100 Drawings on Community

Aron Tsang Wai-Chun, Anthony Ko Chun-Ming and Rosalia Leung Ho-Ching first met while they were students in the Bachelor of Architecture programme. Nearly a decade later, a community-based project on Oil Street brought them back together.

In 2018, Tsang’s practice, Napp Studio and Architects, was chosen to mount an exhibition at Oi!, a government-run art space housed inside a century-old compound that was once the clubhouse for the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. “Oi! is about the community, its proximity and its heritage,” says Tsang. “We wanted to find a way to talk about public space with the people around it.”

Tsang banded together with Ko and Leung for the project. It wasn’t their first collaboration. Since graduating from HKU, the trio has worked on a number of projects that use street furniture to raise critical questions about Hong Kong’s urban space. In 2016, they developed Plus Furniture, a system of tables and benches that can be mounted on Hong Kong’s ubiquitous roadside fences. The concept was refined the following year in Park in the City, a colourful chair that hangs on the fences and doubles as a book-sharing shelf when it is folded up.

“We try to use urban furniture as a way to get people to acknowledge their city,” says Ko. For Oi!, the team designed a collection of mobile “drawing carts” where people could sketch impressions of their neighbourhood. Made of wood, the carts had a drafting table, a curtain with pockets for people to put their drawings and an awning to shield everything from the elements.

After building the carts, the designers wheeled them into the neighbourhood around Oil Street. They started by offering a tutorial on the basics of drawing and design, and they offered worksheets that people would be familiar with from their school days. “We started with some empty sheets of paper and little by little people draw what their community is about,” says Leung. “With this project we didn’t have a fixed outcome. It was about involving different perspectives.”

“We had much more feedback than we expected,” adds Tsang. What the public drew was revealing. One child sketched a view from his apartment window that was shrouded by construction scaffolding; another drew Victoria Harbour as seen through the pillars of the Island East Corridor, an expressway built above the water. Leung says these were “very acute observations” of the barriers people encounter in the urban landscape.

Other drawings were more cheerful. Interactions between kaifong — neighbours — was a common theme. “It’s interesting to see people’s different ways of seeing and thinking,” says Ko. And for these young architects, it underlines the need for design projects to be participatory. “I’ve always rejected the idea of architects as the sole designer [of a project],” says Tsang.

The exhibition that resulted from Tsang, Ko and Leung’s work was called 100 Drawings on Community, and it ran at Oi! in the summer of 2018. Dozens of community drawings were showcased alongside one of the mobile carts the architects had built.

Since then, the trio have each pursued their own projects, often with an eye towards the community. Leung currently works as a lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture and she is researching the role of public participation in the design process. She also leads workshops that pair architecture students with local residents, including one that led to the construction of a public eco-toilet in a rural village in Kam Tin.

Ko recently finished his Master of Architecture studies at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London, and he now works for the Hong Kong studio of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture. He also does drawing and installation work through his personal practice, Dilemma Studio.

Through Napp Studio, Tsang is working on a variety of projects, including a vitrine inside the JC Contemporary gallery at Tai Kwun, exhibition design for the Ambiguously Yours show at M+, and experimental furniture pieces developed in collaboration with other designers and craftspeople, including a stool made of hand-folded sheets of metal and a wooden lounge chair that was exhibited at the Salone del Mobile in Milan. “I like to work across scales,” he says. “It helps me think.”

In 2019, the three architects watched with interest as Hong Kong’s urban landscape was transformed by months of pro-democracy protests. Throughout the city, roadside fences were removed by protesters, which had the effect of freeing up spaces that had been previously regimented and constrained – although, ironically, it also eliminated the need for the public seating the trio had designed to be mounted on the fences.

They say it’s all part of the same process of public engagement. “It raises critical questions about how the city is configured,” says Ko. “The message is that ordinary citizens can get involved in shaping their city.”

Studio Ryte

For most people, life remained essentially unchanged until the Industrial Revolution, when everything from what they consume to where and how they live underwent a drastic transformation. Now the world is in the midst of another upheaval and Dennis Cheung thinks architecture needs to advance accordingly.

“Architecture is actually barely catching up with the fast changing lifestyle that artificial intelligence, big data and the shareable economy are shaping,” says Cheung, who graduated from the University of Hong Kong with a Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies in 2009, and a Master of Science in Construction Project Management in 2017, completing a master’s degree in architecture at MIT in between. Cheung is now a founding partner of Studio Ryte, an interdisciplinary design studio that, together with sister studio Levt, brings together architecture, furniture design and branding.

