Living in the Valleys: Alternatives Futures for Hong Kong’s Vanishing Landscape Heritage

This advanced design studio engaged holistically with Hong Kong’s neglected landscapes heritage through the design of long term scenarios for the valleys of the North East end of the New Territories. By exploring the value of landscape heritage in the distant future, which is unavoidably marked by climate change and a global mass extinction, this studio problematized two forms of contemporary disappearance. First, the loss of historical knowledge and survival strategies which shaped the traditional agrarian landscape and enabled the inhabitants of Hong Kong to live sustainably in the valleys for centuries. Second, the invisibility of the current and future environmental footprint of Hong Kong’s lifeways and the landscapes they generate, both locally and globally. In order to address these issues, students reflected on the following questions through their research, analysis, and design proposals: How can the legacy of abandoned vernacular landscapes in the New Territories become an opportunity to question and rethink the current model of development? What alternatives have already been designed and tested in Hong Kong and globally? And what can be learned from them? What will be the aspirations of future communities and how can they inhabit the land differently? What is the role of landscape architects in designing long term strategies for a sustainable, local, and alternative future?

Entangled Futures: Designing Posthuman Landscapes at Lau Fau Shan

Entangled Futures Studio assumed that design does not necessarily serve only the human, and is shaped around ecological thinking. Based on imaginative propositions at the intersection of landscape design, strategic planning, and environmental sciences, the aim of this studio was to engage in issues of sustainability and environmental balance, scarcity of resources (such as food, water, energy), the implementation of lived indigenous knowledge, and maintenance/ continuity of ecology and biodiversity. The studio focused on designing landscapes as a habitat for a diversity of life forms and developed proposals for the waterfront at Lau Fau Shan. Entangled Futures studio started with design research on posthumanism and ecology through case studies of landscape design projects that deal with similar issues as in Lau Fau Shan. Second phase was site research and analysis. Landscape design proposals started with scenario and strategy building focusing on Lau Fau Shan village and the Deep Bay at a larger scale. Following, each student continued with their individual design proposal on a part of Lau Fau Shan waterfront. The methodological assumptions of this studio are that research and design continuously inform each other, design proposal considers the role and responsibilities of the landscape designer, “time” is a medium of landscape design, and “site” is always trans-scalar.

Communities at the Edge: Negotiating Transitions and Adaptations in Tung Chung

This advanced design studio investigated the role that landscape design, architecture and planning will have in shaping the land-use, settlement, habitat, and infrastructure of Hong Kong in the face of dynamic social, economic, and environmental change. Hong Kong faces a host of environmental challenges, from predictable decreasing in habitat and environmental degradation, water-pollution, and flooding, to the unknown threats driven by global warming, such as more volatile weather patterns and rising sea-levels. The studio considered Hong Kong as a city in flux. Working between the watershed and the coast, students investigated ecological dynamics, urban transformations, and different transitions at the edge. The studio worked in collaboration with the MArch Adaptive Tower Studio. For the first project, students explored different transects in Hong Kong where hydrological, ecological, material and structural systems were affected by climate change and sea level rise and defined issues, potentials and relationships to improve the edge. For the final project students, speculated on an adaptive and resilient landscapes in Tung Chung, an area with high ecological value that is threated by urban development. Taking a time-and-process based approach, students developed scenarios that proposing landscape-driven interventions that dealt with development and adaptation. This studio asked: How might the environmental change be leveraged to drive new forms of development and reshape conservation? Can new water and circulation networks increase important native habitats? How can hybrid landscapes of infrastructure and architectural systems offer?

