Title: Counter-assessment
Subtitle: Critical Landscape Planning for the Dawei Road Link, 1995-2019


Environmental impact assessments bear the responsibility of assessing, negotiating, and ensuring accountability and deterrence of socioeconomic risks and environmental degradation. Most international standards call for cumulative impact analysis, which goes beyond the immediate physical impacts of construction and operation. However, for projects with long histories, here namely “projects” for the Dawei road link beginning in 1997, 2010, 2015, and 2019, what are most impactful are the ways these projects have incrementally, substantially, and sometimes violently rewritten these histories, albeit through the often technical languages of planning, engineering, ecology, and social science. Based on analysis of thousands of pages of company reports, over 150 unique sources, and high-resolution commercial satellite imagery, this project look inside the development process for clues of how to better assess the complex past and future impacts of infrastructure on our environment. Through constructing a novel two-decade history of the Dawei road corridor, I argue that more rigorous tools and frameworks are necessary to combat the amnesia of infrastructure development, both in terms of historical narratives and technical knowledge. Strategic analysis and sustainability require longer-term studies, larger landscape extents, and deeper awareness of the development process.


  • Applied innovation: Geostatistical analysis of road construction using high-resolution commercial satellite imagery over five years along a 100+ kilometer corridor. This analysis contested the project’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) claim of the road’s status as an “upgrade” project, using precise classification and quantification of clearance and construction activity, establishing new pre-construction baselines and innovative algorithms for categorization of various upgrading and widening construction activities.
  • Applied innovation: Semi-automated analysis and graphic summary of satellite data availability from over 700 high-resolution (sub-meter) scenes to be certain that all possible remotely sensed evidence was acquired.
  • Applied innovation: Adaptive visualization of a 45-page timeline built from semi-automated cataloguing of a 250-event history from nearly 300 references in over 180 unique source documents. For neutrality and to ease comprehension, these sources were presented in roughly 60 dominant voices (e.g., various governments, various tabloids, technical reports) in 20 categories, alongside the main stakeholders involved. Each of the 45 pages contains a map that is updated with its events’ geospatial information, including impacted communities, road construction activity, and other important contextual information. A database was also compiled to automatically normalize Karen and Myanmar names of over 70 impacted villages in the project area, where some of them had over 10 spellings across the source documents. This automation allowed for the rapid revision of the timeline and presentation to stakeholders on three separate occasions during its creation, as well as multiple versions of history targeted to different stakeholder groups depending on the sources they trust.
  • Applied innovation: Compilation of seven historical road alignments and interpolation of missing civil engineering coordinate systems used for design and impact evaluation, as well as geo-tagging and semi-automated mapping of 300 road construction photos (from a set of over 3000 photos).

Key outputs:

  • Kelly, A. S. (2019, under review). Design Review: Counter-assessment of impacts for the Dawei Road Link, 1995-2018 (Report). World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Myanmar. 198 pp.
  • Kelly, A. S. (2019). Analysis of the compensation proposal for the Dawei road link (September 2019). (Memo). 8 pp.
  • Helsingen, H., Kelly, A. S., Connette, G., Paing Soe, Bhagabati, N., Pairojmahakij, R., & Jayasinghe, N. (2019). Nature in peril: The risk to forests and wildlife from the Dawei-Htee Khee Road (Report). World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Myanmar. 51 pp.

Speaking engagements:

  • Kelly, A. S. (2019). Counter-assessment of impacts and history for the Dawei road link, 1995-2019. Opening talk delivered at Thailand and Dawei Special Economic Zone: The Road Link to Kilometer Zero to a forum of academics, NGOs, civil society, community stakeholders, and public at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre (BACC). Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Kelly, A. S. (2018). Engaging infrastructure development through critical design practice: Campaigns in Southeast Asia. Talk delivered to Environmental, Geostrategic, and Economic Dimensions of the Silk Road Economic Belt, hosted by Duke-Kunshan University and Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Center for International and Global Studies, China.


