Studio Laos: Strategic Landscape Planning for the Greater Mekong

Strategic Landscape Planning for the Greater Mekong builds on seven years of design-based experiential learning across mainland Southeast Asia by the Division of Landscape Architecture. This year, focusing on the regional impacts of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in northern Laos, students spend one term engaging issues of development vis-à-vis landscape architecture to define problems and produce innovative planning proposals. To build their knowledge base, students synthesized, through maps and diagrams, geography and anthropology literature on Laos’s major drivers of landscape change, including land reallocation polices, protected area development, watershed planning, drug eradication, illegal timber trade, and artisanal and corporate mining practices. Having not visited Laos this term due to the pandemic, we took the opportunity to reinforce critical approaches to planning, in which we understand our “sites” as inherently multi-sited constructs dominated by different stakeholders’ perspectives. In place of their field trip, each student was assigned pairs of existing development projects that we visited in previous years, and they were instructed to imagine the frictions between those sites’ ideologies, aims, expertise, and longer histories. For their strategic planning proposals, students each asked difficult questions of development and sustainability practices, including: Challenging impact assessment scope; qualifying the remediation potential of Chinese contract farming; bridging scientific study and community forestry; mitigating the industrialization and over-harvesting of species for traditional medicine; and exploring overlaps between mass ecotourism, protected areas and the illegal wildlife trade. Students had their work juried by a mix of ecologists, sociologists, geographers, activists, and philanthropists, in addition to designers and planners.

Post-Industrial Waterfront: Research of Sustainable Planning Strategies at Industrial Legacy Site

Students were given the ‘wicked problem’ of identifying and trying to resolve the complex and conflicting issues of urban renewal at wide planning horizons in scale and time. The urban industrial waterfront site at Gin Drinkers Bay offered multiple difficulties associated with access, connectivity, identity, contamination and inefficient land use. In assessing the area from differing micro and macro perspectives, students were led though systematic techniques to help enable them to evaluate and filter out relevant and targeted project programming inputs through the generation of overarching project goals, sustainability objectives and detailed and localised implementation strategies. Explorations included projecting complex urban scenarios forward with vision and flexibility, ranging from infrastructure and urban morphology to social and natural systems, the norms for which are anticipated to change dramatically through the future periods of implementation. Such approaches were developed for critical decision making at an urban scale, specifically highlighting the necessity for understanding policy, funding and recurrent cost implications over the short, medium and long terms as well as the resultant implications for landscape design. Deliverables were presented through a variety of media including class presentations using time control techniques, individual and collaborative video documentary, and final submission of a Project Study Report accompanied by a promotional video. See more on https://arch4701fall2020.hku.hk/.

In Between the Collective and the Individual: Co-designing with Multiple Communities in Shek Kip Mei

The fourth BA(LS) design studio intends to introduce students to the core concepts of community design through research, dialogue, and design production. As an introduction to community design methods, the design process emphasizes the necessity to understand the complex and dynamic nature of communities; the development of empathy and trust; the application of appropriate tools and sensitive approaches to design together with the stakeholders and create designs that cater to the different needs of the many different parties involved; and finally, the consideration of programme and the different types of boundaries and gradual transitions between varying degrees of publicness among different community spaces. The principles of community design will be applied to the Shek Kip Mei area, which is the first public housing neighbourhood in Hong Kong. Over the years, the Shek Kip Mei Estate has been redeveloped several times since its first appearance as resettlement housing as an aftermath of the 1953 Shek Kip Mei fire. The study area of this studio covers the larger Shek Kip Mei area roughly defined by Tai Po Road, Cornwall Street, Nam Shan Estate, and the Tai Hang Tung Estate (refer to Studio Map). The area is defined by two hills, a general topography that slopes up towards the northern direction and characterised by a predominantly public housing landscape that is situated between the private developments of Shamshuipo and Kowloon Tong.

