Future School

This studio focuses on applied design & research in order to address the urgent local issues for immediate impact. The pedagogical goal of this studio is to fill in the gap between the academic design which focuses on certain academic idealism, and the professional design which frustrates with the lack of innovation and in-depth reflection upon the critical issues. This time the project is to collaborate with the Peace Experimental Primary School (PEPS) to investigate new form of school environment and spatial mechanisms which support the school’s vision in diversified and inspiring learning. Through engaging with the real users, students are expected to understand the complexity of design process in generating valuable design ideas, as well as to get inspiration from the stake holders outside the architectural discipline. We investigate how to codify the new forms of learning in today’s context with the environmental factors that affects the learning outcomes, in order to generate new design possibilities and to evaluate design feedback. Our design objective is to address a series of dualities including Nature and Culture, Safety and Adventures, Collaboration and Independency and, Resources and Demonstration.

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.

Co-Living +

Platform: Living Cities Rural (LCR)
Studio name: Architectural Design 5
Year: BA(AS) Year 4 Fall 2017

Living Cities Rural

The project is based on an ongoing scheme by Urban Renew Authority, comprising three adjacent sites with multiple urban programs, e.g. housing, hotel, office, civic buildings, retail. We challenged the current 2D-extrusion based scheme through a more integrated space + time approach in urban scale, and focused on the Co-Living Towers plus their engagement with other urban programs in architecture scale.

This studio engages with the theme of Co-living, which is becoming a promising way of living focused on a genuine sense of community, using shared spaces and facilities to create a more home-like living environment with less individual burdens for a convenient and fulfilling lifestyle. Co-living inspires and empowers its residents to be active creators and participants in the world around them. To live together under the same big roof cultivates the collaboration and serendipity of life intersecting with the internet communities.

Phase 1. Vertical Urban

Students deliver different urban design schemes to reflect their criticism and agreement of the current urban design proposal concerning the local community at large in the planning.

Phase 2. Co-living Towers

Students develop the Co-Living Towers proposed on the site. A residents-orientated and holistic approach, has been adopted in the design development process for people from recent graduates to mid-thirties. The social and economic sustainability has been considered for the affected residents/operators, aiming to improving the physical living / working / shopping / tourism environment whilst evolving the historical / cultural characteristics as well as the social network around the site, such as the operation of the ground and the manipulation of sharing space associated with the living towers. We treasure the social capital in the district and continued its energy from the creative generation. Through the above initiatives, the Co-living agenda helps to facilitate a regeneration of the vibrancy of the neighbourhood as well as strengthening the identity of the place.

Mass Customize Housing with Computation

Principal Investigator: Yan GAO
Funding body: Seed Funding Programme for Basic Research


The proposed research project was the first to investigate open source design for high density housing in Hong Kong with computation and information modeling. It has the potential to change current model from mass standardization to mass customization, echoing the PRC State Council “Made in China 2025” strategy aimed at transforming China into a leading world manufacturing power. This research project proposes a new design methodology, entitled Intelligent Computational Design (ICD) with computational automation and information modeling. We aim to develop a proof of concept process for allowing future occupants to specify the design parameters for individual units, which are subject to mass design and industrial production. This project has applied the methods including but not limit to Relative Parametric Modeling, Negotiated Space Exploration, Evolutional Many-criteria Optimization, Graphic-based Fuzzy Computation, and Best Possible Solutions, at the scale of neighborhood, building and unit.


  1. To develop a proof of concept process for allowing occupants to specify the parameters of designs for individual units that is subject to mass design and industrial production.
  2. To codify design expert knowledge into parametric information models so that design variations can respond to users’ customizations automatically according to the relationship defined between the data input and the geometric outputs.


A series of Computational Models (CM) of housing capable of automatically generating unit aggregation based on collective rules. All the units must be aggregated in conjunction with a series of computational massing models, responding to the specific urban context as scenarios.