Studio HK: Landscape Peripheries

This year’s second core MLA studio engaged the dynamic natural systems and contested territories along the coastal edge of Hong Kong Island. The studio’s origin was the Hong Kong Coastal Trail, a working proposal for restoring pedestrian and recreational trails to create a continuous path around the island. Students worked with this initiative as a catalyst for additional strategies and interventions that amplified the connective, regenerative, community-focused ambitions of the existing plans. Students worked through a series of exercises framed at different scales to develop their proposals. The fist exercise examined the variety of landscape systems and communities that are crossed by the proposed trail right of way. After detailed spatial and material documentations, students isolated a user and designed an interface that augmented, adapted, or modified that user’s exchanges with the site. In a second exercise, students focused on 6km section of the trail and used maps and sectional diagrams to illustrate the network of relationships, decisions, and agencies that underlay the coastal trail’s development and structure its potential within the larger urban and ecological territory. The final proposals included landscape-led interventions augmenting the original trail planning to conserve critical habitat or improve water retention; expand the possibilities for green or multi-functional civil infrastructure; or to support local communities through access, mobility, and revitalization projects.

Traversing the Transect: Reconsidering Village Development at Lei Yue Mun

This course explored the core skills and practices related to landscape planning and site design and in the context of the surroundings of Lei Yue Mun (literally Carp’s Gate), a village and former quarry site located at the eastern gateway into Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour. By beginning with sectional analyses, students were to come up with landscape systems strategies that tackle the environmental, social, and cultural issues of the site that are related across multiple scales—from the detail of an edge, to the structure and organization of community spaces, and ultimately, to larger contexts of the area. The concept of the ‘transect’ organized the research, site explorations, and design this semester. The transect is an important conceptual model and planning tool in landscape planning and design. It suggests a way of working that is sectional rather than planar, and systematically considers the characteristics and dynamics within and across transect zones. Habitats, communities, and infrastructure at steep site are often linearly organized along contour lines — the use of transects imply an ambition to cut across these layers, discovering the relationships between them and to the form, substrates, and topography of the site. As a form of sectional exploration, the transect also implies an approach to site that is deeply layered and concerned with the materials and structures below the ground, or the flows and atmospheres that rise above it.

Design Based in the Hidden Logic of Urban Environments: Chiangmai, Thailand

Invisible space refers to the hidden logical relationships among places, spaces, and human activities in urban environments. These relationships are often complex, multi-layered, and multidirectional. They are easily despised or ignored in the conventional practice of urban planning and landscape design, resulting in a significant lack of functional/spatial flexibility and social equity in urban environments. The students established one-to-one, or one-to-many, partnerships with Thailand residents to conduct in-depth field visits and research on urban space and landscape issues along the city moat and in its adjacent areas, and also to conduct a six-month design studio. The studio provided bottom-up research methods to understand the living status of residents and visitors, especially the socio-economically deprived individuals and groups in Chiang Mai moat. Students conducted the background research from literature review. They then worked with Thai students, focusing on behavior and phenomenon observation, questionnaire survey, and semi- structured interview, in order to identify the hidden logical relationships. Following this, the students developed landscape planning and design interventions based on the comprehensive and solid investigation findings, including design strategies, installations and models. The projects aimed to promote compatibility, flexibility, and just urban spaces for different types of users.

Urban Archipelago

Assuming change is the norm, this studio takes a different approach to city-making or, in this case, to urban renovation. It builds on ecologists’ reconceptualizations of their field over the past quarter- century, in which classical Newtonian concerns with stability, certainty, and order have given way to more contemporary understandings of dynamic, systemic change. With this reconceptualization comes the related phenomena of adaptability, resilience, and flexibility – phenomena applicable not only to ecological systems (whether native or adapted) but also applicable to the city: its systems, infrastructures, and urbanism writ large. The students’ projects, then, were conceptualizing the adaptive city, constantly in a state of flux, adapting itself to changing conditions and circumstances over time. The emphasis was on the contingent, the provisional, and the conditional, amplifying productive instabilities. Students were not imagining singular solutions to, or master plans for, the project site. Rather, they delineated alternate assemblies and deployments of the strategies, each according to a discrete set of terms or conditions, and in relationship to how they might change over time. Most broadly, they addressed fundamental questions of what it means to be urban, what urbanism is, and how ideas of city and city life can be informed by, and actively engaged with, dynamic change.

