Collective Infrastructures: the landscape of Hong Kong’s public housing

MLA Thesis Section (2016-17)

Related Staff : Ivan Valin

Students: CHANG Leung Kong Jack; LAI Yat Long Leo; SO Kit Wai Kit; WONG Kit Man Kitty

The theses in this track will argue for an expanded role for landscape architecture in the planning, design, implementation, and management of public housing. Despite a tendency to consider public housing as a homogenizing state endeavour, we will recognize that the project to produce affordable mass housing is a complex and contested practice emerging out of particular political and bureauctatic institutions, shifting economic realities, and diverse social and cultural expectations (Forrest, 2013). With a stock of nearly 1.2 million units–home to nearly half of the city’s population–the Hong Kong Housing Authority is one of the largest landlords in the world (Yip, 2013). Though not without its critiques, the housing program in Hong Kong is generally perceived as a success and a potential model, especially when compared to the failure of public housing in the West (Castells, Goh, & Kwok, 1990; Forrest & Yip, 2014; Glendinning, 2014; Pryor, 1983; Yeh & Fong, 1984). Nonetheless, this track posits that the public housing project in Hong Kong has failed to capitalize on the social and ecological potential that might accompany such massive urban public-realm investments. This wasn’t always so. For more than a decade after 1973, the need for public housing was leveraged to markedly expand the city—housing was part of a comprehensive system of urban development in the New Territories. Landscape was a critical component of this system, linking individuals to their estates, estates to their urban plans, and new towns to their territory (Bristow, 1989). Today, these estates are still important reserves of urban biodiversity (Zhang & Jim, 2014) and cultural heritage (Chiu, 2004). In the planning and implementing housing projects today, by contrast, bureaucratic accounting has overwhelmed any discourse on public space and ecology in the city. New directives promoting site-specific design, prefabrication, and biodiversity are not meaningfully incorporated into the Housing Authority’s standard practices. Research in this track will rely on a methodology of case-study research (Francis, 2001), taken in both cross-sectional and longitudinal dimensions. We will critically assess the impact that both policy and regulation have on the built landscapes of public housing, and compare the language of regulations with that of promotion. Finally, we will test the spatial implications of new construction and modeling technologies and seek to embed housing into a data-rich smart-city planning initiatives. Thesis projects will argue that housing can perform beyond the individual estate, as a site for innovation within the program, and as a collective infrastructure binding settlement to its urban and ecological contexts.

Student theses this year included:
“Disaggregating Housing” by CHANG Leung Kong Jack;
“(Re)build the Green Belt: Exploring a New Relationship between Housing, Recreation, Circulation and Environment” by LAI Yat Long Leo;
“Enduring Landscape: Sequential lifespan planning to create larger and more connected landscape with public housing” by SO Kit Wai Kit; and
“Biophilic Estate: Public housing as landscape infrastructure to reformulate the urban fringe” by WONG Kit Man Kitty.

Enlarge Photo: Kit SO Kit Wai
Enlarge Photo: Kit SO Kit Wai
Enlarge Photo: Kit SO Kit Wai

Enlarge Photo: Collective Infrastructures: the landscape of Hong Kong’s public housing 4