Chinese Academy of Sciences IOT Centre and Labs

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This project is an adaption of two Soviet-designed laboratory buildings in Jiading – a satellite town understood to be the first Science Town in China. The project discusses the historical concept of green utopianism in relation to the Soviet’s first interpretation of green buffer zones for urban control and expansion, before Shanghai adopted it in its urban planning. It is imperative for the adapted design and conservation of green to be predicated on the ideological use of green – not only to enhance the built environment for the first generation of scientists and industrial workers, but also as tools of political legitimacy and social control. This project was specifically tailored for the Shanghai Institute of Microsystem and Information Technology (SIMIT) under CAS. However, it was the District Government of Jiading who took great care to recommend the conservation of the 1960s Soviet buildings in order to also protect the legacy of the beautiful greenery around the campus.

XSD Industrial Heritage Retail District Project

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This award-winning project raises the question of speed and progress within the context of China’s rapid urbanisation and expanding middle class. Lewis Mumford attributed the biggest invention of our urban-industrial revolution to the mechanical clock, where organized time gave meaning to cities, giving urbanites the possibility of leisure. The city’s connections to community and the environment today are instead lost in the world of consumerist spectacles.

This project was designed against the context of China’s pursuit of
luxury housing in the gated housing communities immediately adjacent to it. Zoned alongside this problematic development, this project takes on the challenge of addressing some of these problems. With a renewed appreciation of the original fabric, pedestrianised streets were reintroduced to link the new retail spaces, new bridge connections, enlarged public amenities, and civic plazas. The project aims to bring a more humanised scale and temporality to these public spaces, while finding innovative ways of engaging the site’s own industrial heritage.

Post-War Urban Theories and Modernism in Asia

Abstract

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

Abstract

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.

Objectives

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.

Exhibitions

  • “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. https://urbannext.net/the-other-factory/

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.

PRODUCTION FUNCTION Investigations in Late Industrial Forms and Organisation in the Architecture of Central District

Studio name: Architecture & Urban Design

FOCUS
Politics Art Media

WHERE
Central Waterfront & its Productive Functions 

RESEARCH & PROPOSITIONS
This studio begins with the historical trajectory that the modern city was first formed as an industrial city. Such urban formations followed the enterprise of production, aggregation of labour, the centralized organization of space for efficient and rational use, and the regulatory functions of time. Put together, these formations are incredibly complex organizations, and they have grown to become even more complicated. The modern city sought to partition and simplify the various functions of a city into housing, commerce, recreation, industry, and so on. However, the city continues to perform as a hybrid, defying plain classification. The increased specialization of functions in the Central District is the perfect site for an experiment to tease out the real functions of Hong Kong, and whether there is the possibility to comprehend and map the organization complex around which Hong Kong has evolved, and whether there is the possibility to bring back a new production function in Hong Kong. This new production function should be seen as a possible model of resistance to correct the distorted functions and alienation of finance and the corporatization of everything in Hong Kong.

In the reworking of the Central District, it is important to reconsider the once productive functions of its waterfront. This productivity can be defined as its capacity to engage in multiple functions emanating from production, including administration, civic spaces, trade, logistics, shipping, recreation and tenement housing. In a sense, the physical industry may have left Hong Kong, but the financialization and corporatization of industries have not. Hence, this studio traces the process of industrialization, de-industrialization, and the corporatization of industries. It is critical that this process would include the emergence of the Pearl River Delta as the factory of the world.

The Hong Kong waterfront is a hallmark of many logistics and industrial functions, no different from many other port cities, where production factories, businesses, wharfs, godowns, tenement housing and other spaces used to be. Students establish a new thesis towards a new hybridity, with some specificity in bringing the production functions into Central. With production functions, there may be a better possibility of equity, diversity, and a greater resilience against the collapse of any one sector in the economy. Architecture would become the test-bed for a new Central.