COVID-19 Spatial Contact Tracing

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When future epidemic waves of COVID-19 occur, near- instantaneous contact tracing will be essential to lower the transmission growth rate. The recently released Google Apple Contact Tracing (GACT) system only traces device-to-device proximity for users of its app and neglects other crucial spatial- and temporal- aspects of disease transmission. We solve this problem with a simple idea: a Spatial Contract Tracing (SCT) system that tethers static devices (“SCT devices”) to specific spaces.

This idea improves the precision of exposure risk estimates by providing more accurate measures of environment (type of room), distance (between individuals), time (duration and contemporaneity of exposure), and location  (horizontal and vertical coordinates). In the immediate term these metrics enable rapid and comprehensive contact tracing. In the near term they provide an essential natural experiment if transmission models are to be refined and more efficient responses developed.

In the baseline GACT system, mobile devices act as proxies for people, and thus one may speak of devices that are “infected” with COVID-19. GACT detects contact between an infected device and another device when they are within each other’s Bluetooth range. SCT devices mounted on the ceiling of rooms will better detect the presence of all GACT devices. More importantly, these detect contact in five additional situations: app users beyond the GACT detection range; app users occupying the same space at a later time; users holding low-cost Bluetooth beacons; and those reachable by managers of these spaces for users who do not have the app installed or do not own a mobile device.

Alerted contacts could then decide on the relevant level of response to take, which is especially pertinent to those with preexisting health conditions or for contacts who live with or frequently visit individuals at higher risk. Further, because SCT devices run an app following GACT, they inherit the security and privacy features of the GACT system. Lastly, data collected through SCT could be used by epidemiologists to refine the transmission model, thereby enabling more effective contact tracing.

COVID-19 Geolocation

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COVID-19 is primarily spread two ways: 1) Via respiratory droplets; and 2) Transfer from a contaminated surface to the face via your hands (WHO, 2020). Awareness of both colocation and whether an individual has contacted a contaminated surface, such as a doorknob, is important and could better guide individuals toward self-quarantine and COVID-19 testing. Therefore, to contain the periodic spread of COVID-19 in communities, it is vital for individuals to know their personal 14-day exposure risk, which is a combination of having crossed paths with a confirmed COVID-19 case and having contacted a potentially contaminated surface.

Our proposal is a smartphone application and exposure risk assessment model that leverages existing technologies supplemented with the crowdsourced data outlined in this paper. The COVID-19 Geolocation App (the “App”) records an individual user’s location history and computes their exposure risk by cross-referencing that history with an Infectious Space-Time Map (ISTM). Exposure risk is computed entirely on one’s personal smartphone using a geographical subset of the ISTM, which is updated daily from a central server. If heightened exposure risk is detected, the App displays a notification on the user’s smartphone that suggests further action, such as self-quarantine, based on current epidemiological understanding. The ISTM is our proposed model that synthesizes the 14-day location history of voluntarily disclosed (and, in many contexts, health-authority confirmed) COVID-19 cases with existing outdoor and indoor geolocation technologies in public and semi-public spaces. The ISTM focuses explicitly on rapid deployment, user privacy, and flexible adoption of new epidemiological knowledge, such as increased risk due to prolonged exposure to a potentially infected user’s symptomatic phase, and geolocation technologies as they become available.

Post-War Urban Theories and Modernism in Asia


This research project is an effort to trace the transnational formation of urban theories in various parts of post-war Asia. There was a unique moment in the development of national identity and national culture during the period of mass decolonization and globalization. This is an emergent scholarship aimed at stitching together fragmented accounts previously narrated from national centers of discourse. This research shows that the broad participation by multiple international actors and agencies pushed the national remit of each urban condition. This discourse was made complex by the leveraging of soft power and diplomacy through international technical aid in the Cold War era, transmission of ideas through urban design and planning education, and the advocacy and collaborative efforts of local intelligentsia and regional think tanks. The histories of modernization and urban renewal relied heavily on the progressive image of the modern city and the economic viability of its infrastructure. These accounts can no longer be narrated and controlled within national boundaries and interests. Transnational accounts are particularly crucial in contrasting the realities between accounts found in national archives, and the archives of international agencies, consultants and private practitioners on urban modernization or technical assistance projects. These projects are often supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE), UN University, Asian Development Bank, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and other international organizations focused on rebuilding Asia.