Successionary Urbanism: Adaptive strategies for Coastal Communities in the Greater Bay Area

This advanced studio investigated the role that landscape design and planning will have in shaping the land-use, settlement, habitat, and infrastructure of the Pearl River Delta in the face of dynamic social, economic, and environmental change. In less than 50 years, a lightly-settled landscape of tidal marshes and mudflats, rivers and fields, has evolved into one of the world’s centers of manufacturing and trade. The Pearl River Delta is now the largest urban conglomeration in the world hosting a population of more than 70 million. Nevertheless, this region faces a host of environmental challenges, from predictable decreasing in habitat and environmental degradation, water-pollution, flooding and salt-water intrusion, to the unknown threats driven by global warming, such as more volatile weather patterns and rising sea-levels along with social, economic, and political instability. The studio considered the PRD as a region in flux. Following models of ecological succession, we took a time-and-process based approach to urban design and landscape planning. Patterns and processes, driven by internal parameters and triggered by external conditions determined the delta’s urbanization and land development. Working between the watershed-scale considerations of the region’s urban and ecological dynamics, and site-scaled considerations of land transformation and urban development, students proposed landscape-led strategies for improving the adaptivity and resiliency of this region for the next five decades.

East Java Studio: Landscape Strategies for the Urbanizing Tropics

In this studio, students considered landscape architecture’s capacity to engage with environments undergoing rapid change. Through map analysis and literature review, students revealed the ways in which landscape systems, cultural practices, and patterns of human settlement are intertwined, reflecting on the role of strategies and proposals to achieve alternate, more sustainable, more just outcomes. In particular, students examined the impact of modernization, development, and governance on determining natural and cultural landscapes. The study area, the Banyuwangi Regency at the eastern tip of East Java, is a territory that encompasses a dynamic volcanic landscape rich in biodiversity, agricultural productivity, and mineral resources, and is home to a culturally diverse community of some 1.6 million people, with a society built from old kingdoms and founded on Hindu and Islamic traditions and values, scattered across it in a complex ‘desakota’ system of urban-rural sprawl. As with much of Indonesia, it is a territory that is undergoing sudden and dramatic (post-Suharto) changes, modernization, commercialization and internationalization, brought on through urbanization, trade, resource exploitation and tourism. Drawing on current landscape planning and urbanism theory, including critiques of sustainability, ecological urbanism, and green infrastructure, students looked first to understand and document this landscape through its physical components, its systems, flows, assets (and liabilities), actors, patterns and trends, etc. Later exercises developed a strategic landscape section/transect summarizing the physical, hydrological, and socio- economic considerations anticipating any intervention. Finally, students worked to develop specific projects through which portions of an intervention strategy might be realized. Critical to this studio was a week-long study visit during which students and instructors toured the region, meeting local communities and government representatives to understand the region and its landscape systems, and to identify specific points of intervention.

Introduction to Landscape Design Studio

In this studio, students explored the core practices of landscape design in the context of high-density, dynamic urban sites in Hong Kong. Focusing on the everyday landscapes of urban enclaves and engineered slopes, students discovered the exceptional opportunities for landscape design and social and ecological enrichment of urban sites. The semester was divided into two projects, each tackling urban landscape concerns dealing with the edges, the gaps, and the overlaps of the city. In Project 1, ‘Exquisite Corpse, Sectional Surgery’, students explored the nature of spatial interventions in Hong Kong’s physical structure with a focused study of man-made slopes, which are essential in supporting our inhabitation of a geologically unstable terrain. After a focused investigation of the site conditions, students used the method of ‘exquisite corpse’ as a driver for generating design processes, inviting chance and unpredictability. In Project 2, ‘Sacred Spaces, Common Places’, students focused on the minority cemeteries in Happy Valley. After investigating aspects of practices and provisions relating to the dead in urban Hong Kong, students proposed interventionist strategies to untap potentials of these often-overlooked urban enclaves, cultivating new relationships between the living and the dead, the past and the present, and the tangible and intangible heritages within a high-density urban setting.