HE Jialei Constance.Enlarge Photo: This scenario uses Tai Wai nullah as an example to explore the possible component of concrete. It shows the new landscape formed created by the design prototype and their activated water purification function. By HE Jialei Constance.Enlarge Photo: These functional concrete prototypes have changed their component and shape, aims to use the concrete itself to achieve water storage and purification, provide habitat for creatures, and increase biodiversity. By HE Jialei Constance.Enlarge Photo: Robinson Road with concrete cover slope and retaining wall is used to focus on their high-grade concrete performance, the strategy tries to use the concrete structure as a container, and achieve more ecological function. By HE Jialei Constance.Enlarge Photo: The morphological design makes references to natural plant growth habitat, aims to establish a living concrete structure. These prototypes follow the regulation, which is simple to fabricate and directly realize their performance. By HE Jialei Constance.