Recent Publications

Recent Conferences Papers:

  • H. Koon Wee, “Fumihiko Maki and the Asian Planning and Architectural Collaboration (APAC) Part II,” A Glocal Approach to Urban Design: Maki Fumihiko, Group Form and East-West Dialogue, International Planning History Society (IPHS) Conference, Yokohama, Jul 16, 2018.
  • H. Koon Wee, “Fumihiko Maki and the Asian Planning and Architectural Collaboration (APAC) Part I,” Fumihiko Maki’s Idea of Group Form and Urban Design: The Integration of Theory, Practice, and Place, Society of American City and Regional Planning History (SACRPH) Conference, Cleveland, Oct 26, 2017.
  • H. Koon Wee, “Incomplete Urbanism: Local Intelligentsia, Global Planning Movements and the State,” Incomplete Urbanism: Attempts of Critical Spatial Practice Symposium, Center for Contemporary Art, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore, Nov 25, 2016.
  • H. Koon Wee, “William Lim’s Golden Mile Complex and the Vicissitudes of the Stepped Megaform,” New Local / Global Infrastructures, Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) Annual International Conference, Pasadena, Apr 6-10, 2016.

Architecture of the Urban-Industrial Complex


While cities have expelled industries in favor of high-yield and service-oriented land use, the factory and its organizational complex remain very much embedded in the city and its architecture. The intensity of China’s industrialization in the first half of the 20th century, and its rapid de-industrialization and unchecked urbanization make Chinese cities the ideal sites for understanding the effects of industrial growth and urbanization. This historical and design research is further developed as a theory of the urban-industrial complex, revealing the organizational and productive nature of modern cities. This complex evolved from how industry had inserted itself within the same framework of urban growth and social control. In fact, social institutions and welfare systems evolved precisely against social injustice and hardship caused by an overcrowded and harsh industrial work place. These checks and balances give hope and a sense of worth to every urban inhabitant, as the arduous and exploitative work place is kept at bay.

By investigating sites from the Yangzi River Delta and other parts of China, this research delves into the organizational logic of the actors of this urban-industrial complex, from state-owned enterprises, private corporations, research academies, vocational training institutes and infrastructure builders, to housing providers, art and cultural producers, and many others. The goal is to learn how this urban-industrial complex operates, and discover new strategies to prevent Chinese cities from becoming overly exploitative. The totalizing effects and exploitation of factories are without question, whether they are for profit or social control. Factories and societies have continually developed institutional checks and balances to keep exploitation in check. However, to conceal industries and the working class from cities would be a double erasure – further expunging the knowledge and narratives of inter-dependency, social inequality and environmental degradation. Relocating factories to the suburbs and offshore locations merely hide and worsen such inequalities. Cities serving only consumption without production will be devoid of a healthy, resilient and socially responsible citizenry, capable of self-correcting measures. In short, cities cannot afford to deindustrialize with the illusion that there is improved equity and liveability for a limited population.


This book-length investigation in history and design is an effort to engage the tumultuous conditions of industrialization and urbanization in China in the 20th century, and to reveal why its cities should not be deindustrializing at such an alarming rate. These analyses benefit from direct encounters with primary materials from specific sites, protagonists, design briefs, urban policies and municipal archives. The master narrative of a nationalized history dominated by the state apparatus would constantly come into question. As a consequence, the research is developed to explore other epistemological accounts that are decidedly more local on one hand, and more transnational on the other. As a methodology, the aim is to escape the predicament of the “national.” Only by piecing together highly inconspicuous and local discourses, can one discern the robustly humanist and unspectacular effects of industrialization in China, full of contradiction and promise in equal measure. This research establishes the first formations of industries in the early 20th century against the context of social, political, technological and morphological changes in architecture and the city. At the end of each historical episode, the relevance of industry in the making of a city would be further drawn out in contemporary case studies and sites experiencing massive change. By carefully situating actual built design works and commissioned feasibility studies in the context of this historical research, there is a greater responsibility for designers and researchers to put forward alternative ways to experiment with new combinatory programs, architectural forms and organization.