“…by nature”

‘Landscape’, can be understood as a dynamic assembly of natural systems in continuous interaction with human systems, operating at multiple scales (from site to territory) and across different time periods. Landscape planners, designers and managers need to be able to recognize these systems, their interrelationships and the forces behind them, so that they can anticipate change and develop responses that generate resilient outcomes. In this studio we explored the landscape systems of the Port Shelter Area of Sai Kung, and saw how the form of urban development has responded to the natural, e.g. how the surface water drainage system is based on the natural hydrological pattern; how the design of the sea wall responds to tidal actions and storm events; and how the form and orientation of the buildings takes account of patterns of sunlight and seasonal winds. From this we developed a series of management and design strategies for varied sites around the Inner Port Shelter that were responsive to anticipated environmental and societal changes. The studio helps develop foundational skills in ‘reading’ landscapes and ultimately for assessing their specific qualities and functions, as well as reflecting on the language of landscape architecture. Through selected landscape case-studies, readings, and technical exercises, we examined theories that underpin our ideas of landscape, and explored relationships between the built and the natural, at multiple scales and across time.

Constructing Landscapes

The relationship between the representation of landscapes and the production of landscapes are integral. Drawings, models, or other types of representational tools offer possibilities in understanding the landscape in different ways and are a critical part of the design process rather than simply a presentation tool. In this studio, we shifted between drawings and models, experimenting with an iterative and cyclical process of documentation and speculation. Students used established means of representation to develop a composite and complex understanding of the landscape. The studio examined the relationships between people and the natural and built environment. Through a series of exercises, students developed their skills in landscape architectural representation; identified and analyzed key aspects that shape a site context; developed a vocabulary to build landscape experiences and proposed appropriate interventions in natural and developed contexts. The final design exercise was sited on the Jubilee Battery, an area rich in history and subtropical ecology in Hong Kong Island. Remnants of Hong Kong’s coastal defense batteries are juxtaposed with a newly constructed educational facility, bringing a diverse set of users to the site. Students explored a dynamic palimpsest of the site which led them to the design of a path and a sequence of outdoor spaces.

Tree Museum

The studio had two main goals: to consolidate the basic design vocabulary (elements and principles of design) explored in Design Studio 1A; and to anchor the planting knowledge obtained in ARCH 2105 Plants and Design 1. Students started the studio selecting a tree species to study and analyse. In addition to their recently acquired botanical knowledge, they developed a broader understanding of the tree informed by the artistic, social and cultural aspects that define it. Students also looked into the physical features of the tree. They produced abstract drawings and models, gradually distilling into a spatial concept some of the characteristics that make the observed trees more distinctive. After these considerations and formal explorations, students went on to develop the concept for a specific site in Hong Kong: Red Brick Hill. The brief asked them to imagine an open-air museum dedicated to showcase an indefinite number of specimens of their choice. Concepts combining previous formal abstractions and socio-cultural association were confronted with the temporal and spatial changing needs that resulted in ephemeral studies and growing scenarios. The open-air museums seen here provide a valuable catalogue, not only of trees, but of landscape designers’ dilemmas and the attitudes and tools at play to solve them.

Body and Object

The studio works as a design primer, and as such, it introduces students for the first time to the elements and principles of design. Small scale objects and the spatial relations we establish with them formed the basis of our work. Three projects were proposed. The first exercise took students to explore familiar streets and their objects through the lens of a designer. Random walks inspired by the situationists’ derives were performed. Students represented their walks and chosen objects or situations through diagrams, photography, and drawing. The second exercise took students to play with origami-like structures. Following a set of given constraints, they transformed a piece of cardboard into a three-dimensional object; an object with no assigned use. The resulting useless object was then transformed by linking it to a function borrowed from one of the objects found in their previous walks. Finally, students worked on a site-specific intervention. Taking Bernard Tschumi’s follies as a starting point, students proposed 12 structures to host a temporary aviary on the Peak. The project, called micro-follies, continued to explore matters such as human scale, movement, and perception in space.