Cheung first became interested in architecture when he began wandering around Hong Kong with his film camera at the age of 16. “I was taking 20 rolls of films every month, capturing light and shadow in the city as well as my daily life,” he says. “I was intrigued by the city’s landscape and amazed by the old and new communities intertwined. I was not just interested in buildings on streets but also infrastructure like bridges and the underground.”

That early curiosity helped guide him towards his current path in architecture. Many of his projects involve experimenting with materials, including reclaimed teak wood, different types of plywood and, most recently, metal tube structures and folded sheet metal. “Exploring new materials not just aligns with my interest in engineering and fabrication but also creates the tools for architects and opens up possibilities for new functions and new experiences,” he says.

It’s something that is particularly important given the variety of his studio’s work. “I am experimenting with architectural thinking in different scales,” he says. “As a studio comprised of architects, product designers, furniture designers and interior designers, we exchange knowledge across disciplines through close collaborations in each project.”

Cheung says that approach is crucial at a time when architects need to be nimble and ready to address rapidly changing ways of life. Older, more hierarchical ways of designing just don’t work anymore, he says. “Better design is delivered as we operate beyond silos.”

Orient Occident Atelier

Hong Kong isn’t an easy place for a young architect to experiment. High land values and strict building regulations mean that smaller, risk-taking projects are often limited to conceptual installations or interior design. But Magic Kwan and Kenrick Wong didn’t let that stop them – they just set their sights further afield. What they found was an opportunity not just to practice architecture, but to develop a project from the ground up, watch as it evolves and stay connected as it takes on a life of its own.

It all started 11 years ago, when Kwan and Wong visited the rural outskirts of Battambang, Cambodia as student volunteers with the organisation Humanity in Focus. The villages they visited struggled with basic infrastructure, but the pair weren’t sure what they could offer. “As a student I thought I couldn’t do anything to the situation,” recalls Wong. “But later I felt we were better equipped. Magic and I started to talk about it.”

After graduating and working for several years at different architecture firms, Kwan and Wong wondered whether they could use their knowledge and skills to make a lasting contribution to Battambang. One of the things they had noticed on their earlier visit was that, although village children were able to attend free public school, classes ended around lunchtime, leaving them with little to do for the rest of the day. Kwan and Wong hatched a plan for a space where the kids could continue learning in a more fun and informal setting.

Together, they launched a design firm, Orient Occident Atelier — OOA — and set to work finding partners for what came to be known as the Adventurous Global School. “We had a free hand to do a design that really suited the local context,” says Kwan. “We had a mission to not just be a normal charity school where after it’s completed the whole team is gone. After the hardware is there we wanted to activate the programme and react to the changing needs in the community. In that way we hope it’s a more sustainable way of development.”

They based their design around something they call the Griddy, “which is a master light steel frame with a lot of voids and pre-drilled holes where we can attach sliding doors and panels,” says Kwan. “We didn’t fully know how the curriculum would evolve and how the classrooms would be used. We thought that hopefully the flexibility to allow the teaching to evolve beyond a normal blackboard setting.”

The project went as quickly as funding came in. “The whole process spanned two years,” says Kwan. “There were a lot of pauses. During that process we were able to bring foreign students to this school – and the local NGO brought foreign engineers as well. The villagers are living right next to it so there was a lot of teaching happening next to that construction site. It created this semi-incomplete space that we were able to utilise as a teaching tool.”

That gave Kwan and Wong time to refine their design and adapt it to the way villagers actually used it. Initially, the shelf-like openings of the Griddy structure were meant to be sealed, but they changed their plans when they saw how local kids used the site while it was under construction. “The Griddy structure was used by the kids as a jungle gym,” says Kwan. “Because it’s two storeys high and there are different facets in the steel frame, the kids just roamed around the steel structure. We never had that in mind but because it was being built at a slower pace, we were able to take that in mind and design it as a more playful space.”

They ended up keeping some of the Griddy’s voids open, creating a series of hidden spaces that children can explore and climb right up to the ceiling. “There are a lot of windows and doors you can unlock to play peek-a-boo,” says Kwan. “It’s like a giant playground.”

The design takes other local conditions into account, too. The architects learned that the area around the school was affected by torrential rains, termites and dust, which led them to create a sheltered, open-air space with abundant natural ventilation and light – just the opposite of many existing structures nearby. “When we visited the local school it was always very dark and very hot,” says Kwan. “It’s like a tissue box, a one-storey elongated space with little openings.” By contrast, the Griddy structure allowed Kwan and Wong to create a permeable façade with many windows that can be opened and closed, working together with a central atrium and breezeblocks to encourage ventilation.