  • “Architecture of the Urban-Industrial Complex,” Shenzhen Design Society, Oct to Dec 2020.
  • “另类工厂:中国的晚期工业的建筑和模式 [The Other Factory: Late-Industrial Organization and Forms in China],” Urbanism and Architecture Bi-City Biennale: Shenzhen Industrial Station (Luohu) Exhibition, Dec 2017 to Mar 2018.
  • “Shanghai: The Other Factory: Late Industrial Organization and Forms,” Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism: Imminent Commons, Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), Sep to Nov 2017.

Design Case Studies and Creative Works

  • XSD Industrial Heritage Retail District, Wuxi (Case Study A)
    Winner, “International Architecture Awards,” Chicago Athenaeum, 2016.
  • Chinese Academy of Sciences IOT Center and Labs, Shanghai (Case Study C)
    Shortlist, “Adaptive Reuse Award,” World Architecture News (WAN) Awards, 2014; Winner, “Best Sustainable Development,” Leading European Architects Forum (LEAF) Award, 2013; Winner, “Best Green or Sustainable Build,” Perspective Awards, 2013.
  • Jia Little Exhibition Center and Ateliers, Shanghai (Case Study F)
    Shortlist, “Awards for Architecture,” ARCASIA Awards, 2014; Shortlist, “Best Sustainable Project Award,” Blueprint Awards, 2014; Honorable Mention, “Best Industrial Build Award,” Green Dot Awards, 2013; Winner, “Best Mixed Use in Professional Architecture Award,” Perspective Awards, 2012.

Gender, professionalization and the built environment


From the first cohort of Bachelor of Architecture graduates at HKU in 1955 to the present, there has been a substantial increase in the proportion of women in the student population – from 5% to about 50%. In the last three decades, there have also been a visible increase of women in higher-level positions in public agencies, corporate architectural practices and directing independent practices. Despite this and the high proportion of female architectural students in the universities in Hong Kong and Singapore – the two most advanced postcolonial cities in Asia – there has been no historical account of the practices or contribution of women architects during the period of post-war modernization, industrialization and professionalization in these cities.

Gender studies, transcultural and transnational studies on post-industrialized labor and professional networks is gathering momentum in recent years, evidenced by the increasing number of conferences and multi-disciplinary workshops on gender; and identified by the United Nations as one of its key sustainable development goals. Yet the knowledge and understanding of the role of women in architecture is still surprisingly lacking in architectural education, and historical and contemporary discourses in the discipline. Academic and professional publications on architecture and the built environment continue to overlook the contribution of women architects.

In North America and Europe, increasing efforts have been made by scholars and professionals to provide parity in the discipline, in terms of rights and equality in representation. In the last few years, “Women in Architecture” is a key theme in conferences in cities outside of the usual advanced urban centers, including Colombia, Istanbul, Nagpur, St. Louis and Turin. Between 2015 and 2017, With Dr Chee Lilian, we convened a panel on Domesticity in Asia: Translations between Housing, Domesticity and Asia” at the Society of Architectural Historians annual conference (published in 2017 in the peer-reviewed Journal of Architecture). I participated in an international workshop on “Situating Domesticities” in NUS which Dr Chee co-convened, and organized a multi-disciplinary panel on “Women and Architecture: Conversations on the Discipline” for the Singapore Institute of Architects, which she chaired. In 2018, I was invited to be a contributing author to The Bloomsbury Global Encyclopaedia of Women in Architecture, 1960-2015 (forthcoming 2021). Through these cross-disciplinary, multi-locational activities, we have begun to build initial networks and highlight the urgency of creating a knowledge base revolving around the role of women in architecture, within the Asian context.


