Daily Tips to Mitigate Virus Transmission for High-Density Living

The Problem

The recent scientific research reveals that the coronavirus will not disappear in the short term. This means that sporadic cases and regional small-scale outbreaks may still occur. The high-density living environments of Hong Kong neighbourhoods potentially increases the risk of virus transmission, in particular, the subdivided units (SDUs) with inadequate ventilation and drainage facilities, and poor hygiene conditions.


This project aims to identify key spatial characteristics and problems unique to living in high-density environments (e.g. SDUs) for residents to quickly understand the potential risk of virus transmission in their residential areas. Based on systematic literature review as well as detailed analysis of the spatial characteristics of the SDUs in Hong Kong, a visual guidebook (poster & pamphlet) is produced and disseminated, which promotes the knowledge of epidemics to and provides efficient self-check & self-help countermeasures for the residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.


This project adopts several research methods, including literature review and reinterpretation as well as detailed architectural drawing and visualization. Through these methods, the project identifies a few key architectural items at multiple scales (i.e. Building scale, Floor scale, Unit scale, and Room scale) and creates a guidebook (poster & pamphlet) for residents to quickly understand the potential risk of disease infection in their residential areas.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, local NGOs and governmental agencies have conducted a series of social surveys on the living status of multiple groups of residents in Hong Kong. The results of these surveys reveal that anxiety of infecting the disease is among the top healthy issues of the residents, in particular, those who live in high-density overcrowded Subdivided Units (SDUs). This collaboration with local NGOs enables us build upon previous experiences and to efficiently disseminate the guidebooks (posters and pamphlets) to the high-density communities/residents (in particular, those who live in SDUs), promoting the knowledge of virus transmission approaches within neighbourhoods and high-density residential units, and subsequently, reducing residents’ anxiety during COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, this guidebook can also be used as reference for NGOs and policy makers to make efficient service guideline, regulation, and policy for high-density communities to reduce the risks of virus transmission in the present and the coming future.

The Shenzhen Experiment: The Story of China’s Instant City


Shenzhen is ground zero for the economic transformation China has seen in recent decades.  In 1979, driven by China’s widespread poverty, Deng Xiaoping supported a bold proposal to experiment with socioeconomic policies in a rural borderland next to Hong Kong.  The site was designated as the City of Shenzhen, and as China’s first Special Economic Zone (SEZ). Within 40 years, Shenzhen grew at an unprecedented rate into a megacity of 20 million and the world’s most successful economic zone.  Some see it as an instant city solely attributed to centralized planning, economic policies, and proximity to Hong Kong.  Hundreds of new towns have been built using the “Shenzhen Model”, yet none has come close to replicating the city’s success. What makes Shenzhen so special?

Is it true that Shenzhen has no meaningful history? That the city was planned on a tabula rasa? Where the  rural past has had no significant impact on the urban present?  This book unravels the myth of Shenzhen, showing how the success of this modern “miracle” depended as much on its indigenous farmers and migrant workers as on central policy makers.  Drawing on a range of cultural, social, political and economic perspectives, the book uncovers a surprising history—filled with ancient forts, oyster fields, urban villages, a secret informal housing system—and personal narratives of individual contributors to the city. The Shenzhen Experiment is an important story for all rapidly urbanizing and industrializing nations around the world seeking to replicate China’s economic success in the twenty-first century.

Book Details

Related Subjects:

  • Architecture: Urban & Land Use Planning
  • History: Asia, China, Pearl River Delta, Shenzhen
  • Political Science: Public Policy, City Planning & Urban Development

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
384 pages
32 color photos, 12 color maps
Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674975286
Publication Date: January 07, 2020
https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674975286 (Harvard University Press)
https://www.amazon.com/Shenzhen-Experiment-Story-Chinas-Instant/dp/0674975286 (Amazon)


“As urban planner Juan Du shows in this deep dive of a history, the ‘instant city’ narrative is a myth. Sweeping aside slick origin stories, Du reveals a reality in which Shenzhen’s prosperity is driven by oyster fishers, vibrant night markets and the aspirations of millions, not just by the policymakers of Beijing.”—Nature

“Explores the blurry history of the city, beginning with its farmers and oyster fishermen… An important story for architects and planners everywhere facing the excitement as well as perils of rapid urbanization and industrialization.”—The Architect’s Newspaper

“Tell[s] the story from the ground up of Shenzhen, the southern city just across the border from Hong Kong that symbolizes like no other China’s economic success… Du aims to break through the clichés that have dominated so many accounts of Shenzhen… By rooting her story in the ‘countless individuals’ who defined the city, she argues that Shenzhen is much more than a top-down exercise in building a modern metropolis.”—Financial Times