Producing Food and Enhancing Community in the City: Using a Hybrid Design-land Economy Approach to Investigate the Barriers to Urban Farming in Hong Kong

Principal Investigator: H.K. WEE (PI), Chris WEBSTER (Co-PI)
Funding body: GRF

Abstract

The Mercer Quality of Living Index shows a correlation between the liveability of a city and its ability to support a society of excellence. Hong Kong ranks sixth in the 2012 Mercer Infrastructure Ranking, but is well outside the top 50 on the same Quality of Living Ranking. One of the critical and highly visible areas of liveability is the amount of green available to a city, which is also the reason why Chinese cities have implemented a hard rule of a fixed green ratio in all new urban developments as a shortcut to attaining green city status. However, much urban landscape in China quickly falls into disrepair and where the will and fiscal revenue is available to support highly green urbanscapes, as in Singapore, the costs can become unsustainable. This research takes a new look at the idea of productive agricultural urban green space and asks whether HK can develop an innovative sustainable greening model. The innovative nature of the proposed model is its linking up of community, technology, and property rights. The project is suitably and innovatively located jointly in the Department of Architecture, the Division of Landscape Architecture and the HKU Ronald Coase Centre for Property Rights Research.

Objectives

  1. Identify and survey workable pockets of private and public land, and multi-level surfaces for cultivation within the pilot study area in the Western District of Hong Kong. Propose a network of spaces that permeates through the urban farms, in order for communities to flourish around them.
  2. Focus on planning feasibility in accessibility, circulation, solar orientation, and waste management, using established engineering solutions for high-intensity food cultivation. This pilot area must demonstrate complex traits in both physical and social terms, combining high-tech and traditional farming methods, in order for it to benefit the rest of Hong Kong, once success is demonstrated on some levels.
  3. Investigate the institutional mechanisms that allow the blending of private property rights, public property rights and common rights necessary to make systematic urban agriculture a reality.
  4. Position Hong Kong in a unique position in the discourse of food urbanism, by virtue of its particular model of engineering land-technology-property rights for improved food security and increased land utility.
  5. Demonstrate the role of design and planning in overcoming the typically binding contraints of urban agricultural development, and thereby creating win-win-win (private-public-communal) gains in urban environments.

Impact

  • From the perspective of the history of Asian urbanism, food urbanism is not an accidental research hypothesis, but an inevitable frontier in urban technology and land economy. The benefits of urban agriculture in Hong Kong include the following:
  • Liveability: In the long-term, it is crucial that there is greater selectivity in how we plan and plant in our cities, in order to obtain more productive and sustainable results of greening.
  • Community Building & Public Space: As spaces in the city are made available for food production and consumption by the local community, there will be opportunities to employ these newly identified spaces as a series of inter-connected public spaces.
  • Carbon Footprint: Hong Kong relies on importing 90% of our perishable food. It is an economically viable solution currently, but the high carbon footprint of our consumables suggests that it is not sustainable in the long-run.
  • Food Safety & Security: Food security ranks unusually low in Hong Kong because of the availability of cheap produce from China. This complacency will alter in the years to come, as China responds to global food shortage in the next ten years. (Rosin, et al., 2012)
  • New Economy & Employment: A mature and stable urban agricultural economy will not only generate new forms of employment and a trickle-down effect, but will also make our economy more resilient to fluctuations in the global market due to an increased diversity. (Miazzo, et al., 2013)

Architecture of Artifacts: Transnational Histories of Design

Project title:
Architecture of Artifacts: Transnational Histories of Design

Principal Investigator:
Koon Wee and Eunice Seng

Project funding:
Seed Grant, pending GRF

Abstract:

This research documents six important artifacts transformed and borne out of specific architectural discourses of the twentieth century. It includes the big roof, the linear core, the curtain wall, the green patch, the historic carcass and the pilotis deck. It will uncover alternative design histories of each of the artifacts through an analysis of its form, function and signification, with a focus on transnational and transcultural specificities. More than mere building components of architecture, these artifacts have undergone significant transformation, bearing witness to major upheavals in the social fabric and technological capabilities. These upheavals were augmented by trajectories of travel and communication between multiple territories. More importantly, it was during the latter half of the century, specifically the postcolonial period, when the world gained greater tolerance of cultural and regional distinctiveness in the practice of architecture. These differences and identities are only just beginning to reveal and assert themselves in new strands of histories.