  • Gender equality
    The project aims to address the knowledge gap of women in architecture and their contribution to the built environment, to acknowledge their contribution and representation in political, economic decision-making processes and urban development. It shall analyze the historical context of women architects and the built environment to understand the present conditions of professional expertise, creative production and labor relations.
  • Transcultural knowledge exchange
    The workshop-based symposium aims to initiate cross-disciplinary analyses and lateral conversations to inaugurate new area of knowledge and research project to build up collaborative institutional and individual expertise on the subject, including constructing a preliminary knowledge database and bibliography for research and teaching. The project emphasizes the significance of situating knowledge of a specific geography/location in relation to another (Singapore) with different yet shared regional, colonial and postcolonial histories to understand transcultural issues of gender, professionalism, creative production of the built environment.
  • Strategic partnership
    The research project aims to initiate disciplinary and cross-disciplinary dialogue and research momentum on gender equality. They will contribute to emerging work by HKU researchers at the Women’s Studies Research Centre; and expand the Faculty’s research collaboration, exchanges and teaching initiatives with our strategic partners in architecture, urbanism, the humanities, sustainable high density cities and architectural conservation; and through strategic partnerships between research universities.


  • Eunice Seng and Shirley Surya. “Conversations on Women, Architecture and the City.” M+ and the University of Hong Kong. Nov. 23, 2019. Miller Theatre, Asia Society Hong Kong Center, Hong Kong. This symposium is part of M+ Matters, which is a series of public talks exploring key issues with critical players in the fields of visual art, design, architecture and the moving image.

Anticipated Impact

  • Internationalization through expertise building and networking
    By initiating the conversations on gender, professionalization and the built environment with our strategic partners, HKU can begin to acquire expert status to actively participate in international platforms on gender equality that directly aligns with UN SDG goals gender equality, quality education and sustainable cities and communities.
  • Interdisciplinarity and Innovation in education
    The subject matter cuts vertically and laterally across disciplines, professions, institutions and time. It will establish new dialogues between the university and the profession, and challenge conventions in architectural education – curricular pedagogies and methods of analysis.
  • Enhance methods on gender equality and women’s empowerment

Dense DomestiCities: Composite Building Histories in Hong Kong, 1950s-1970s


In mid-twentieth century Hong Kong, intensive urban development and expansion set the stage for the mobilization of women into the labor force and the merging of public and private spheres. The composite building, defined by a hybrid of domestic and non-domestic functions, embodies the historical tensions between city and home, public and private, producer and consumer, colonial and Chinese, real and ideal, masculine and feminine realms. For this reason, such a commonplace housing type in Hong Kong becomes a pertinent subject through which to establish a constructive framework in understanding the urban and the domestic, in concept and practice, from a multidisciplinary perspective.

Dense DomestiCities will be the first scholarly monograph to focus on the contestations between material and spatial practices of domesticity and colonial governmentality, engendered by the geopolitical and socioeconomic exigencies in Hong Kong’s industrializing 1950s to 1970s. It examines how the capitalizing process and the city’s urban policies and discourses on density shaped the forms, spaces and practices of architecture and domesticity.

Preexisting scholarship on the history of working-class housing in postwar Hong Kong tends to describe the efforts of the authorities to solve “housing problems” stemming from crises (of fires, refugees and squatters). Hong Kong’s built environment is depicted as an inevitable product of free market enterprise predicated on efficiency and economy. My research, instead, proposes to uncover the gap in the city’s housing history by illuminating that the relationship between the urban landscape, domestic experience and architecture is produced by a process of contestation and negotiation among multiple actors and actions: government (development policies), developer (speculative practices), architect (housing blueprints), resident (everyday inhabitation), women and the family (familial routines).

The research project is organized around case studies on composite buildings, few of which have garnered any scholarly attention. Each episode investigates how wider urban anxieties and geopolitics produced by the Cultural Revolution and the Cold War were played out through confrontations between the real and perceived inhabitation of the composite building. Collectively they offer new insight into how housing architecture has evolved in tandem with urban discourses amid the making of Hong Kong as the quintessential Asian capitalist city.