Most of the materials used in the school were locally sourced. “The brick factory is just ten minutes away,” says Wong. “We thought because it’s a rural setting we must have to use mud, brickwork or bamboo, which we loved – but to our surprise [local workers] were able to do a good job of reinforced concrete foundations and superstructure, and they were familiar with light steel work. They have a large variety of metal available.”

The school opened in 2015 and Wong and Kwan have remained involved since then. That has led to other projects in the area, notably one called Waterhall, which opened next to the school in early 2019. “We found very basic infrastructure was missing in the village, like clean water,” says Wong. The only source of fresh water nearby is a polluted lake, so “people either collect rainwater or buy expensive water from private entities,” he says.

In response, the pair got a grant from the Hong Kong Institute of Architects together with two architect friends to build a filtration tower for the lake water. The water is dispensed inside a circular hall with a decorative brick wall – an attractive space for villagers to gather as they fetch water.

These days, OOA is busy working on a resort in the Caribbean, a hostel in Siem Reap and pop-up installations in Hong Kong. What the school taught them was that, whatever the project, the design process is what’s most important. “We believe that our design discipline can apply to different scales,” he says. “If you scale them up it becomes a building, if you scale them up even more it becomes a city,” adds Kwan. “But if you scale them down it becomes insulation or furniture. What intrigues us is objects and the space in between them.”

DEFT

Peter Lampard and Norman Ung still believe in the power of architecture. “I think there’s a pessimistic view that architects no longer have the power or influence to shape the built environment in the same way as developers,” says Ung. “But the value of architecture is how you create space – and how you try to convince someone to believe in certain ideals.”

Ung and Lampard are the founders and co-directors of DEFT, which they founded in 2014 after working together at CL3 Architects, a major Hong Kong firm. With a team of eight designers, DEFT works in architecture, interior design, graphics and branding – a full-service approach that allows them to flex their creative muscle in a diverse range of projects.

“We have this philosophy about making things quietly brilliant,” says Ung. Lampard elaborates. “In all of our projects we look for ways to give meaning to the project and to the space that may not be apparent when you first take a look but when you engage with the space you can start to peel back the layers.”

What that means is that, however straightforward a project may seem, DEFT use it to explore some deeper underlying issues. One of those is how to make Hong Kong’s ever-shrinking living spaces more pleasant and functional. When DEFT was asked by upstart developer Weave to create a co-living space on Boundary Street in Kowloon, they began to peel back the layers of what co-living actually means.

Essentially a kind of long-stay hostel, co-living spaces are touted as a flexible accommodation for young people who value their career and social lives over putting down roots. But the reality is that, in increasingly expensive cities like Hong Kong, co-living spaces may be the only affordable option for someone living on their own. So how can small living spaces be made comfortable and desirable, rather than a last-ditch option?

“We did a lot of market research ourselves,” says Lampard. “We looked at things like cruise ships and houseboats for ways these spaces can be maximised while still having a sense of home.” And they realised that creating a sense of home was crucial to making small spaces — and shared spaces — liveable. “Instead of working with loft and bunk beds like you see in a lot of co-living spaces, we worked on ways where people can live in a lower bed – so things like pull-outs, different types of wardrobes, things that are concealed,” says Lampard.

Working on the basis that each room, no matter how small, needed a handful of basic amenities like a television, a refrigerator, storage space, a bed and a desk, they ended up designing custom furniture for each of the project’s 160 rooms. “They fit together like Tetris pieces,” says Lampard. “As a resident you start to uncover more ways to use the space.”

Some of the lessons from Weave will be carried on to other projects. “We’re currently looking at ways to use a system of compactors, like you see at a library where the shelves are on wheels on a track, and we’re adapting it to some residential projects,” says Lampard.

Their ambitions go even further. DEFT Community is an initiative that brings Ung and Lampard’s architectural practice together with charitable works. It started in 2015, when an earthquake devastated Nepal. “We had a friend from a village just outside of Kathmandu that was pretty much entirely destroyed,” says Lampard. “We didn’t have a lot of financial resources to donate but we thought maybe we could donate our professional experience.”

At first, they thought they could help rebuild the village’s houses. But after travelling to Nepal and meeting with the villagers, they realised a community centre would be more useful They launched a charity in the United States to raise funds and designed a building using rammed earth. “It adapts to seismic activity so it’s really good for earthquake regions,” says Lampard.

