ZHOU_Yiwen 3

Transfer – Structural Transformations

The studio was a continuation of the experimental structural high rise studio. The studio’s objective was to revisit structure as the main methodological design tool to explore the spatial potentials that lie within the relation of structure and program. Students started their projects with basic structural principles such as shear walls, arches, etc. and transformed them through a series of loading experiments. The principle was then aggregated to a site less tower of 200m as a final prototype.

Transfer 01


Architectural space and structure are symbiotic in a building. However structure is the domain of engineers has lost its relevance as an imminent design tool for architects. In the contemporary production of architecture, structural models merely solve problems of the shape of architecture. The studio studied the spatial and design potentials of structure, becoming the driver of concept and space and the resulting spatial opportunities. The studio challenged the high rise typology and it’s predominant podium-tower configuration and specifically investigated the idea of structural transfer.

The studio was a single term research and design project. The project was a hybrid structure on HKU campus, built over the existing heritage building of UMAC. The new structure was not allowed to touch the existing building. However, full air rights were be granted. The program was framed in terms of two structurally opposing conditions: A generic mass program and a specific site related program. The proposed project was a single highrise structure of 150m. The purpose was to explore the structural transfer between two opposite programs.

Installation view on Sai Wan Pier

Proximate Space

The studio engages with multiple, proximate spatial practices – dance, film and architecture – to consider how we design for the public realm. Working collaboratively in groups and with a site of their choosing, students experimented with different modes of documentation, producing fixed frame films, closely observed site drawings, and notations of movement and activity. These tests allowed each group to identify a working method and a set of interests in relation to the public realm.

In the second half of the semester, each group worked with these methods and interests to develop an intervention for a common water-front site not far from the university. Interventions were built and tested at 1:1 with given wood sections. Interactions and discussions with passers-by fed into the iterative development of projects. In considering how different modes of observation, description and projection mediate our relationship to a site and to each other, the students also questioned the architectural practices that constitute “designing”. Guest interventions from a wide-range of disciplines fed into the larger discussion on spatial practices in the public realm.

Responsive Structures


Hong Kong’s diverse and international festival culture plays a vital role in defining its identity as a liberal, cosmopolitan city. Especially in times of political uncertainty, nurturing this tradition and its future development becomes of high significance.

Located on the east side of Lantau, Peng Chau increasingly attracts visitors who are interested in its historical village dating back from the Qing Dynasty. Kept aside from the last century’s urban expansion, Peng Chau retains an authentic tradition of festivals, which is rare in today’s modern metropolis of Hong Kong. However, when culture is packaged to be ‘consumed’ by a mass of visitors, the fragile local ecosystem and the cultural tradition is at threat of being eradicated. Tourism and heritage are often seen as conflicting entities. But in fact, the risk of suffocation from the local communities is not necessarily related to the number of visitors per se, but to the lack of care in the management and infrastructural installation. When planned well, culture and touristic installation have the capacity to positively nurture the social interactions and to act as a hinge between the young and the old generation.
Our goal is to prepare Peng Chau for future growth while creating an opportunity to strengthen its identity and cultural heritage.


We use cultural festivals, such as the local dragon boat race, as a vessel to investigate Peng Chau’s history, technology and community. Through a systematic analysis of site and culture, structure and craft we will define 10 briefs at 10 locations along the waterfront that address the challenges and opportunities of Peng Chau’s cultural development. The students will engage in a series of workshops that target context mapping, parametric thinking and prototypical development in order to achieve highly articulate, critical and comprehensive design proposals.
Teams of two students are asked to design an adaptive infrastructure for festival events with a permanent and temporary component working in tandem throughout the year. The challenge is to minimize the negative impact on the island while maximizing the richness of contextual and architectural qualities, combining local traditional craft with modern technology.

Learning outcome

  • To think critically about the impact of cultural events on the local identity
  • To promote a deep sensitivity to a site, its history, community and culture
  • To foster structural innovation through experimental design and physical construction
  • To create holistic, realistic documentation and prototyping of architectural spaces

Support Structures for Living

Across the world, the demand for affordable housing is an emerging crisis that exists as a problem both in the developed world and in developing regions. From London to Hong Kong, or from Chinese villages to Brazilian favelas, there is a desperate need to provide people with homes. Yet, where are the architects in this discourse? Since the 1970s, the heroic social project of mass housing, has been admonished amidst failed social engineering, poor construction, planning mistakes and ghettoization. Now housing is predominantly provided by house-builders and developers, and in the most part, architects are out.

The studio attempts to find a way back in by addressing affordable housing as an intellectual project within the discourse of architecture.  Rather than focusing on the specificities of a community, inhabitants’ social welfare or their participation in a design process, we will focus on housing as a support-structure for living.