“A major contribution to understanding a fascinating city.”—Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, The Wall Street Journal

“Endeavors to move beyond the caricature of Shenzhen as a historyless tabula rasa… Provides a nuanced and detailed historical grounding, drawing on a diverse range of sources and primary research. Blending the personal and the historical, it is an outstanding primer on the fascinating fortunes of a city which will only grow in national and global significance over the course of the next decade.”—Jonathan Chatwin, Asian Review of Books


“In stark contrast to conventional, flattened accounts of this vast Chinese city, Juan Du has given us an architect’s magical encounter with a place that we cannot quite see with our eyes, but can experience in fragments. I love this account of Shenzhen.”—Saskia Sassen, author of Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy

“A rich history of China’s famous ‘instant city,’ which may not be so instant after all. Juan Du takes us on an informative and unexpected journey through a major metropolis.”—Yung Ho Chang, Principal of Atelier FCJZ, Beijing

“This remarkable exploration of modern China reveals the humanity hidden in the shadows of international finance and globalized architecture. It is the extraordinary story of ordinary lives surviving and thriving in one of China’s most dynamic cities.”—Austin Williams, author of China’s Urban Revolution and New Chinese Architecture: Twenty Women Building the Future

“Shenzhen, the fastest growing city on earth, has been globally acknowledged as the test tube for modern China. In The Shenzhen Experiment, Juan Du deftly uncovers the secrets of the city famous for its unprecedented economic development and social mobility.”—Ole Bouman, Founding Director of Design Society, Shenzhen

Related Links

“‘The Shenzhen Experiment: The Story of China’s Instant City’ by Juan Du.” Books, Arts & Culture, Asian Review of Books, January 8, 2020 (https://asianreviewofbooks.com/content/the-shenzhen-experiment-the-story-of-chinas-instant-city-by-juan-du/).

“The Shenzhen Experiment: The Story of China’s Instant City by Juan Du.” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2020 (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/capsule-review/2020-04-14/shenzhen-experiment-story-chinas-instant-city).

“‘The Shenzhen effect: Why China’s original ‘model’ city matters more than ever.” CNN, May 23, 2020 (https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/shenzhen-effect-china-model-city-intl-hnk/).

“The Shenzhen Experiment: The Story of China’s Instant City,” Book Review.  Asian Affairs, April 20, 2020 (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03068374.2020.1747878).

“The Shenzhen Experiment: A Book Review – John West reviews the Shenzhen Experiment by Juan Du.” Asian Century Institute, March 31, 2020 (https://asiancenturyinstitute.com/development/1595-the-shenzhen-experiment-a-book-review).

“In Shenzhen, ‘urban villages’ like Baishizhou have been lost to the megacity myth.” South China Morning Post, February 16, 2020 (https://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/long-reads/article/3050428/shenzhen-urban-villages-baishizhou-have-been).

“‘The Shenzhen Experiment’ Review: Building Up a ‘Fishing Village’ – The overlooked history of Shenzhen doesn’t necessarily fit the government’s myth of a well-planned ‘instant city’.” The Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2020 (https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-shenzhen-experiment-review-building-up-a-fishing-village-11579735008).

“Architect Juan Du discusses Shenzhen’s migrant dwellers, city planning, and urban villages with Paul French.” CHINA-BRITAIN BUSINESS FOCUS, April 9, 2020 (https://cbbcfocus.com/juan-du/).

“The real rise of Shenzhen: how people, not just policies, shaped China’s ‘fishing village turned megalopolis’ explained in new book.” South China Morning Post, January 11, 2020 (https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/article/3045485/real-rise-shenzhen-how-people-not-just-policies-shaped).



Project Home Improvement – Movable Upgrades and Community Engagement in Hong Kong’s Subdivided Units


With multi-generations cramped into room-sized apartments, the generally unregulated Subdivided Units (SDU) of Hong Kong are often the housing of last resort for many low-income working families. Not able to afford private market housing and not yet qualified for the city’s well-established public housing, an estimated population of 200,000 to 500,000 people live in room units created from subdividing apartments. This has created invisible financial, social, and spatial networks that are outside of Hong Kong’s formal housing systems. Unlike informal housing in China or slums in India, the extraordinary density of space and the conditions of living inside SDU are mostly invisible because they are usually found inside older residential and industrial buildings.