The next DEFT Community project might deal with flooding in northern Thailand. In the meantime, the studio plans to continue making an impact in Hong Kong. Ung is particularly optimistic that a new generation of developers and designers share their broad-minded view of what architecture can achieve. “The city’s development is shaping into something more unique,” he says. “This is a good chance to reshape what Hong Kong architecture really means.”

LAAB

“I’ve always been interested in transformable designs, smart cities – and of course fabrication, computational design, and how to use technology to make spaces better,” says Otto Ng. “It can be technical but I’m most interested in the human side. Technology is just a tool to make that happen.”

“We want to make better cities,” says Ng, design director of LAAB Architects, which he co-founded in 2013. It’s a goal that goes back to his time at the University of Hong Kong, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from the Faculty of Architecture in 2007.

LAAB has earned plenty of attention over the past several years. The practice led by Otto with Yip Chun Hang has a diverse portfolio that ranges from art galleries to public space to residential flats. What unites all of them is an interest in using technology and smart design to create transformable, flexible spaces that are well suited to high-density Asian life.

“It’s so important in Hong Kong,” says Ng. “We design architecture and interior space not only thinking about its three-dimensionality – we also consider time a very important factor. Everyone talks about the sharing economy, but this is sharing space. Different functions can use the space at different times. This is one way we can respond to the spatial limitations in Hong Kong.”

That translates into spaces like the 309-square-foot apartment LAAB designed for a couple in Hong Kong’s jam-packed Central district. Thanks to transformable furniture, sliding walls and programmable lighting, a single small living area functions as a TV room, dining area and gym. There’s even a bathtub that doubles as a daybed.

But it’s also an approach that works for public spaces. LAAB has worked with Hong Kong’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department to design public space, and the firm is also working with private developers to create new parks in the fast-changing districts of Kowloon. “We have art installations [you can play with],” says Ng. “One of the spaces will be almost like an outdoor gallery ready for some temporary art installations. It also facilitates other activities like picnics, spaces for people to hang out with their friends or [stage] some events.”

The goal is to giving people more control over the spaces they use, whether it’s their home or neighborhood park. “We want to make space where strangers can become friends and friends can become families,” says Ng.

Project Little Dream

Project Little Dream

Anthony Chu ‘13, Alex Yuen ‘15, Tiffany Leung ‘15, Quentin Yiu ‘15, Jayla Lai ‘17

Project Little Dream is a registered charity in Hong Kong that designs, builds and runs rural village schools in Takeo, Cambodia. It was founded in December 2008 by fifteen university students with a common dream – to further education in underprivileged areas around the world.

Today, over 600 Cambodian children are studying English in the four schools built by Project Little Dream in Prey Run Village, Kh¡¦na Rong Village, Thon Mun Village and Thnouh Village in Takeo, Cambodia. Each year, more than 60 volunteers from Hong Kong to participate in the education, school-building and healthcare projects that Project Little Dream organises.

The village schools are designed and built by the architectural team of Project Little Dream. The team is an assemble of students from different universities, including the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Architectural Association in London.

The Architectural Team of Project Little Dream also includes:
James Charles Mak, Francis Wong, Nelson Huen, Alison Cheng, Ophenia Wong, Long Tat Lam, Elpis Wong, Derrick Leong, Andrea Chan

http://www.littledream.org/

Eone Timepieces

Eone Timepieces
Nick Gu ‘10

If there is anyone who can demonstrate how the education of an architect extends well beyond architecture, it’s Nick Gu, co-founder of Eone Timepieces. Gu graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Hong Kong in 2010 and went on to complete a master’s degree in architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

It was during his studies that Gu began thinking about how to design a device that could help the blind tell time. When he began speaking to members of the blind community, though, they told him they didn’t want anything that drew special attention to their condition. That’s when he hit on the idea that led him to start his own company. Instead of designing a watch for the blind, he would design a fashionable timepiece that could be used by all – hence the company’s name, Eone, which stands for “everyone.”

Using design and technical skills he learned during his architectural studies, Gu created the Bradley, a sleek wristwatch made of solid titanium that runs of a Swiss quartz movement. Two ball bearings indicate time, rather than watch hands – one for minutes, another for hours. The ball bearings are connected by magnets to the watch movement beneath the face of the timepiece. If the ball bearings are knocked out of position when they are touched, the magnets pull them back into place.