  • Yan Gao, Chang Qiang, Lo Tiantian, Integrated Open Source Design for Architecture in High Density Housing Practice, Journal of Civil Engineering and Architecture, published by David Publishing Company, New York, 2015.9, ISSN Number: 1934-7359.
  • Yan Gao, Yunsheng Su, Computational Design Research for High Density Social Housing in China, Journal of Engineering Technology (JET), published by The Global Science and Technology Forum, Singarpore, Volume: 2, May 2013, ISSN Number: 2251-3701.
  • Tian Tian Lo, Marc Aurel Schnabel, Yan Gao, ModRule: A User-Centric Mass Housing Design Platform, CAAD Futures 2015 – The Next City, Sao Paulo, 2015
  • Tian Tian Lo, Marc Aurel Schnabel, Yan Gao, Collaborative Mass Housing Design Practice with Smart Model, Digital Infiltration, Digital Architecture: computation, Generation, Optimization, Fabrication, Construction and Management, The 1st International Conference of the Digital Architecture Design Association, Tsinghua University, 2013.
  • E-dot, The First Prize (Overall Category), in collaboration with Shanghai Tongji Urban Planning & Design Institute DODOV Chengdu, 1 Unit, 100 Families, 10,000 Residents, The Ideas Competition for Social Housing in Shen ,China, 2012.

Anticipated Impact

We hope to provide design methodologies and tool sets to substantiate the idea of mass customization in high-density housing, enabling the Hong Kong housing industry to lead an evolution in housing with a new housing supply model which transforms high-density housing design into a transparent evolutionary process from minority-controlled empirical patterns to majority participatory customization.

Intelligent Wave

Project team:
PI: Yan Gao, Assistant Professor, HKU
co-PI: Xin Guo, Assistant Professor, The Shenzhen University
co-PI: Victor Leung, PhD Candidate, MIT

Project funder: Shanghai MoMA


This project investigated a more design-orientated making process while embracing the emerging robotic technologies. Such proposition unfolds into a research project, i.e. the “Intelligent Wave”. The project went through the three stages including the physical experimentation, the computational simulation, and the design & making of a robotic structure in the end. The research process synthesizes abstract geometries, Complex System theory, 3D print, and the automatic control through computational protocols. The core objective of the Intelligent Wave project is to achieve a kinetic structure with simple rule-based component system that generates complex surface behavior. The breakthrough of this robotic structure is that, the unified cells that are repeatedly connected under the triangulation principles and geometric constrains, are able to generate infinite global reconfigurations of both the spatial structure and the unpredictable geometric pattern. The emerging reconfigurations starts when the equilibrium is broken by external forces, while the whole assembly freezes when the structure finds its new equilibrium after the external force ceases. Such behavior is scripted into digital modelling techniques and animations before the realization of the program-controlled structure. Instead of using dynamic pistons, the transformation is achieved through the sequential local sliding and rotation which trigger the global surface transformation into either concave or convex. The ongoing article compares the above research project with the typical robotic architecture and categorizes the concurrent experiments of robotic applications in architectural research. This research project embraces the design intelligence for a more holistic perspective in multiple dimensions, in order to explore the design opportunities while expanding architects’ territories.

Anticipated outcomes and outputs:

A conference paper that will lead to a journal paper

Exhibition in Robotic Future, 10th Shanghai International Biennale





Project team:
PI: Yan Gao, Assistant Professor, HKU
co-PI: Tiantian Lo, HK PhD candidate

Project funder: Digital Architecture Design Associatioin


The project aimed to explore and demonstrate the possibilities of employing the principle of mortise and tenon joints for adaptable carpentry systems which could be the integrated into the whole paradigm of housing design workflow that register mass customization without loosing the manufacture efficiency.

It explores the whole process of design with digital medium that integrating constrains of material properties, digital fabrication (CNC machines), the physical construction and the structural requirements. Furthermore, this unit exposed students to the parametric thinking and tools, understanding the methodologies for systematic design process that leading to synthetic and innovative design solutions.

During the project, the team employed ModRule system as the spatial driver for the further material design and fabrication.  Then a pre-defined carpentry system was set up as both the material and the spatial host for the volumetric outcomes from the ModRule system.  Students designed the second skeleton layer in three different ways in engaging with the primary structural frame by applying the same joinery methods and reciprocal structural principles.

Anticipated outcomes and outputs :
A conference paper


Exhibition and presentation during the Digital Factory International Workshop Exhibition organized by the 2015 Digital Architecture Design Association in Tongji University