By mapping the emergence and development of the composite building and examining its history within the larger contexts of economic, social and cultural tendencies, this research project argues that the inextricable relationship between architecture, people, institutions, the economy and the urban environment produces the contested spaces of domesticity in Hong Kong that continues into the present. In re-examining these key components through the little-understood composite housing type, this research attempts to fill in the lack of scholarship on the production of domesticity and urban space, while contributing to the field of architecture, urban studies, feminist studies and Hong Kong history.


  • To construct a critical cultural study of the composite building in Hong Kong to deepen our understanding of the built environment and the relation of the environment to the society, using a range of materials in popular media and previously unexplored archival documentation.
  • To examine how the historical forces – economic, political, social, cultural and ideological – that produce the composite building in Hong Kong, have shaped the city’s modernization and participation in global economy and culture.
  • To reassess the development of the composite building in Hong Kong as a significant historical juncture where new knowledge and technologies in building, housing and urban planning were circulated and consolidated to understand its pivotal role in the development of the city.
  • To illuminate a range of previously unexamined buildings in Hong Kong’s architectural history by deepening our understanding of the complexities and diversity at work in the city’s built environment and domestic spaces.
  • To contribute to the field of Hong Kong architectural history and expand upon the housing history particularly in the fields of social history, social anthropology, material and cultural studies, feminist studies, building, development planning, and global architectural history.


  • Seng, Eunice. “Composites: The City in a Building” and “Narratives: Composite Building Studies.” In The Resistant City: Essays on Modernity, Architecture and Hong Kong, 95-116. London; Hong Kong; Singapore: World Scientific Press, 2020. ISBN: 9789811204616​

Background Research

  • Seng, Eunice. “Composites: The City in a Building” and “Narratives: Composite Building Studies.” In The Resistant City: Essays on Modernity, Architecture and Hong Kong, 95-116. London; Hong Kong; Singapore: World Scientific Press, 2020. ISBN: 9789811204616
  • Seng, Eunice. “The City in a Building: a brief social history of urban Hong Kong,” studies in History and Theory of Architecture (sITA) vol. 5 (2017) : 81-98. ISSN: 23446544
  • Seng, Eunice. “Breaking News: narratives of a Composite Building between tradition and development, or, an Architecture of Impatience, 1964-2014,” Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments (IASTE) 2014, Kuala Lumpur, 14-17 Dec. 2014.
  • Seng, Eunice. “The City in a Building, Hong Kong c.1956-1966,” Expansion & Conflict: Proceedings of the 13th Docomomo International Conference Seoul, edited by Ana Tostoes, Jong Soung Kim and Tae-woo Kim, 264-69. Seoul, Sep. 19-29, 2014.
  • Seng, Eunice and Nasrine Seraji, “Architecture and Public Ground: Dazibao d’architecture HK and Composite HK” Exhibition, G7 Wing Lee Street, Hong Kong, May 25 –June 8, 2014.
  • “City Buildings/Building Cities,” Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) 102nd Annual Meeting: Globalizing Architecture, Miami Beach, Florida, Apr. 10-12, 2014.
  • Seng, Eunice. “Cities in Buildings,” Hong Kong Platforms Symposium, HKU, Hong Kong, Mar. 1, 2014.
  • Seng, Eunice. “City Buildings, Building Cities,” in “14 City Cases Past, Present and Future,” SZ + HK Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture, (Shenzhen), 6 Dec. 2013 – 28 Feb. 2014.
  • Seng, Eunice. “Dwelling Carcass: Composite Building Hong Kong, c.1950s-1970s,” in “2020 Housing China,” SZ + HK Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture, Hong Kong, 8 Dec. 2013- 23 Feb.2014.
  • Seng, Eunice. “Dwelling Carcass: Composite Building Hong Kong, c.1950s-1970s,” in “2020 Housing China– Collective Visions” Exhibition, HKU, Hong Kong, 10-20 May 2013.
  • “Cities Within Housing: dwelling, carcasses, and beyond,” Lecture, Taiwan Chung Yuan University, 1 Nov. 2012.

