Mapping Sponge Cities in the Pearl River Delta

Course code: 4715/7343

Course Title: Mapping Sponge Cities in the Pearl River Delta

Following the deadly Beijing Floods in 2012, discussions in urban planning and design shifted to alternative solutions for urban flood management in existing cities, especially in the context of increased storm patterns due to climate change. President Xi Jinping announced a new urban concept—the Sponge City—at the 2013 Central Working Conference of Urbanization (中央城鎮化工作會議) that changes the current instinct to move rainwater immediately from the cities through pipes and drains, to creating spaces that absorb rain like a sponge to lessen urban floods downstream. In 2016, thirty pilot cities received significant central funding to retrofit their drainage infrastructure through this new program.

This course follows the Sponge City Movement in the Pearl River Delta and understands landscape as a receptacle where socio-political processes and technological experiments of watershed governance are physically inscribed in the spaces and materiality of the city. Following an introduction in Hong Kong regarding the theoretical and technical aspects of landscape infrastructure, students will visit pilot Sponge City projects in Shenzhen and Guangzhou to study how the implementation of this alternative form of infrastructure impacts everyday urban life.

Projects include:

  • The Fragmentation of Sponge City Planning
  • The Study of Nanshan District Land Use and Sponge Design System
  • Impact Assessment of Sponge City Urban Renewal
  • Design for “Sponge-city”

Staging Water Urbanisms: Landscape infrastructure for Changan Township, Guangdong

Course Title: Staging Water Urbanisms: Landscape infrastructure for Changan Township, Guangdong

This three-week research and design workshop examines the land reclamation and hydrologic infrastructure of Chang’an Township on the southern edge of Dongguan bordering Shenzhen. It acknowledges the layered histories of urban development and planning within Chang’an, its disjointed relationship to the urbanization of its neighbors, and the environmental transformation resulting from a complex conflict in the management of water infrastructure. The workshop considers the hydrologic infrastructures as “staging grounds” for urbanism, working carefully with existing material, social, and ecological conditions while speculating on the future of Chang’an in light of its current planning efforts. Through ethnographic research, case study analysis, and interdisciplinary discussions with engineers and planners, students explore the potentials of engineered landscape in the cultural, social, and economic production of the territory. Students create a set of transects focusing on four primary natural and artificial waterways in Chang’an:

(T1) URBAN WATER – Changqing River and Maozhou River;
(T2) MANAGING WATER – Huanshan Channel and Xinmin Channel;
(T3) WATER ECOLOGIES – Shachong River, Dongyin River and Sanba River;
(T4) PLANNING FOR WATER  –  Dongyin River and Modie River.

Research Teams:
T1: MOK Siu Man; LI Aijing; POON Yan Lam
T2: LAW Wai Yan; NWE Saw Yu; ZOU Wen Yao
T3: CHAN Lok; LEE Yin Chik; MAK Sui Hin
T4: CHONG Ying Monica; SHUM Hiu Lam

Enclaves: Landscapes of Exception

The space of an enclave is difficult to define. Some have boundaries, whether physical, administrative, political, or cultural. Others do not have boundaries but are characterized by social, economic, or cultural homogeneity. What is consistent, however, are operations to differentiate what happens within and what occurs outside. This thesis stream will investigate “enclaves”, whether ecological, economic, social, political, or physical, and the logics of their formation. These landscapes could range from urban to rural, from communities to villages to territories, from material to conceptual. Students should anticipate exploring theoretical and conceptual approaches to the representation and design of spatial enclaves.

