Bottom Up

SH!T happens, every day.
We make it happen every day.
But do we ever think about it?

This studio thinks about it and works on it. We first explore the spatial, social and technical issues involved in the toilet design, and develop a new composting toilet system for an elementary school and the individual families in a Yunnan village. Beyond the rudimentary project dealing with human excretion, we also work on human communication. We try to use the toilet upgrading as a catalyst to trigger a spatial-social campaign to improve the entire village’s public space system. 

Misused Architecture

Thesis Abstract

The thesis is dealing with the problem of Sanhe Masters/Legends (三和大神)within Shenzhen, an industrialized city and also a polarized city with numerous wealthy people, but at the same time a lot of destitute laborers who have no future and no way out.

The young laborers in Sanhe are falling into an endless loop that they keep finding temporary jobs, quit the job after one day or two, then quickly spend their wages and start searching for jobs again. Even though they have a destitute state of living and ridicule themselves a lot, they keep a high degree of self-esteem and self-respect. Sanhe Masters are desperate to find jobs only if the job is tidy and decent. Otherwise, they would rather stay hungry and wait.

To address this social problem, the project uses a series of amenities and fictitious facilities as a tool to highlight the issue. It does not need to be real. The thesis radicalizes, exaggerates, and fantasizes the scenarios where these Sanhe Masters (ف‮٢‬ْگ‮$‬j‮/+‬) occur to arouse awareness and catch public attention towards the social issue.

Hong Kong Tomorrow Vision

Thesis Abstract

The thesis criticizes the government’s proposal of building an artificial island at the eastern coast of Lantau Island as land reserve for housing supply and another core business district. The research analysis looks into current land distribution in Hong Kong, housing supply and demand, average living area and rent and housing development trend in order to reflect on the necessity of expanding the land territory into the ocean for additional land supply.

Comparing the current land use in Hong Kong and the zoning plan, 8.5% of the total landmass is unplanned while 24.3% is built up land and 40% is country park. It is estimated that there are about 1300 hectares of brownfields in the New Territories. Part of them have been included in the new development areas but there are still more than 700 hectares of brownfields not included in any development plans. On the other hand, comparing the number of domestic households and the number of residential flats in the current market, there is in fact a surplus of 200,000 flats. This indicates that land supply or housing supply is not the real issue that we should look at.

Inspired by Rem Koolhaas’s ‘Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan’, in which Coney Island is used to solve the problem of pleasure and becomes a testing ground for Manhattan, the thesis carefully evaluates stages in the evolution of Lantau Island and projects its future development in conjunction with Hong Kong in order to open the discussion between political and social ideology, architectural discourse and city development.

The Parliament of The Greater Bay Area Union

Thesis Abstract

The thesis resists the top-down planning and data control from the Central Government at the Greater Bay Area. The project is designing a moving vessel that contains a parliament and a data center based at the international waters.

Politically, China has assigned the 11 cities at the Area each with a specific role without the consensus of its local citizens. Economically, China is using the data collected from its citizens as an instrument for surveillance, and control.

Instead of seeing the Area as 11 cities, the vision of the thesis is to see the Area as 131 individual districts. Each district will elect representatives to join the parliament at the vessel according to the proportion of population. This is to ensure an equal say between districts.

The vessel constantly travels around the Area, collects data through cables, and retreats back to the international waters. Data collected will be shared at the parliament as a reference for making democratic decisions for the Area.

The floating vessel would be a heterotopic space as discussed by Michel Foucault. It would be a new site for law making and a site that resists data dictatorship. It would be a self-contained city, referencing Le Corbusier’s Ocean Liner and Unité d’habitation.

Chang`an Axis Project

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Chang’an Axis Project is a unique urban regeneration program. Integrating various expertise of the university, it helps Chang’an, a Chinese industrial town, on its urbanization process through a precise design intervention – constructing a city-scaled public space corridor. Over three years, the project has streamlined a working process from multidisciplinary researches on urban history, economics, policy and physical environment, to various design engagements, including urban planning, urban design, architectural and landscape design. By connecting scholars and designers with officials and the public, the project demonstrates a productive model for knowledge exchange. By helping the government to work simultaneously on the city’s spatial, economic, and political sectors, the project also exemplifies the importance and efficacy of adopting a holistic approach to city development for Chinese urbanism today.

Revolution and Reform: Chinese Architecture 1949-1959 and 1978-2010

Principal Investigator: Tao ZHU
Funding body: Small Project Funding; GRF


This project includes two parts. The first examines the work of the prominent Chinese scholar Liang Sicheng in the fields of architectural historiography, education, design, preservation and city planning, and his constant interactions with Mao Zedong’s frequent social political campaigns during the period of 1949-1959. The second investigates the development of Chinese architecture during the Reform Era of 1978-2010. With the social factors percolating in the background, the research explores a series of themes, such as the way in which Chinese architects engaged in a renewed debate on the National Form vs. Modernism as they started a new pursuit of modernity in the 1980s, their fight against the pastiche of political symbolism and commercialism with imported concepts in the 1990s, and their struggle with the multitude of complex and challenging problems that were generated by the overwhelming speed and dimension of China’s urbanization in this current decade.


It intends to become a comprehensive survey on the history of contemporary Chinese architecture.