Anticipated Impact

  • The project will provide a critical cultural mapping of the composite building in Hong Kong that will deepen our understanding of the dense built environment and the relation of that environment to the society.
  • The second long-term impact is to challenge the overarching and unreflective economic reasoning that drives the city’s built environment and to expand upon the passive uncritical description of its housing history as the inevitable consequence of high population density and land scarcity. This project rethinks the periodizing of mainstream history of housing and the built environment by examining the capitalizing processes, transnational histories, events, objects and spaces that produce domesticity and urbanity.
  • The third long-term impact of this study is the identification of the postwar development of modern architecture in Hong Kong as a significant historical juncture in which new building knowledge and technologies were circulated and translated.
  • The fourth long-term impact is to create a visual inventory that augments current endeavors to illustrate Hong Kong’s speculative housing environment, and to generate critical reflections on the present architecture and urbanism. As these composite buildings face imminent demolition and redevelopment, the visual documentation of the architecture and spaces contributes to the emergent scholarship on heritage and conservation, and recent efforts by non-profit organizations like DoCoMoMo Hong Kong to raise public awareness of the aesthetic and historical significance of the Modern Movement in architecture.

Reservoir Urbanism in Shenzhen

Known as the “instant city”, Shenzhen has grown from Bao’an County of 300,000 people to a burgeoning metropolis of over 20 million in four decades, since it was established as the Special Economic Zone in 1980. One of the cradles of China’s rapid economic expansion and global reintegration, Shenzhen also spearheaded a revolutionary dynamic in the country’s urban development. While rapid urbanization has increased incomes and improved livelihoods, it also has had significant environmental impacts. The conversion of vegetated surfaces to urban areas alters the exchange of heat, water, aerosols, and momentum between the land surface and overlying atmosphere.

In addition, the city’s rocketing population growth and explosive construction boom have resulted in a unique urban form. Among the topics on Shenzhen’s urban morphology, the “urban village” is perhaps the most widely discussed. However, the city’s landscape counterpart — its “urban waters” remains largely unknown. There are 189 government-managed reservoirs scattered throughout Shenzhen’s territory interconnected with a complex network of 310 streams and rivers. While most of the reservoirs are located in the city’s periphery, some can be found in the middle of built-up areas. These urban reservoirs constitute a largely unknown, but critical element of the city’s urban framework, an arterial infrastructure that has been quietly sustaining and nourishing the “Shenzhen miracle.”

Set on the eastern side of the Pearl River Delta (PRD), one of the world’s most extensive and intricate estuaries, the “Shenzhen miracle” is a story of how naturally occurring biophysical processes modified by a myriad of “engineering” interventions result in an interdependent landscape of new physical realities, cultural expressions and economic dynamics. By examining the ever-changing roles that Shenzhen’s reservoirs play in guiding the city’s occupation, use and urbanization, this project interweaves the story of Shenzhen’s engineered landscape with that of the city itself. Moreover, drawing on the approach of forward-thinking landscape architects who work to re-envision the relationships between landscape, infrastructure and urbanism, this project sheds light on the tremendous opportunities that Shenzhen’s urban reservoirs provide to mitigate undesirable results of rapid urbanization, and contribute to building up the environmental and social resilience of this high-density city.

