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Alternative Reclamation: The Floating Vertical City

Thesis Abstract

Architecture is a tangible representation responding to a place’s urgencies and also the aspiration of human living quality. Under the crisis of land scarcity in Hong Kong, architecture should show certain autonomy to adapt, move and transform in order to survive from the reality. Revolution of architecture is needed engaging with the environment and human fulfilments that reverberates to the present day.

Reclamation has been a prevalent solution since the first day of British colony in 1841 and even ongoing today. The thesis criticizes the conventional reclamation methods and technologies that greatly cause environmental, economical and ecological degradations. Through a series of researches, designs and testing processes in exploring generative large scale floating structure, an alternative reclamation proposal which is a vertical floating city by creating permanent dwellings at the sea through aggregation was established. It is a methodical proposal speculating the innovative land and urban formation through architecture. As a result, architecture became a leading instrument of social change.

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Back Alley Filter: Urban Environmental Interventions in Hong Kong

Thesis Abstract

With increasing demands for public space, the redevelopment schemes in Hong Kong led by the government and real estate developers aim to create an image of clean alleys to relieve the urgency. Although the city’s back alleys are usually cramped with building service equipment that have negative environment impacts on the environment, the functionality of these space is not addressed in the schemes. By looking into environmental principles, the proposal treats back alleys as a filter rather than the source of environmental harm, reversing the negative connotations through passive and active strategies and eventually providing a hygienic and pleasant environment for the public.

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Transfer – Structural Transformations

The studio was a continuation of the experimental structural high rise studio. The studio’s objective was to revisit structure as the main methodological design tool to explore the spatial potentials that lie within the relation of structure and program. Students started their projects with basic structural principles such as shear walls, arches, etc. and transformed them through a series of loading experiments. The principle was then aggregated to a site less tower of 200m as a final prototype.

Experimental Structures 01

Experimental Structures

The agenda of the structural highrise research studios aim at finding answers to how we want to inhabit dense urban environments in a sustainable way. Structural efficiency and optimisation is the basis of reducing the carbon footprint of buildings.

Hong Kong has over 9,000 highrise buildings of which 1,500 are taller than 100 meter. In this context, specific local tower typologies developed and the best known is the Podium-Tower. The Podium-Tower consistst of a residential tower that sits on top of a commercial podium. To manage the different programmatic needs of both types, a structural transfeslab is the common practice to link these two parts. The environmental costs of the transferslab are immense since the structure is highly complex and it uses a lot of materials beyond it’s loading requirements.

The research studios investigate the potential of highrise structures to be more slender, less material intense and to allow for more space of inhabitation. While the first research studio aimed at structural performance, the later research studios look at environmental performance of structures as well.

Ulrich Kirchhoff with

Cody Cot, Cyril Leung Hin Yan, Olga Cech, Mandy Ng Hoi Man, Cherie Leona Cheung, Darren Tan Man Tak, Jiang He Jia, Tang Yu Chan, Liane Cheung, Eric Ng Siu Cheong, Chan Cheong Kit, Ji Xiang, Gavin Lee Yu Hin, Rachel Lee Tsz Man, Jessica Mary Tsang Hoi Lam, Yim Chi Chung, Zhang Xiaopei, Zhou Yiwen

Transfer 01


Architectural space and structure are symbiotic in a building. However structure is the domain of engineers has lost its relevance as an imminent design tool for architects. In the contemporary production of architecture, structural models merely solve problems of the shape of architecture. The studio studied the spatial and design potentials of structure, becoming the driver of concept and space and the resulting spatial opportunities. The studio challenged the high rise typology and it’s predominant podium-tower configuration and specifically investigated the idea of structural transfer.

The studio was a single term research and design project. The project was a hybrid structure on HKU campus, built over the existing heritage building of UMAC. The new structure was not allowed to touch the existing building. However, full air rights were be granted. The program was framed in terms of two structurally opposing conditions: A generic mass program and a specific site related program. The proposed project was a single highrise structure of 150m. The purpose was to explore the structural transfer between two opposite programs.

Design Shaping

In Year 1 we were studying the relationship of the human body to their immediate surroundings and how proportions affect the functional aspect of design. In Year 2 we will expand that objective to a larger environment and will study the relationships of built environment and natural environment.

