Making Architecture: Shophouse


Under the unprecedented influence of the COVID-19 pandemic, this design studio was conducted entirely online. The use of digital media, referencing and student interaction was incorporated to foster an online studio environment.

Hong Kong is based on trade and commerce. Subsequently, many commercial typologies have emerged. The Tong Lau is its most prominent Hong Kong specific type of the shophouse, consisting of a ground floor shop and an upper floor which is used for storage and/or the owner’s living quarter. A courtyard is located either at the backend or in the centre.

This project introduces context, program and volume for architectural design. Students were asked to work in thee neighbourhoods with different topologies, interacting with their neighbours and the urban slope. The studio was focused on two streams of output: A portfolio, documenting the separate steps using multimedia of photography, text, sketches and technical drawings, as well as digital drawings, which were references to a collective plan displaying the interaction and creating a sense of team effort in the neighbourhood design.


1 Analysis. The first exercise focused on observation and abstraction. Students learned from an existing context by observing, studying and drawing. Students chose any shop in Hong Kong (hawker stalls, wet market, shopping mall etc.), took one specific spatial photo in b/w of that space and drew an isometric drawing, a section, and write a 100 work analytic text.

2 Speculation. The reference project only acted as a starting point to critically investigate a spatial idea and its potentials. Students sketched a speculative section and wrote a 100-word concept about its purpose and function/performance.

3 Variations. Each student proposed three options for a single shop focusing and emphasizing aspects of their speculative section. This created an important transition from abstract drawing to a scaled and functional architectural intervention.

4 Design. Three imaginary urban sites were given with specific site conditions. Each student designed a spatial concept for their Tong Lau based on the previous steps 1-3, interacting with their neighbours and taking into consideration aspects of the environment, context, tectonics and construction.

5 Detail. This exercise focuses on synthesizing the conceptual idea of the shophouse into a constructive detail. A pars pro toto emphasized the consistency of design from big idea to small detail. Students summarized their shophouse in one particular spatial detail at scale 1:20.

Learning outcome

+ develop an intellectual and consistent argument for the development of design
+ understand the impact of structure and construction on the design
+ develop a project based on creative and innovative use of drawings and models
+ design with study models on various scales