Sites and Measures

In this studio, students worked in between representation and physical interventions, experimenting with an iterative and cyclical process of documentation, projections, and constructing realities. Students used established means of representations—such as plans, sections, projects, and models—to develop composite and complex understanding of the landscape. This understanding then evolved into plans for action and intervention in a given site. In Project 1, Taking Measures, students explored the biophysical processes of two typical landscape elements at multiple scales. The mapping of a tree and modeling of the rock challenged students to work in between digital and analogue media. In Project 2, Sites and Artifacts, students alternated between siting “artifacts” on a “site” and the “site” itself as an artifact. Experimenting with mixed media representations, including drawings, models, and film, students developed a specific reading of their assigned site that informed future interventions. In Project 3, Shifting Projections, students propose and built physical interventions on their respective sites. In addition to drawings and models that were presented on campus, students also set up a projection installation at WKCD Nursery Park, conveying the spatial, textural, and temporal quality of the design, the speculative realities of their sites.

Boom Ecologies: Resources, Extraction, and Urbanization

Natural resources are formed through millennia of slow geological processes but their extraction is often rapid, ephemeral, and driven by the market economy. The stable geologies of these sites are violently altered in very short time frames. Industrial processes that have been set in motion in the 19th Century have fundamentally changed the face of the earth through extraction of resources, modification of topography, and sprawling human settlements. Post-Fordist modes of production in recent decades have fundamentally changed the structure of global cities, shifting and scattering sites of production, extraction, and waste. This is particularly relevant now because of the scale and speed of resource extraction that is occurring in many different contexts, spurring rapid infrastructure and urban development. For example, China has now become the largest gold producer in the world, surpassing South Africa and the US. China is also the largest coal mining country in the world with vast coal mines being developed in Shanxi provinces and the largest open-pit coal mines in Inner Mongolia. Fracking in North Dakota, USA, has altered a sleepy rural state, with massive populations moving in and increased infrastructural demands. Energy production landscapes such as the Three Gorges Dam have caused entire cities to move and relocated over 1.1 million people, while nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl have erased human occupation and replaced them with wastelands. This thesis stream investigates the ecological, political, economic, and social changes related to urbanization—or deurbanization—associated with resources and their extraction. Students should be prepared to explore and advance issues of representation, technologies, and landscape planning.

Student theses this year included:
“Constructing a New Ground: Reducing construction waste through urban design guidelines” by JIA Wenjing Jennifer;
“Hazard or Disaster: Redefining vulnerability and managing climate change risk in Metro Manila” by SUN Yan Mavis;
“Beyond Compensation: Reforestation as agent to build community livelihood along the Myanmar-China oil and gas pipeline” by WANG Jun Emma; and
“Rebuild Habitat: Peatland rehabilitation, orangutan conservation and community construction in central Kalimantan” by ZHANG Yiyue Rita.

Industrial Ecology and Humanity, Landscape Strategies for Electronics Manufacturing in the PRD

This studio investigated the social, economic and environmental impacts caused by the rapid growth of the electronic industry in the PRD. We explored how landscape and urban design can facilitate new regional visions of the ecological and social environment that can be realized at the material scale, working simultaneously at multiple scales. The course unfolded in three stages: first was to understand the regional geographies of electronics industries by tracking the components and lifecycle of a smart phone; in the second stage, we conducted structured interviews and fieldwork for sites in the PRD heavily intertwined with the electronic industry; in the third stage, we developed planning and design strategies and techniques to promote healthy landscape and healthy people at the site and material scale. Taking Guiyu in the Guangdong Province as a potential site, we explored Guiyu Township in Guangdong Province and the serious environment problems caused by the illegal e-waste business. The studio explored how landscape and urban design can facilitate new visions of the ecological and social environment. Students’ primary entry point into the project was through observing the daily life of ordinary residents in Guiyu and how their lives were intertwined with the e-waste industry and addressed some of the difficult issues they have been confronted with. In this class, we worked together to identify four thematic problems and develop design interventions to address each problem. Students used the preliminary themes as the beginning. Then they worked on the thematic design interventions from a variety of aspects, including new industry, pollution treatment, preservation of cultural heritage, greenway design, etc. Each team generated adaptable site-scale landscape design projects reflecting their theme.