By describing these building components as “artifacts,” this research underscores humanity’s aspiration in crafting architecture to respond to urgent questions of utility and the prevailing environment. To draw even closer to the study of such aspirations, methods in archaeology and anthropology will be used. As such, the city can often be described as an assemblage of divergent artifacts and built forms. The engagements with architecture described in this research range from the circulations of materials, construction methods, building codes, urban policies, and even utopian visions of architecture. These circulations can often be mapped through strategic agents of change, such as transfers of educational pedagogies, exhibitions, mass media, memberships of professional groups, and many others. This research will make visible the connections between the formal, functional and symbolic meanings of the artifacts through the redrawing of historical exemplars and atlases of hybrid forms.

Published outputs and awards:

Seng, E., “Transnational Utopia: Diaspora as Creative Praxis,” in Singapore Dreaming: Managing Utopia, edited by H.K. Wee & J. Chia, 146-165. Singapore: Select Books & Asian Urban Lab, 2016.

Wee, H.K., “Shanghai as Method: Artifacts and the City,” in Crossing China: Land of the Rising Art Scene, edited by G. Goodrow, 130-145. Cologne: DAAB, 2014.

 

 

Architecture & Urban Design II (ARCH 4002) – Shanghai as Method: In search for the new public

The ambition of articulating Shanghai has to be linked to a methodological search, along the same vein as Learning from Las Vegas and Delirious New York, where the new theory is inextricably linked to a certain unique aspect of the city. This search is therefore an identification of the predisposition of Shanghai, which must direct us to a new urban manifesto. This new agenda would in turn cycle back through Shanghai, and sponsor yet newer discourses on the city. With the support of the Mayor’s office and planning bureau of the Xuhui District, students were asked to seek out new collaborative modes between a weaken public sector and a thriving commercial and private sector. This manner of interplay between competing agendas and modes brings to mind Arjun Appadurai’s edited book entitled The Social Life of Things: Commodities in cultural perspective. This reference calls upon two perspectives for the purpose of this characterization of Shanghai’s extra-territorial history, namely, the role of commerce, and the susceptibility to multiple socio-cultural positions. It is the hope that this studio will succeed in teasing out these positions.

Museum of Division: the structure of meaning on levels of abstraction

Division is to transfer the whole into parts. ÷ The division symbol. A separation between two. A wall. A slab. Imagine the section of a concrete-frame building, the columns and beams. Imagine a map, with blocks and streets and topography. Division is giving de­finition. The section cut of the building frame and the contour lines of the topography. Division is representation. At the same time.

While conservation of built environment becomes a topic in the city in recent years, the narration of it is largely depending on other forms of media. Movies of Wong Kar-wai, images of Michael Wolf, drawings, text. The responsibility in Architecture seems only to be: not to do anything, and wait for a new program to be injected into the carcass. Maybe it be cafe or hotel or museum of unrelated topic. If Architecture can induce meaning, can we operate on a subject of conservation, like a dissection to a biological specimen, to let it express itself? The project is a series of operations made to a common residential block in To Kwa Wan. The end program of the building includes part of original living, studios, exhibition area, panel space, and lecture room. Through the operations, aspects of the artifact are revealed in itself: section, units, physical structure, and envelope.

Fading Coastline: A Resilient Interface Between Civilization and Nature

The thesis began with a feeling of doubt and uncertainty about the contemporary built environment when confronted by natural catastrophes, and how this periodic devastation by nature has repeatedly conquered civilization. Other than just reacting to the aftermath, can we learn from disasters and propose a new solution that will also prepare for the coming of the next devastation?

On 11 March, 2011, the East Japan coastline was attacked by M9.0 earthquake and tsunami. Not only did a great number of buildings suffer from major physical damages, large parts of different cities and villages were instantly washed away by the massive waves of tsunami. The Japanese built environment has always been inspired by a philosophical aspiration towards nature. Different vernacular building techniques have revealed the culture’s practice of incorporating natural elements into the artificial environment, whether or not these elements are desirable. Vernacular building techniques have proved the ability of architecture to actively respond to the nature: hatoba to introduce water into living space, verandah to define a comfort zone between the outdoors and indoors, etc. If individual buildings are able to adapt themselves to the natural environment, how can such indigenous behavior be applied onto the scale of a city and infrastructure?