Chu, Cecilia 朱慰先

BAA (Ryerson); MA (PolyU); MSc (HKU); PhD (UC Berkeley)

Cecilia L. Chu is Associate Professor and Director of the MSc Conservation Programme in the Division of Landscape Architecture at HKU. Trained as an urban historian with a background in design and conservation, Chu’s research and teaching focus on the social and cultural processes that shape the forms and meanings of built environments and their impacts on local communities, particularly in Asia. Informing her work is an interest in the design and representation of spaces (as buildings, landscapes, and infrastructures) and the production of their social meanings and values. She is especially interested in the intersection of professional and popular knowledge of architecture and landscapes and how these articulations have contributed to city-making and the shaping of collective aspirations of citizens.

Chu’s first book, Building Colonial Hong Kong: Speculative Development and Segregation in the City (Planning, History and Environment Series, Routledge, 2022), traces a spatial history of Hong Kong through the lens of speculative housing practices. Her edited book, The Speculative City: Emergent Forms and Norms of the Built Environment (University of Toronto Press, 2022), explores the spatial and material processes of speculative urbanization in cities around the world. Her current research projects include an investigation of the cultural history of modern parks and recreational landscapes in China, as well as a comparative study of conservation practices in Asia that have given rise to new interpretations of colonial heritage and histories.

Chu is a co-founder and current president the Hong Kong Chapter of DOCOMOMO (International Committee for Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites, and Neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement), an international organization with a mission to promote public knowledge of modern architecture, landscapes and urbanism. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments (IASTE), a scholarly association concerned with the study of vernacular and popular built environments across the world. She is a current member of the Editorial Boards of Journal of Urban History and Journal for the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong.


  • Village Commoning: Developing a Community-led Model in Countryside Revitalization. Countryside Conservation Funding Scheme, Hong Kong SAR Government, (EP86/27/24/11), Co-I (PI: Vincci W.S. Mak), 2021.
  • Heritage Conservation and the Creation of New Urban Values: A Comparison of Three Historical Sites in Hong Kong. General Research Fund, Hong Kong Research Grants Council (#12606319), Co-I [PI: Lachlan Barber], 2019.
  • Pacific Rim Resilient Cities by Design. Design Trust Feature Grant. Design Trust, Co-I [PI: Ashley Scott Kelly], 2018.
  • Shaping a New Moral Topography: The Roles of Landscape Design in the Planning of Chinese Cities, 1912-1949. General Research Fund, Hong Kong Research Grants Council (#17628816), PI, 2016.
  • Speculative Urbanism: Modernist Planning & Housing Practices in Colonial Hong Kong, 1912-1939. Early Career Scheme (ECS), Hong Kong Research Grants Council (#27400874), PI, 2014.

Selected Publications


  • Chu, Cecilia L. Building Colonial Hong Kong: Speculative Development and Segregation in the City. Planning, History and Environment Series, Routledge, 2022.
  • Chu, Cecilia L. and Shenjing He. The Speculative City: Emergent Forms and Norms of the Built Environment. University of Toronto Press, 2022.
  • Catalan Eraso, Marta and Cecilia L. Chu. “El Quinon; Corruption and Speculative Urbanism in the Spanish Financial Crisis.” In The Speculative City: Emerging Forms and Norms of the Built Environment, edited by Cecilia L. Chu and Shenjing He. University of Toronto Press, 2022.
  • Chu, Cecilia L. and Marta Catalan Eraso. “Civic Urbanisms of the Other: The Commoning Practices of Hong Kong’s Domestic Workers.” In Emerging Civic Urbanisms in Asia: Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore, and Taipei, edited by Im Sik Cho, Blaz Kriznik and Jeffrey Hou. Amsterdam University Press, 2022.
  • Chu, Cecilia L. “The Afterlives of Modern Housing.” In Routledge Companion to Contemporary Architectural History, edited by Duanfang Lu. Routledge, 2022.


  • Chu, Cecilia L. “Iconic Planned Communities and the Challenge of Change” [Review]. Journal of Society of Architectural Historians 80, 2 (2021): 239-240.
  • Chu, Cecilia L. “Making Hong Kong: A History of Its Urban Development” [Review]. Geographical Research 59, 2 (2021): 301-302.
  • Chu, Cecilia L. “Contagious City: The Bubonic Plague and the First Urban Renewal Scheme in Hong Kong” [疫情弈城: 鼠疫與香港的⾸個都市重建計劃]. HKIA Journal 76 (2020): 25-29.
  • Barber, Lachlan and Cecilia L. Chu. “Living Heritage Versus Dead Relics? Place Meanings and Boundary-Making in the Politics of Heritage in Postcolonial Hong Kong.” In Place Meaning and Attachment: Authenticity, Heritage, and Preservation, edited by D. Kopec and A. Bliss, 182-193. Routledge, 2020.
  • Liang, Zhiyong, Yue Tong and Cecilia L. Chu. “Performing Community Design: The Use of Simulation Games in Architectural and Planning Education.” New Architecture, 2020.


  • Chu, Cecilia L. and Zhiyong Liang. “Tianyuan Dushi: Garden City, Urban Planning, and Visions of Modernization in Early 20th Century China.” Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review 31, 1 (2019): 39-54.
  • Chu, Cecilia L. “‘Placing ‘Asia’ against the ‘West’: Occidentalism and the Production of Architectural Images in Shanghai and Hong Hong.” Architectural Theory Review 22, no. 3 (2018): 309-337.
  • Tang, Dorothy and Cecilia Chu. “Infrastructure Imagination: Charting Hong Kong’s Futures through Construction Photography.” HKIA Journal 74 (2018): 118-122.
  • Chu, Cecilia L. “The Propensity of Things: The Portuguese Calcada and Its Historicity.” Current Anthropology 59, 4 (2018): 388-389.
  • Chu, Cecilia L. and Zhiyong Liang. “建构理想的家居:20世纪初期中国大众刊物中的现代居所概念” [Conceptualizing the Ideal Home: The Modern Dwelling in Mass-market Journals in Early 20th Century China]. Time + Architecture 3 (2018): 106-111.
  • Chu, Cecilia L. “Envisioning Future Pasts: Heritage and Emergent Activism in Postcolonial Macau and Hong Kong.” In Urban Asias: Essays on Futurity Past and Present, edited by Tim Bunnell and Daniel P.S. Goh, 64-76. Berlin: Jovis Verlag, 2018.