Landscape Planning Studio: Design on the Road to Burma 2016

Large-scale regional planning and infrastructure development is often implemented with a virtual absence of people on the ground, creating conflicts in land tenure, economic livelihood, and environmental resource use and conservation. “Design on the Road to Burma” takes students’ learning to the frontier landscapes of transnational development along the Thai-Myanmar border, reinforcing the importance of fieldwork in reconciling abstract geographical data and real site conditions. Recently revived investment in the 250-square-kilometer industrial port of Dawei, Myanmar’s first Special Economic Zone (SEZ), and a 212-kilometer cross-border road link is prompting urban development and large-scale land use change within one of last intact forest corridors in the region. Students spend the first six weeks producing a collective research report that combines detailed timelines on regional development and environmental conservation with international case studies and narrates landscape processes in situ from mining extraction and afforestation to wildlife movement. This year, students traveled the Myeik-Maw Taung corridor in the southern half of Myanmar’s Tanintharyi Region to document conditions and propose landscape planning strategies. Students presented maps, timelines and diagrams of critical case studies to NGOs Fauna and Flora International (FFI), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) at their field offices and to CSOs Southern Youth and the Dawei Development Association (DDA). Proximity to Thailand and recent “opening up” of the region to transnational forces makes this both an important case study and viable site for designers to provide alternative development strategies to a complex set of actors. For the second half of the course, students develop design proposals that engage development projects, including resettlement, community forestry, corporate social responsibility programmes, ecotourism, sustainable agroindustry, and “green” capacity building programmes. This studio is supported by the Gallant Ho Experiential Learning Centre.

Landscape Planning Studio: Design on the Road to Burma

Large-scale regional planning and infrastructure development is often implemented with a virtual absence of people on the ground, creating conflicts in land tenure, economic livelihood, and environmental resource use and conservation. “Design on the Road to Burma” takes students’ learning to the frontier landscapes of transnational development along the Thai-Myanmar border, reinforcing the importance of fieldwork in reconciling abstract geographical data and real site conditions. Recently revived investment in the 250-square-kilometer industrial port of Dawei, Myanmar’s first Special Economic Zone (SEZ), and a 212-kilometer cross-border road link is prompting urban development and large-scale land use change within one of last intact forest corridors in the region. Students spend the first six weeks producing a collective research report that combines detailed timelines on regional development and environmental conservation with international case studies and narrates landscape processes in situ from mining extraction and afforestation to wildlife movement. During field work, students traveled overland via Bangkok into Dawei, Myanmar and presented their research to several international NGOs and local CSOs, including the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Fauna and Flora International (FFI), The Border Consortium (TBC), EcoDev, and Dawei Development Association (DDA) at their field offices and locations in Yangon. Students visited sites including the Dawei SEZ and its resettlement housing, community forest programmes and national parks, and a village planned to be displaced by a new reservoir. Proximity to Thailand and recent “opening up” of the region to transnational forces makes this both an important case study and viable site for designers to provide alternative development strategies to a complex set of actors. For the second half of the course, students develop design proposals that engage development projects, including resettlement, community forestry, corporate social responsibility programmes, ecotourism, sustainable agroindustry, and “green” capacity building programmes. This studio is supported by the Gallant Ho Experiential Learning Centre.

Mulan Primary School and Educational Landscape Design

Principal Investigator: John LIN (Co-PI), Joshua BOLCHOVER (Co-PI), Dorothy TANG (Co-PI)
Funding body: Donation from Power of Love Charity and Luk Him Sau Charitable Trust

Abstract

Highways and high speed rail links proliferate across China enabling the vast movement of goods, labourers and raw materials to sites of production and consumption. Although connecting many isolated areas initiating urbanisation and investment opportunities, in some instances the impact of infrastructure can have detrimental local effects: farmland is bisected; villages divided; and the environment can become degraded.

In Mulan Village, the construction of the high speed rail created a huge incision into the landscape and a repository of unstable earth at the back of an existing primary school. This school was designated for expansion and the objective was to design an educational landscape involving the creation of a new school block, a toilet and a playground.

