In our age of global urbanization and radical climate change, there is increasing worldwide attention on the “countryside” and its reinvigoration for the sake of achieving sustainable living. Our understanding of the contemporary countryside needs to go beyond just considering it as an “extension of the urban”, or continuing to romanticise its distance from the city as another consumable tourism product. Rather it has to be recalibrated and treated as a topos or place whose distinct character, cultures, values and relationships are driven by the complex involvement of communities and heritages with the natural landscapes and post-productive ecologies. From Arcadian ideals, agrarian communes, rustic artisanship, eco-living, landscape conservation to mitigations of climate change, the reimagining of the countryside is fast becoming a major public concern as well as forging new frontiers for architectural design and research.
In Hong Kong, we are familiar with the urbanised areas being tightly controlled within a quarter of the city’s territory, together with the rigorous protection of the rest of our rural landscape in the form of country parks, wetlands and reservoirs. In recent years, the launching of the government’s planned mega-development projects such as the Northern Metropolis Development Strategy and Lantau Tomorrow Vision, the effects of which would substantially encroach rural areas, has sparked much public debate on the conservation and regeneration of the city’s countryside. The putative turn to the countryside for alternative lifestyles and psychophysical relief, contra the city’s hyper-dense, high-rise urbanism and pandemic-induced deprivations, also points to its potential to dovetail environmental, societal and individual well-being.
In 2017, official policy responded to public calls for a more sustainable rural-urban reciprocity by setting up the Countryside Conservation Office to coordinate more concerted efforts to revitalise remote areas in the New Territories, prioritising works on Lai Chi Wo and Sha Lo Tung as being models for rural sustainability. In the same year, the Sustainable Lantau Blueprint was announced by the Sustainable Lantau Office to conserve areas on Lantau Island that are likewise rich in architectural, cultural and ecological resources, with Tai O, Shui Hau and Pui O earmarked as the initial foci for holistic conservation. In Sai Kung, Yim Tin Tsai and the adjacent archipelago are also being revived via thematised art and culture-led revitalisation funded by the Tourism Commission.
The first fruits of rural conservation efforts are starting to be rewarded internationally, such as Lai Chi Wo’s “Sustainable Development Contribution” Award in 2020 and Yim Tin Tsai’s “Asia-Pacific Cultural Heritage Conservation Award of Distinction” in 2015 (both UNESCO awards), yet issues such as regulatory strictures, certain bureaucratic mentalities, vested interests and village land-use politics still present challenges to accomplishing genuine operational sustainability in countryside regeneration on a wider level. Given the multi-faceted nature of the countryside, the role and capacity of architects and related design professionals in such projects still need to be better defined, adapted, expanded or consolidated.
While “hardware” infrastructural improvements such as basic utilities, accessibility and communications are certainly necessary for many abandoned villages, it is clear that better navigation of the “software”, comprehending nuanced differences between the rural and the urban mode of operations and transactions, is as important. Architectural restorations may provide the first tangible indications of revival, yet comprehensive regeneration requires joint efforts of government, villagers as well as academia, NGOs and empathetic businesses to collaborate and co-create viable, place-inspired livelihoods. Besides balancing environmental monitoring and ecological protection with encouraging land-owning villagers to return, the injection and eventual absorption of new communities will be key to rejuvenate and maintain the vitality of the countryside and its ecology.
In a recent conference organised by the Countryside Conservation Office in early March 2023, architects, planners and other professionals in social innovation, travel and tourism, art curation and environmental management, both local and abroad, convened to exchange views on how all their knowledge and expertise can synergise to revitalise the resources and values of Hong Kong’s countryside. Some of the experiences shared may provide the much needed insights to address imminent issues in preserving and reinvigorating the natural environment with a human-centred approach.
Dr Jackie Yip, Assistant Director (Country & Marine Parks) of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, introduced the UNESCO Geopark project that preserves the geological features of the Yan Chau Tong archipelago. A community-building aspect involved extensive research into the oral histories of the inhabitants, getting islanders, many of whom had moved out or migrated to other countries, to re-tell their stories and re-presenting them in several “Story Rooms” in various villages within the Geopark. More initiatives are anticipated to further build up linkages between the culture and history of the islanders and the treasured geography that they and their ancestors had co-existed with and lived on.
Garnering support and participation, especially among the younger generation, in a rapidly aging rural community has been a major challenge in countryside conservation. Dr Kuroda Nobu, a cultural landscape specialist, shared the conservation initiatives in Japan’s World Heritage site of Shirakawa-go that have been largely generated and led by younger local villagers. Through empathising the value and frailty of both the history and ageing community of Shirakawa-go, youngsters were prompted to actively partake in repairing the thatched roofs of the famed Gassho-style houses. Such an engagement process enabled the passing on of the traditional craftsmanship of thatched roof building as well as the rediscovery and preservation of a special species of kaya (Japanese pampas grass), and exemplified the nature-culture linkage in community resilience in particular under the strain of COVID-19.
Innovation can plant a seed of hope in reshaping the agro-economy of rural communities. In the age of 5G technology, big data and artificial intelligence, we are witnessing drastic transformations in sustainable farming practices that would improve the income and livelihood of growers by rejuvenating agricultural landscapes. Ms Chen Dan Dan of AIRICE demonstrated how, in the northern outskirts of Guangzhou, eco-farming experts established eco-friendly rice farming standards and provided a framework of digitalisation to facilitate decision making and planning management by information collection, pest control, irrigation and trend prediction. The project combines a productive landscape, created and maintained via cutting-edge technologies, with its thematic visitor facilities and futuristic installations to suggest progressive possibilities for rural revitalisation via agro-cultural tourism.