To finance his vision, Gu launched a crowdfunding campaign with a goal of US$40,000. He ended up raising nearly $600,000 from 3,861 backers. Named after former US Navy lieutenant Brad Snyder, who was blinded by an explosion in Afghanistan and later became a gold-medal-winning Paralympic athlete, the Bradley Timepiece was launched in 2013. It was collected by the British Museum in 2014 and chosen for a Red Dot Design Award in 2015. Gu now runs Eone Timepieces from Hong Kong.

Shaxi Rehabilitation Project

HUANG Yinwu
Consultant, Shaxi Rehabilitation Project
Visiting Assistant Professor, Division of Architectural Conservation Programmes, HKU
M.Sc. (Conservation), 2006

China has had a tumultuous history – and its built heritage has often suffered as a result. After graduating from the University of Hong Kong’s architectural conservation programme in 2006, Huang Yinwu reached a new level in his practice 3 years after he joined the Shaxi Rehabilitation Project, a joint initiative between Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich and the government of Jianchuan County in Yunnan. The project set out to preserve the built and natural heritage of the Shaxi Valley, a point on the historic Tea and Horse Caravan Trail between Yunnan and Tibet.

Like many parts of China, the valley’s heritage was threatened by development; in 2001, Shaxi Market Place was added to the World Monuments Watch List of endangered sites. More than preserving heritage, though, the Shaxi project aimed to become a model of sustainable conservation that could be used in other areas along the Tea and Horse Caravan Trail. In order to achieve that, the project began with research into all of the valley’s different natural and architectural components. Next, an independent, locally-run Preservation and Development Bureau was established to manage the conservation project’s implementation.

Today, a new expressway has opened between Dali and Shaxi, cutting travel time to 90 minutes, which could open the tourist floodgates. Thanks to the conservation plan, however, the valley is now capable of handling new developments in a sustainable way that respects the area’s history and heritage.

Conservation Regimes

Katie CUMMER
Founding Director of the BA (Conservation) Programme,
Division of Architectural Conservation Programmes, HKU
M.Sc. (Conservation), 2010
PhD, 2016

2014-04 Consultancy Study on the Heritage Conservation Regimes in Other Jurisdictions (PDF Download)

It wasn’t long ago that Hong Kong was a city that neglected conserving its tangible and intangible heritage, but things have since changed, thanks in part to The University of Hong Kong’s Architectural Conservation Programmes. After graduating from ACP’s Master’s programme in 2010, Katie Cummer went on to design and develop ACP’s undergraduate programme, the Bachelor of Arts in Conservation, which was launched in 2012. She became the BA(Conservation) Founding Director, while also completing her PhD. During her tenure, she has been recognised with a Faculty of Architecture Outstanding Teaching Award in 2015 and a university-level Outstanding Teaching Award in 2016.

Trained as an archaeologist — she has carried out excavations in Jordan — Cummer now unearths the history and heritage of Hong Kong’s urban landscape. Her work has touched on different architectural heritage in the city, in particular Corner Houses and military architecture, and intangible traditions such as the earth god shrines, as well as major historical sites such as the former Central Police Station and the former Victoria Barracks Explosives Magazine Compound, both of which have been converted into cultural centres. In addition to her academic work, Cummer has provided conservation expertise to the Hong Kong government and private organisations such as the Asia Society and Swire Properties. Today, she is a heritage consultant, continuing to encourage and promote the field of conservation.

 

Yangon Heritage Strategy

Hugo CHAN
Lecturer, Division of Architectural Conservation Programmes,
Faculty of Architecture, HKU
M. Sc. (Urban Planning), 2002
PhD, 2014

There are few cities in the world like Yangon. For more than half a century, the economic isolation imposed by Myanmar’s military junta preserved the city as a time capsule. Though dilapidated, its rich colonial-era urban fabric had been preserved, recalling the days when Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) was a major hub of the British empire. With Myanmar’s recent political and economic liberalisation, however, much of that heritage is under threat, as roads are widened and old buildings are knocked down for new development.

Hugo Chan and other conservationists are doing their best to channel this growth into a more sustainable path. Chan is the co-author of the Yangon Heritage Strategy, which offers the city a framework for development that will allow it to grow and prosper without sacrificing its heritage or quality of life. By identifying its historic urban fabric as its key international calling card — the thing that makes Yangon unique in a world of lookalike cities — the strategy outlines ways public space can be improved, the city can be made more resilient to climate change, residents can be given access to quality housing and services, and new development can occur in harmony with the city’s heritage.