  • Tao Zhu, “Building Big, with No Regret: From Beijing’s ‘Ten Great Buildings’ in the 1950s to China’s Mega-projects Today ”, in Red Legacies in China: Cultural Afterlives of the Communist Revolut i o n (The Harvard Contemporary China Series), ed. Li Jie (Cambridge MA: Harvard Asia Center Publications, 2016), 56-84.
  • Tao Zhu, Liang Sicheng and His Times (Beijing , Guilin: Guangx i Normal University Press, 2014; Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 2014).
  • Tao Zhu, “China’s Architecture in the Reform Era 1978-2010,” in A Critical History of Contemporary Architecture 1960-2010, ed. Elie Haddad and David Rifkind (Surrey: Ashgate, 2014), 401-417.
  • Tao Zhu, “Grounding the Leaps: Personal Notes on Writing of China’s Modern Architectural History ”, in Common Ground: A Critical Reader, ed. David Chipperfield, (Venice: Marsilio Editori; New York: Rizzoli, 2012), 209-217.
  • Tao Zhu, “Building Big, with no Regret,” AA Files, 2011, 63, 104-110.
  • Tao Zhu, “Cross the River by Touching the Stones: Chinese Architecture and Political Economy In The Reform Era 1978-2008”, Architectural Design, 2009, 79, 88-93.


My book Liang Sicheng and His Times was ranked # 1 seller in “Architecture” and “Science/Technology” categories in Amazon (China) during the first six months of its release and it has been sold over 40,000 copies so far. It’s been widely covered by China’s academic and mass media, and continues to arouse heated debates both in the architectural and intellectual circles, and among general public. My book chapter “China’s Architecture in the Reform Era 1978-2010,” in A Critical History of Contemporary Architecture 1960-2010 is the first survey on China’s contemporary architecture in English, which greatly helps the international readers understand the history and significance of Chinese architecture and urbanism.


Dalang is located in an industrial zone on the north periphery of Shenzhen. Approximately, half a million people live in Dalang, of whom less than 8,000 are ‘local registered residents’. The remaining population is comprised of immigrant laborers from various places in China, ranging in age from 19-30 years. Despite their harsh working and living condition, most of the immigrant workers feel home at Dalang. The pride and energy of the young immigrant workers are most vividly demonstrated during the activities taking place within the two connected open spaces, the Labor Plaza and Commercial Plaza in the center of Dalang.

On the southern tip of Dalang, the Hong Kong MTR Corporation has built the Longsheng Station, one of the stops that connects downtown Shenzhen to the city’s northern periphery. Furthermore, MTR has commissioned the Hong Kong architect LWK & Partners to design a giant train depot on land next to the station as well as a shopping mall and housing towers on top. A typical Hong Kong development model, with its expertise par excellence in overlapping various programs and organizing complex circulations into the building’s section, is landing down to Dalang.

There raised challenges such as: Can the new complex that envisions a middle-class crowd flowing continuously through the shopping mall podium, be adapted for Dalang, which is essentially still an industrial town with half a million young workers? Will it be possible to improve the current shopping mall design so that it can also generate a similar social/cultural energy as it now exists in the Labor Plaza and Commercial Plaza at Dalang’s town center?

Based on a study of Dalang’s urban condition, we use the Longsheng Train Station Complex designed by LWK & Partners as our ‘site’. Each student would formulate a specific intervention strategy, to insert an extra 2000m2 floor area into the commercial complex, as a catalyst for transforming the shopping mall to a SOCIAL CONDENSER.

The Wheel of Time: An Instant Sand Mandala City that last for 12 Days for Dalai Lama’s Annual Ritual

Mandala,the sacred cosmogram of the Hindu-Buddhist worldview, can be understood as the essence of Tibetan spatial tradition. With coherent interpretations of this sacred diagram in various aspects, including cosmology, time-view, myths, the making of Tibetan spaces are interwoven with the ritual, symbolic and religious meaning of this highly elaborated diagram.

Yet the current unusual geo-political situation of Tibet has cut off the coherent cultural net, forcing Tibetan ritual and communities isolated in the non-mandala context outside of Tibet.

With Dalai Lama’s annual ritual of the Wheel of Time Empowerment Event as background for intervention, the thesis explores the potential of re-interpreting this ancient ritual diagram architecturally and culturally, experimenting on an alternative way to repair the cultural coherence in the context of exiled Tibetan culture, with investigations on spatial typologies, symbolic meanings, tectonic processes, materials in architecture.

Among the various interpretations of mandala, this thesis takes 2 aspects as basis of exploration: the spatial order of mandala (investigated with studies on traditional Tibetan spaces) and the symbolic meaning on impermanence it carries (investigated with studies on sand mandala ritual in Tibetan Buddhism).

My thesis thus attempts to develop a new architectural/urban system to host Dalai Lama’s annual ritual of the Wheel of Time Empowerment Event in Bodh Gaya, based on two elements:

  1. A translation of 2D mandala symbol into a 3D architectural/urban space;
  2. A temporary sand construction that can be built and demolished instantly, suitable for the 12-day period of Dalai Lama’s ritual, and manifesting the Tibetan Buddhist philosophy of impermanence and ephemerality.
Lee Katrina, POST-80s COMMUNE, 2011

Post-80s Commune

In Hong Kong, there has been an emerging social group called the Post-80s. They are a group of young people with active engagement in various political activities. Their critical mass, the spontaneous nature and the multidimensional new form of campaigns all contribute to their unique characteristics of social movement.

The thesis is to add a spatial dimension – to build a commune – a physical form in the urban setting to accommodate the development of the Post-80s within a time span for strengthening their political identity and social bonding, in which two extreme conditions – individual privacy and communal space – will be maintained in different configurations of site adaptation.