“ A support structure is a construction which allows the provision of dwellings which can be built, altered and taken down, independently of the others. …

A support structure is built in the knowledge that we cannot predict what is going to happen to it. The more variety housing can assume in the support structure, the better…” John Habraken,

Habraken wrote his manifesto against mass housing in the Netherlands in 1961. He argued for housing to be considered as an assembly of independent dwellings within a larger framework; “as a bookcase contains books”. He wanted each inhabitant to have a decisive role in how their dwellings were constructed, allowing the possibility for adaptation as their needs changed.

The support structure acted as a structural and infrastructural network providing services and circulation.  Rather than being fixed and permanent, the hope was that this too could act to enable and facilitate future variations of communal living. His thesis is intentionally open ended without definitive form.

Over the last 50 years his theories have reverberated through architectural practices as diverse as Archigram, (Plug-in-City), the Metabolists, and more recently with practitioners such as Alejandro Aravena’s half-house project (Elemental) and Anton Garcia Abril’s experiments with lightweight structures and his “urban shelve” research (Ensamble Studio).

The concept of the Support Structure is used as a framework to initiate the studio’s design process.

Our focus is on sites impacted by the process of urbanisation. This can occur due to mass migration to existing urban centres or in rural or peripheral sites that are densifying due to new economic drivers. In each case housing defines the form of this new settlement and often is constructed cheaply, without infrastructure, without the provision of public space or services and without any anticipation for future growth.

KEYWORDS: Experimental housing, Adaptation, Incremental urbanism, Transformation

MArch Studio_16 Spring_Settling the Nomads-Incremental Change_Cover

Settling the Nomads (2015)

The Ger districts of Ulaanbaatar have no running water, sewerage, or adequate heating. In the winter, the air is thick with smog from coal burning stoves. Unemployment is high and alcoholism is rife. Yet, still the nomads keep coming to the city in search of a better life. The city government and national government are depleted of funds, meaning that large scale development plans are stalled and impossible to implement in the near future. Any projects that do take place are undertaken by the World Bank or various constellations of other NGO’s with local partners.

Given the urgency of the problems at hand, architecture is given a low priority. At stake however is the fundamental civic make-up of the city. Given the failure of top-down planning models, what is the role of the architect in this context? How can we create an alternative mechanism for the city’s future transformation?

This studio will design architectural insertions to implement and kick-start the future evolution of the Ger districts.

Settling the Nomads (2016)

The studio agenda is to design innovative support structures to enable Mongolia’s Ger districts to evolve into viable urban settlements. We will design the city from the inside-out. Starting with augmenting the basic unit of habitation – the traditional Ger tent – we will then challenge the existing plot boundary and explore its potential as an architectural and infrastructural device. We will work back and forth between scales; from the plot, to the cluster, to the district, to devise an incremental strategy that demonstrates how the Ger districts can evolve over time.

The exacting limitations of the site such as climate, materials, and affordability will test our design ingenuity. Projects will have to intersect knowledge between architecture, fabrication, technology and strategic urban thinking.

Bottom Up

SH!T happens, every day.
We make it happen every day.
But do we ever think about it?

This studio thinks about it and works on it. We first explore the spatial, social and technical issues involved in the toilet design, and develop a new composting toilet system for an elementary school and the individual families in a Yunnan village. Beyond the rudimentary project dealing with human excretion, we also work on human communication. We try to use the toilet upgrading as a catalyst to trigger a spatial-social campaign to improve the entire village’s public space system. 

Saturday Afternoon

In Laurence Stephen Lowry´s painting “Saturday Afternoon” (1941) from Pendlebury, Lancashire we see the looming presence of the factory amidst the festive leisure of a sporting event on a Saturday afternoon. The image is haunting, and has for the better half of the 20th Century been the antithesis of an ideal relationship between industry and the city. Yet, industrial architecture has served as inspiration for architects since the beginning of modernity, it has always to some extent been regarded as ‘incomplete’; its building elements only becoming high-art when applied elsewhere.

Hong Kong has a significant industrial and manufacturing history dating back to the 19th Century. But since the 1970-80´s the industries moved out of the city and was largely replaced by the financial services. There is now an explicit goal to re-industrialize Hong Kong in order to diversify the economy and take part in a growing technology sector. At the same time the perception of industry in the city is changing as we are seeing clean technology companies moving into the center of cities in order to attract staff and encourage synergy effects of being around universities, research centers and commercial enterprises. Thus, today´s factory is perhaps also gallery, a club, a school, a research center, think tank, far removed from the dusty, polluted ancestor.

The studio aims to place industrial architecture in the centre with the ambition to use architecture as a critical tool to conceive of spaces for a new kind of interaction between industry and the city. In this pursuit we work from within the discipline of architecture, employing drawing, models and text as the primary tools.