  • Chu, Cecilia L. “Constructing a New Domestic Discourse: The Modern Home in Architectural Journals and Mass Market Texts in Early 20th Century China.” Journal of Architecture 22, 6 (September 2017): 1066-1091.
  • Chu, Cecilia L. “Enclave to Modernity: Canton, Foreigners, and Architecture from the Late Eighteenth to the Early Twentieth Centuries” (Review). Journal for the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong 57 (2017): 266-268.
  • Chu, Cecilia L. “Constructing the Colonized Land: Entwined Perspectives of East Asia Around WWII” (Review). Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review 29, 1 (2017): 91-92.
  • Chu, Cecilia L. “Narrating the Mall City.” In Stefan Al, ed., Mall City: Hong Kong’s Dreamworlds of Consumption, 83-90. Hong Kong University Press, 2016.


  • Chu, Cecilia L. “Spectacular Macau: Visioning Futures for A World Heritage City.” Geoforum 65 (October 2015): 440- 450.
  • Chu, Cecilia L. and Romola Sanyal. “Spectacular Cities of Our Time.” Geoforum 65 (October 2015): 399-402.
  • Chu, Cecilia L. “Aspects of Urbanization in China: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou” (Review). Planning Perspectives 30, 4 (2015), 665-668.


  • Chu, Cecilia. “Shanzheng and Gongde: Moral Regulation and Narratives of ‘Good Government’ in Colonial Hong Kong.” Journal of Historical Geography 42 (October 2013), 180-192.
  • Chu, Cecilia. “Combating Nuisance: Sanitation, Regulation, and the Politics of Property in Colonial Hong Kong.” In Robert Peckham and David Pomfret, eds., Imperial Contagions: Medicine and the Cultures of Planning in Asia, 17-36. Hong Kong University Press, 2013.
  • Chu, Cecilia. “Between Typologies and Representation: The Tong Lau and the Discourse of the ‘Chinese House.’” In Mrinalini Rajagopalan and Madhuri Desai, eds., Colonial Frames, Nationalist Histories: Imperial Legacies, Architecture, and Modernity, 253-283. Ashgate, 2012.
  • Chu, Cecilia. “Non West Modernist Past: On Architecture and Modernities” (Review). Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review 23, 2 (Spring 2012): 90-91.


Infrastructure Imagination: Hong Kong City Futures 1972-1988
The City Gallery, Hong Kong, March-May 2018.
Organizing unit: Division of Landscape Architecture, The University of Hong Kong.

Mapping Modern Architecture in Hong Kong
Central Market Oasis Gallery, Central, Hong Kong, July 2013.
Organizing unit: DOCOMOMO Hong Kong
*Received HKU’s Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award (team award).

CCHU9048 The City: Histories of Urbanism and the Built Environment

What is a city? Through what processes is our built environment constituted? How do we dwell in our cities and how do different kinds of urban space shape our sense of place and community belonging? This course explores practices of urbanism across a range of contexts from antiquity to the present day. By doing so it allows students to develop insights into the social relations and human struggles that have been produced by, and continue to produce, particular types of built forms in different places over time. <br/ ><br/ > In the broadest sense, the course uses urbanism as a lens to understand the relationship between urban forms and the complex, multiple processes that constitute cities and their urban milieus.The course content is organized around sets of case studies, with each focusing on a specific theme that indicates particular continuities and congruencies between cities of different locations and time periods.
The discussion throughout the course engages with questions related to contemporary urbanization and consider how historical knowledge may impart a better understanding of challenges we are facing in the global present.

Assignments of the course include a series of exercises that combine historical research and creative writing. The formats of these exercises vary from year to year. The goal is to enable students to connect the tangible and intangible aspects of cities and the built environment and to strengthen their textual and visual skills. The course also includes a final project that involves an in-depth research of one city.Course Website:

ARCH 3103 Environment, Community and Design: Agency of Change and Ethics of Practice

What are the extents and limits of architects and planners’ power to affect environmental and social change? How do they work with different communities and stakeholders to bring about betterment in people’s lives? What are the paradoxes in today’s design practice with the advent of neoliberal urbanization and concomitant crisis in housing, environmental protection and infrastructure provisions? What kinds of assumptions do different professionals of the built environment hold about the merits of their work and to what extent can these be seen as extensions of their ideologies? What reflexive knowledge do designers, policy makers and community members need to acquire in order to address the multifaceted problems we are facing in a globalizing world?

This seminar provides an introduction to the intertwined concepts of environment, community, and design and explore the contexts that shape their relationships in diverse localities. In contrast to conventional taught courses, significant emphasis of the seminar is placed on student-led activities designed to facilitate active learning through rigorous participation. Weekly seminar topics are structured to provide a systematic introduction to key debates over the ethics and social roles of design practice and explore the nature of emergent “design activism” in recent years. It also introduces students to different methods of studying the built environment and communities.

Throughout the semester, focus is placed on connecting theoretical concepts with actual practices via close examination of international and local case studies. The ultimate purpose is to help students develop a critical lens for deciphering the complex forces that shape the built environment and the ethical challenges facing today’s design practitioners.