Studio Laos: Strategic Landscape Planning for the Greater Mekong

Strategic Landscape Planning for the Greater Mekong builds on seven years of design-based experiential learning across mainland Southeast Asia by the Division of Landscape Architecture. This year, focusing on the regional impacts of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in northern Laos, students spend one term engaging issues of development vis-à-vis landscape architecture to define problems and produce innovative planning proposals. To build their knowledge base, students synthesized, through maps and diagrams, geography and anthropology literature on Laos’s major drivers of landscape change, including land reallocation polices, protected area development, watershed planning, drug eradication, illegal timber trade, and artisanal and corporate mining practices. Having not visited Laos this term due to the pandemic, we took the opportunity to reinforce critical approaches to planning, in which we understand our “sites” as inherently multi-sited constructs dominated by different stakeholders’ perspectives. In place of their field trip, each student was assigned pairs of existing development projects that we visited in previous years, and they were instructed to imagine the frictions between those sites’ ideologies, aims, expertise, and longer histories. For their strategic planning proposals, students each asked difficult questions of development and sustainability practices, including: Challenging impact assessment scope; qualifying the remediation potential of Chinese contract farming; bridging scientific study and community forestry; mitigating the industrialization and over-harvesting of species for traditional medicine; and exploring overlaps between mass ecotourism, protected areas and the illegal wildlife trade. Students had their work juried by a mix of ecologists, sociologists, geographers, activists, and philanthropists, in addition to designers and planners.

Post Industrial Riverfront: Research of Sustainable Planning Strategies at Industrial Legacy Site

Students were given the ‘wicked problem’ of identifying and trying to resolve the complex and conflicting issues of urban renewal at wide planning horizons in terms of both scale and time. The urban industrial waterfront site at Gin Drinkers Bay offered multiple difficulties associated with access, connectivity, identity, contamination, and inefficient land use. In assessing the area from differing micro and macro perspectives, students were led through systematic techniques to help enable them to evaluate and filter out relevant and targeted project programming inputs through the generation of overarching project goals, sustainability objectives, and detailed and localized implementation strategies. Explorations included projecting complex urban scenarios forward with vision and flexibility, ranging from infrastructure and urban morphology to social and natural systems, the norms for which are anticipated to change dramatically through the future periods of implementation. Such approaches were developed for critical decision making at an urban scale, specifically highlighting the necessity for understanding policy and funding, and recurrent cost implications over the short, medium, and long terms, as well as the resultant implications for landscape design. Deliverables were presented through a variety of media, including class presentations using time control techniques, an individual and collaborative video documentary, and final submission of a Project Study Report accompanied by a promotional video.

Project Post-Industrial Riverfront: Research of Sustainable Planning Strategies at Industrial Legacy site

Shanghai’s Yangpu district began its industrial development when the Qing Dynasty approved and built the first paper factory in China in 1882. Numerous other factories were built in the district in the following decades, many of which became the earliest factory of that kind in China. Due to the need for water for factory operations, and the fact that the major means of transportation was by ship at that time, most of the industrial plants were built along the Huangpu riverfront of Yangpu District because of the ease of acquiring water both as an industrial resource and as a means of transporting materials and goods. This resulted in a remarkable urban industrial scene along the Yangpu waterfront. In project 1, ‘Urban Strategy Practice,’ students recorded, interpreted, and researched the site, finding the significant elements of urban developments and translating the findings into collage maps and sections. Photo documentation and critical mapping were crucial tools for the students to understand man-made infrastructure and natural systems. After a suggested site was provided for further study, students continued their analysis on a neighborhood-scale, building upon the research from the large scale networks. In project 2, ‘ Site Design,’ students engaged with the design and planning of an urban regeneration strategy based on the research and analysis from project 1. Presentation strategies for large scale projects were one of the training focuses and were developed for the final review.