Working with social workers, community partners, and most importantly, the residents, researchers of The University of Hong Kong’s Urban Ecologies Design Lab (UEDL) along with students from the Department of Architecture, conducted Project Home Improvement from 2015 to 2018. The three-year project generated movable upgrades and small-scale improvements to more than 30 families (~100 residents) living in SDUs in the high-density urban areas of Hong Kong, including Aberdeen, Sham Shui Po, Tai Kok Tsui, Mong Kok and Kennedy Town. This project, including visual documentation, scale models, and physical mock-ups, demonstrations the intensive working process of the “Home Improvement” project that involves multiple rounds of consultation, research, design, fabrication, installation, feedbacks, corrections and reflections.

Each design, regardless of size, are collaborative projects that span a working process of multiple months of communications and collaborations between the users and the HKU project team. Through iterations of fieldwork and fabrication tests, guiding research and design principles were adapted to work with the spatial and economic challenges. Such as durability and simplicity to the habits of various age groups in the family; Easy assembly and disassembly to anticipate the high probability of relocation or displacement; Portable component size to anticipate the cramped transportation passages and installation space; and digital fabrication techniques to enhance precision and future replicability. The project aims to improve the living conditions of the residents through small-scale architectural interventions, and at the same time, collect much-needed research knowledge on various issues related to the phenomenon of SDU in Hong Kong.


The living conditions of 30 subdivided units in Aberdeen, Sham Shui Po, Tai Kok Tsui, Mong Kok and Kennedy Town were improved. The participating households as well as the larger body of residents in these high-density communities obtain knowledge of self-help upgrade. A set of research, design, and intervention principles, methods, and working procedures for improving the living conditions of small-scale residential units in extremely high-density urban centers were created and outlined.



  • Juan Du (2018). Project Home Improvement: Movable Upgrades and Community Engagement in Hong Kong’s Subdivided Units. Domus China, 90-99.
  • Juan Du (2017). Co-Design: Long-Term Community Engagement Through Small-Scale Home Improvements (pp. 228-229). In Cities Grow in Difference (2017 Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture), Urbanism + Architecture Chapter.
  • Juan Du (2016). Intervention into Hong Kong’s Urban Informality, Special Issue on Modernology Research in China, Urban Flux Journal, 51(5), 60-65.


  • “Juan Du,” Exhibition of New Chinese Architecture: Twenty Women Building The Future (Sponsors: FCP, University of Liverpool, The Architecture Review, XJTLU, Thames & Hudson, BDP.), HKU Main Library, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2019.
  • “Project Home Improvement: Movable Upgrades and Community Engagement in Hong Kong’s Subdivided Units,” HKU Main Library, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2018.
  • “Co-Design: Long-Term Community Engagement Through Small-Scale Home Improvements, ” Shenzhen and Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (UABB), Shenzhen, 2017.


Home Improvement: Cost-Sharing Flats


The research, community design, and experiential learning project by UEDL improved the living conditions of residents living in a new form of public rental housing called “Cost-Sharing Flats.” The Shun Sing Mansion in Kennedy Town has been converted to “Cost-Sharing Flats” to house displaced residents. Many are displaced due to demolition of older buildings of various locations in Hong Kong such as the Southern and Sham Shui Po Districts. 39 Cost-Sharing Flats were subdivided and converted from larger flats in the building, and operated by NGOs. The residents have been displaced from older buildings and housing types. However, the new housing provisions do not provide for some of their basic daily needs. Teaming up with Society for Community Organization (SoCO) to improve the flats as per request from the newly-moved in residents, we conducted physical spatial surveys, interviewed residents, designed and constructed installation to improve the resident’s living conditions.

Friendship Home: Transitional Housing for the Homeless


The Friendship Home is a pilot project to explore and champion for better transitional housing conditions for Hong Kong’s working homeless population. For over a decade, the Society for Community Organization (SoCO) has called attention to the inadequacy of homeless shelters due to lack of privacy, comfort, flexibility, and in general, is a not stable dwelling environment to allow the working homeless a chance to get back on track. In 2018, in collaboration with SoCO, we designed and constructed the Friendship Home, converting four long-abandoned flats in a tenement building block that awaits demolition due to “urban renewal.” SoCO gained a 2-year rent-free period to operate the Friendship Home because the building’s expected waiting time for demolition for redevelopment was five years. The challenges of minimal budget, maximum occupancy density (6 per small flat), and the limited timespan of the usage of space, all contributed to a unique design and unconventional construction process. Each module holds a bed and desk, with a lockable drawer, reading light, and a small hanging ceiling fan, all meant to allow the individual control over his or her own small environment. Each module was designed to take up minimal structure and space to allow for the remaining space for communal cooking, dinning, and television viewing. Once the components arrived on site, the assembly and construction were done by members of my design team, volunteers, SoCO social workers, as well as members of the homeless community known to SoCO. Several of those who participated in the construction process later became residents of the Friendship Home. In the near future, when the modules need to be disassembled and re-constructed elsewhere in the city, the team work will continue.