Urban Loopholes

PI:  Ying Zhou


Taking cases from the until-now little-analyzed un-demolished remains of city center neighborhoods in Shanghai, the project, culminating in the book Urban Loopholes: Creative Alliances of Spatial Production in Shanghai’s City Center (Birkhäuser, 2017, ISBN 978-3035611045) unpacks the seemingly anarchic and opportunistic urban spatial production system of the contemporary Chinese city to address what has perplexed Western public as well as scholars alike. Going behind the scenes in neighborhoods that increasingly appear like trend quarters in the West, the research divulges how the effortless vibe that is experienced today were imagined, constructed, and then scripted. The constellation of actors, from the expanding global network of multilingual cosmopolites to the dialect-speaking local party officials, form the malleable public-private alliances that are producing the newest forms for urban reuse, creative production, consumption, and heritage protection. Under an institutional framework that remains uniquely Chinese, how the ambiguous property rights and the institutional vestiges from planned economy could harbor an entrepreneurial prowess and creative potential that is a remarkable manifestation of globalization in the context of its changing local institutions reveals the logic behind a ‘China Dream.’ The urban loophole, a concept that the author has developed for the mechanism that has mediated the evolving institutions of the transitional economy through spatial production, serves as a red thread through the cases to corroborate the adaptive governance that expedited the appropriation of global knowhow. Pliable and redundant, the urban loophole offers a means of rethinking the presumed stasis and the necessity of urban resilience in face of globalization’s impact for change. They not only mediate between the persistent coexistence of planned and market economies, but also balance economic efficiency for political stability, sustaining the success of what Harvey called neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics.

Publication: Zhou, Ying. Urban Loopholes: Creative Alliances of Spatial Productions in Shanghai’s City Center. Berlin: Birkhäuser, 2017.

Impact: The book was presented at venues in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Zürich, amongst other locales, presenting to  experts and academics as well as a more general public, in both English and Chinese language. The book presentation was also accompanied by an exhibition created to show the research in process.

To impact the existing discourse on urban regeneration projects and the effects of gentrification, with the engagement of the diversity of stakeholders for sustainable inner-city development, and to influence future planning modes for creative city cultivation are part of the objectives of the publication.

The book Urban Loopholes: Creative Alliances of Spatial Production in Shanghai’s City Center (Birkhäuser, ISBN 978-3035611045) was named the recipient of the “Publisher’s Accolade for Outstanding Production Value” by the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS).The accolade was part of the 2019 ICAS Book Prize, which was established in 2004 and Dr. Zhou’s book is one of more than 60 books reviewed for the recognition. According to the ICAS website : “This in-depth study describes the strategies, players, and processes of a uniquely Chinese model of urban transformation, inviting the reader to rethink the necessity of urban resilience in the face of globalization’s impact for change.”

Grands Projets: West Kowloon and Lujiazui

Project team:  Ying Zhou , Desmond Choi and the FCL team


The developments of urban mega-projects have been unprecedented in the speed and scale at which they have been conceived and implemented, and none more so than in the rapidly transitioning economies of East Asian cities. Focusing on the cases of Hong Kong’s West Kowloon and Shanghai’s Lujiazui, the research has investigated the conception, design, implementation and implications for these two Grands Projets, as part of an eight-case in-depth research project conducted at the Future Cities Laboratory (FCL) of the Singapore-ETH Centre. Physical manifestations of the transitioning political economies in which the projects are contexualized, the unpacking of the two cases reveal the potentials for inclusive and adaptable means for future developments of urban mega-projects. The research notably fills a gap in the discourse on spatial production for the two areas and is crucial in showing the specific processes and pathways for their developments.


Zhou, Ying. “Lujiazui Shanghai: Urban Paragon for a Post-Socialist China.” In The Grand Projet: Towards Adaptable and Liveable Urban Megaprojects, edited by Kees Christiaanse, Anna Gasco, and Naomi Hanakata, 105–48. Amsterdam: NAi Publishers, 2019.

Zhou, Ying, and Desmond Choi. “West Kowloon, Hong Kong: A Transport-Oriented Development with Culture.” In The Grand Projet: Towards Adaptable and Liveable Urban Megaprojects, edited by Kees Christiaanse, Anna Gasco, and Naomi Hanakata, 149–98. Amsterdam: NAi Publishers, 2019.


To impact the existing discourse on large-scale urban projects, notably in the megacities of emerging economies and to influence policymaking and planning for prevalent megaprojects so that they could be more sustainable and resilient