The strategy is to organise the site as a series of sequential open spaces for play and study. The loose earth was re-contoured and a toilet and reed-bed filtration system inserted to retain the slope, wrapping the basketball court and creating pocket discovery gardens. The roof of the new school is a continuous ribbon that rises from the ground as a series of steps forming a new public space and outdoor classroom. The steps are punctuated with small micro-courtyards that continue into the library.

As the urbanisation of Huaiji begins to expand and encroach on the village, through the provision of these common, shared areas, the school can become a community focal point and active site for discussions, meetings, study, play or relaxation.

Objectives

The design objectives were to apply a new strategic approach to the problem of school expansion. A phasing and design strategy involved integration of existing spaces and adding value to existing infrastructure.

Results

The school is functioning well. Positive feedback has been received from the education bureau, local government, school principals, and students.

Outputs

  • Commendation, “ Mulan Primary School”, AR Schools Award 2015, Architectural Review, International.
  • Joshua Bolchover and John Lin. “ Mulan Primary School” in Eastern Promises: Contemporary Architecture and Spatial Practices edited by Christophe Thun-Hohenstein, Andreas Fogarasi, Christian Teckert, Hatje Cantz, Germany, 2013, pp. 266-269. [ISBN 978-3775736701].
  • Joshua Bolchover and John Lin. “Strategies for Rural-urban Architecture”, Resources Urbaines Latentes Metis Presses vueDensembleEssais, 2016

Anticipated Impact

We hope that the project will influence the design of other educational facilities in China and abroad.

Hong Kong’s infrastructure projects (Source: Heather Coulson).

Landscapes of Infrastructure

Project Title: Landscapes of Infrastructure

Project Team:
Dorothy S. Tang (Co-PI), DLA HKU
Cecilia L. Chu (Co-PI), DLA HKU
Iris Chan, Special Collection, HKU Library
Heather Coulson, Construction Photographer

Project Funder:  Currently in preparation for funding bid.

Abstract:  

Landscape of infrastructure is an exhibition and publication project centering on the exploration of ecological, technological, and social dimensions of infrastructure in the shaping of Hong Kong’s modernist landscapes from 1970 to the present. The project, which includes a public exhibition, a lecture series, and publication of research articles, is three-fold. First, it will help facilitate interdisciplinary discussions between academics, built environment professionals and members of the public with a shared interest in the histories of infrastructure. Second, it will offer an opportunity to reflecting on Hong Kong’s phenomenal infrastructure development in the past and envision ways to shape the city’s urban futures. Lastly, the project will act as a catalyst for much-needed research on the roles of infrastructure in shaping the forms of the city and everyday life of citizens.

The proposed public exhibition, entitled “Infrastructure Imagination: Hong Kong City Futures: 1972-2017,” will revisit infrastructure projects in Hong Kong in the last four decades. The exhibition will center on the Heather Coulson Photograph Collection, which has been generously donated to the HKU Library by Heather Coulson, a construction photographer who worked in Hong Kong between 1972-1988. Photographs of the collection, many of which have never been shown to public before, comprise a valuable documentation of major infrastructural projects implemented in Hong Kong. The exhibition will be supplemented with personal stories, historic films, oral histories from professionals and community members, and archival records that document the construction boom in Hong Kong in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Anticipated Outputs:

  • Lecture series organized by the Division of Landscape Architecture.
  • Public Exhibition and half-day symposium on infrastructure in Hong Kong.
  • Two research articles for publication in refereed journals.
  • Edited book, with curated photographs, interviews, and essays.

 

“The provision of adequate infrastructure of every kind – for power and water supplies; transportation of every type; land creation for new towns and for many other purposes – has created significant design challenges for Hong Kong’s engineering fraternity, and resulted in some extraordinarily brilliant solutions. The exhibition will surely be a tour de force!”

(Richard Gamlen, Civil Engineer, Hong Kong).