The objective of this year is to learn how to 1. Observe and draw a phenomenon, 2. Translate it into a conceptual idea in form of models and sketches, 3. Create architectural drawings of the design up to a detail level.

Every building is bound to a specific environment, which is influenced by all kinds of natural phenomena. Standardisation and proprietary solutions of the construction industry have negated the specific relationship of a building to its surrounding with the result that we build similar in Nordic climates as we build in tropical environments. The studio will be an introduction to a critical discourse about designing in a specific environmental context from an technological point of view. We will investigate techniques and technologies that deal with the relationship of building and nature in the context of Hong Kong.

The HKU campus will be the basis of the investigation. Students will start off with a chosen topic and observe, analyse and draw how those topics affect the building and the external and internal spaces. Based on that topic, students will develop an idea for a specific architectural intervention on campus, that either enforces the topic or counter balances it or takes it as an inspiration for spatial experimentation. The program of the design intervention will be given by the studio supervisors, but will not exceed the size of a small pavilion of 150 sqm.

Fragmented Continuum

Thesis Abstract

My thesis is to revitalize the full length of a 20-kilometer old canal in Beijing as a new urban axis by introducing a series of small scale urban infrastructure as the “fragmented continuum” other than merely landscaping the whole canal bank or do large commercial development on selected spots.

Historically, the canal was essential in transporting commodities between counties and cities. The series of stopping points such as water locks and piers alongside it enhanced the prosperity of surrounding villages. But since the railway system became dominant, the canal was gradually forgotten and abandoned. However, since the setup of the new sub-center of Beijing, there is the urgency and potential to revitalize the old canal to activate the linear urban space between the two centers.

The main challenge is to tackle the extremely large scale and the universal context. My overall strategy is to overlay a regular frame system on the canal and pick one spot per kilometer. Then I compress all of them and compose a new collaged fictional site. After that, I propose a linear infrastructure on the fictional site, consist of two main types of program which are homogeneous exhibition space and local-specific community spaces. Once everything has been settled in the linear infrastructure, it will be divided into 20 pieces again and redistributed to the actual location. The canal itself would be activated as the stretched internal circulation and space of the proposed fragmented infrastructure. By doing so, the whole canal can be revitalized and act as the backbone of its surrounding linear urban space.

House Rules

Thesis Abstract

The thesis attempted to challenge the homogeneity of public housing by proposing a ‘rule-based design method’, within which inhabitants are given the autonomy to extend their living envelopes under the control of the architect. Compared to the ‘catalogue’ method, which provided inhabitants with only a handful of options by the architect, the ‘rule-set’ enables great range of possibilities within the defined spectrum.

Under this system, the role of the architect is changed, apart from designing the static hardware-infrastructure, including sky gardens, lift core and prefabricated shell units with different values, he also has to create a rule set, that is a software-infrastructure that governs further dynamic alterations by the inhabitants.

Apart from existing planning regulations, the rule set should also include stylistic rules from architect’s subjectivity, which brings coherence to the building’s outlook amidst the complexity.

The effect of the ruleset on the overall building massing and façade is simulated by both computational and manual means in this thesis project.

With parametric tools, encoded rules were able to be applied in vast quantity, creating a rough overall image of the building created by the ruleset. 

On the other hand, plans are manually drawn, acting as a qualitative means to apply the rule set from perspective of the inhabitant at a greater resolution.

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

Span – Structural Outreach

Studio name: Architecture & Urban Design

Materials Technologies Robotics

Central Waterfront
To explore the structural reach between the city and the waterfront.

Architectural space and structure are symbiotic in a building. However, structure has become the domain of engineers. It lost its relevance as an imminent design tool for architects. In the contemporary production of architecture, structural models merely solve problems of the shape of architecture. The studio revisits the spatial and design potentials of structure, becoming the driver of concept and space and the therein resulting spatial opportunities. The studio is a single term research and design project. The project is be situated in the Central waterfront. It investigates current issues of spanning the city and propose a new linkage, reaching out from Central to the waterfront. The program is framed in terms of two structurally opposing conditions: A functional program intertwined with a circulation network. The proposed projects are singular spanning structure. The purpose is to explore the structural reach between the city and the waterfront.

The project takes place in three steps:

+ Step1: Site & Issues
+ Step 2: Issues & Prototype
+ Step 3: Prototype & Site