Community Center and Migrant Workers School – Adaptive Reuse of Historic Hakka Village

Commune (Shangwei, Shenzhen)


Built in 1920, the Hakka Row House and attached Guard Tower located in Shenzhen ‘s Shangwei Village is an architectural reminder of the overlooked history of the territory prior to 1979’s establishment of Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. Utilizing the occasion of the 2017 Biennale (UABB), this project repairs and renovates the long-vacant building compound by adding exhibition and communal facilities to enable the building to serve the present-day diverse communities in Shangwei. Future planned programs include a night school for the migrant workers in the surrounding dormitories, a community space for the local villagers, as well as exhibition spaces for artists who have adopted Shangwei as a live and work site. The rammed earth walls, solid wood constructions of stairs, floors, and roofs as well as bricked chimneys and hearth, are repaired while new elements of lighting, wall and floor finishes, window and door treatments, and skylights are added. Each new element works with the existing structures to enhance the previous architectural qualities while increasing the practicality and comfort level for contemporary use. Existing door and window openings are updated with new layers of glass louvers and insect screens to promote natural ventilation. Selected tiles on the roof are replaced with glass tiles, updating a historic architectural practice, to form and shape larger skylights in selected spaces. During phase two, the fortress tower will be transformed into the shelves section of a community library, to promote continued learning of the migrant workers and villagers of Shanghwei. Enhancing the existing architectural heritage and adding new spatial elements, the renovation project of the Hakka House Compound aims to facilitate a new center of culture, arts and community services.

Living on the Water: Mobile Living Museum


Once indigenous dwellers and expert fisherman of the waters of Hong Kong, the water people of Hong Kong are also referred to as Boat People, Boat Dwellers, the Tanka etc. During the 1960s, there were nearly 136,000 water people in Hong Kong, with the highest concentration living amongst 3,000 vessels of the floating village in Aberdeen, twice of those living on land. No longer having access to their traditional place of dwelling or livelihood, the water people is now an aging community mostly living in Aberdeen and the Southern District of Hong Kong. “Movable Feast” project could respond to all three calls:  the Communal City, the Productive City, and the Clean City. With the emphasis of fostering social networks in the communal city, the “Movable Feast” brings together various stakeholders – the local water people, community organizers, marine biologists and historians collaborate to explore this new social intervention. The project proposes an architectural intervention that negotiates the relationships among the city – a synthesized ecosystem comprised of Natural, Social, Economic and Constructed Elements. The Water People could sustain their business through the food workshop with the collaboration of local fish farms that supply sustainable fish. Customers would pay for their meals while learning about culinary history of the Water People as well as being more aware of environmental issues that are related to their daily acts of living.

Urban Ecologies

The Urban Ecologies Studio aims to confront conventional urban renewal practices with alternative sustainable architectural design strategies for the contemporary city of accelerated (re)development. By understanding the city as a synthesized ecosystem comprised of Environmental (resources and services), Social (people and communities), Economic (costs and effects) and Constructed elements (buildings and infrastructure), this line of investigation proposes architectural interventions that negotiate the relationships among these elements. This design research methodology expands upon existing analysis and design techniques utilized within the field of architecture by introducing important understanding from knowledge fields such as history, landscape, geography, sociology, economics, and political science. The agenda is to create an architecture that is not overwhelmed by the complexities of the city, rather to view the multiple resources and conflicts as agencies of effective design.

Urban Ecologies Studio 2010-11 – Water Treatment for the Forbidden City

This Design Studio aims to confronts conventional architectural design and city planning practices by exploring sustainable urban design strategies for the development of the contemporary city. The Studio employs architectural design techniques and thinking, utilizing environmental technology as an architectural material to solve basic public infrastructural issues within dense urban sites.

By understanding the City as a synthetic ecosystem comprised of the Biological (resources and services) the Social (people and communities), the Economic (costs and affects) and the Constructed (buildings and infrastructure), this studio proposes architectural interventions that negotiate the relationships between these elements to offer a comprehensive responses to the urgent needs of the city.

The 2010-11 Urban Ecologies Studio explores the design potentials of a water treatment facility at an historic canal site in the center of Beijing. Confronting the conventional modernist notion which separates infrastructure and habitation, this project encourages innovative thinking to create an urban design project that educate the residents and visitors on the problems of urban water shortage in Beijing by showcasing various ecological designs that contribute to the cultural and environmental life of the city.