Artistic intervention is increasingly being deployed in rural landscapes in Hong Kong and beyond to energise local communities and attract visitors. Inspired by the terms satoyama (里山) and satoumi (里海) from Japan that describe social-ecological landscapes of reciprocal human-terrain flourishing, Dr Lesley Lau, Head of Art Promotion Office, Leisure and Cultural Services Department, used projects such as Lamma Mia and Hi!Hill to illustrate the role of art and culture in village revitalisation, where art bridges generation and cultural gaps, collaborates with changing natural rhythms and enriches multi-sensorial interpretation physical settings. The public art project Lamma Mia examined Lamma Island's history and lifestyle through the interplay of sea and land, and Hi!Hill made use of the abandoned village school to connect generations and the picturesque village of Chuen Lung. While invigorating local communities and enhancing tourism opportunities, challenges in sustaining the interest of art in countryside environments, the question of villager approval and long-term stakeholder involvement to such place-based art events remain.
Taking note of these discussions, this issue of the HKIA journal attempts to acknowledge the significant transformation of rural areas for the sake of our contemporary urban living, appreciation for agrestic and environmental-friendly lifestyle, rediscovery of traditional practices and wisdoms, health benefits and recreational potential of country parks in the wake of the pandemic, as well as attendant implications for our collective life on the planet in the face of climate and environmental issues. It opens with our Symposium on “Countryside?” in two distinct yet concatenated panels on urban-rural symbiosis and development and architecture in nature.
Urban-Rural Reframing opens with Stephen Tang’s elucidation of the multi-faceted work of the Countryside Conservation Office, followed by Weijen Wang’s Kuk Po Vision and Tony Nip’s proposal on a sustainable Northern Metropolis with ecological civilisation. Hiu-yan Wong and Benni Pong speculate on the resilient human-plant symbiosis of weeds in the city and spontaneous landscape. Humphrey Wong and Steven Chu, and Sze Ying Ying carry on with the revival of traditional socio-cultural values of the rural through architectural restoration through their cases in Lai Chi Wo and the Sai Kung Peninsula respectively. Wendy Ng and Po Yin Chung, and Miriam Lee and Thomas Chung explicate their rediscoveries of hidden heritages on Lantau Island and the implications on their conservation.
In the Building in the Countryside section, Kevin Li confers about architecture with natural materials in view of climate change. Weijen Wang’s Valley Retreat showcases natural ecology and agricultural settlements in Henan, while the Terra Centre team led by Edward Ng and Li Wan developed innovative rammed earth building techniques in Kunming. Another three award-winning architects – Anderson Lee at Christian Zheng Sheng College, Corrin Chan at Tzu Chi Environmental Action Centre and Thomas Wan at Hoi Ha Visitor Centre – scrutinise their projects beyond urban Hong Kong, illuminating themes dealing with natural landscape, environmental-friendly materials and invigorating architectural spatiality.
Community in the Countryside begins with local natural building practices in Nam Chung by Loky Leung and sandbox projects on Po Toi Island by Team Tombolo which examine self-initiated community-building in response to sustainability ideals and natural disasters. This is followed by award-winning projects instrumental to infrastructure improvement and capacity building in rural Southeast Asia by young Hong Kong architects. The section ends with Thomas Chung’s experimental restorations in remote Mui Tsz Lam that championed collaborative co-creation.
The variegated array of Platform presents more food for thought on the possibilities and complexities of “Countryside?”. Su Chang with his curated exhibitions, One Bite Design Studio at Sai Kung Hoi and Humphrey Wong at Yim Tin Tsai exhibit interconnectivity and scalability of art, community and imagination in rural settings. Francis Neoton Cheung offers an alternative vision for part of the Northern Metropolis, whereas Marco Siu and his team put forward theory and practice of “quarantine tourism”. The recap of the webinar forum wraps up insights from international case studies on architectural competitions as policy.
In light of revived interest and much public debate on Hong Kong’s countryside, and the turn of the globalist architectural “gaze” towards the hinterland beyond the strictly “urban”, this issue we will shift our focus to consider how architects, design professionals and relevant stakeholders define, imagine, design, traverse and inhabit our city’s countryside. This symposium covered various issues on countryside and architecture in two separate sessions. In the first session, “Urban-Rural Symbiosis and Development”, the panellists deliberated about architecture as an agent in rural community development, rural planning, and the contrast and coexistence of urban and rural architecture with real examples of their own projects and policy advocacies. In the second session, “Architecture in Nature”, another group of panellists exchanged views on architecture in natural landscapes, use of natural materials as well as design and infrastructure for countryside living.
Hong Kong has been planned in a way of high density, yet almost 70% of the land has been reserved as rural areas. How do we sustain this when we are in urgent need of having more land for housing? How do we plan for new town developments, as in the Northern Metropolis Development Strategy or in Lantau Tomorrow Vision? How do we do better for the city as well as the countryside?
How do we understand more of our natural landscape in terms of wetland, infrastructure, even paths and roads? In view of the historical evolution of traditional Hakka or Lingnan architecture, how do we understand them and develop various strategies to deal with them? How can we learn from tradition that architecture is not only an object in harmony with nature, but also a part of the ecological system in the countryside? How can architecture be more natural? And how can we learn from nature, to make our dense city part of the ecology and be more responsive to urgent environmental issues such as climate change in Hong Kong? This is the foreground of the symposium – how we can preserve Hong Kong’s countryside better than it is, and sustain the valuable resources we have. (WW)
Countryside Conservation and Urban-Rural Symbiosis
Urban-rural symbiosis can be understood as “there is something of one in each other”. There is something rural in the city, also something urban in the rural setting. The work of the Countryside Conservation Office (CCO) is to bring these together so that we can all enjoy a more natural environment in the city, and reasonable urban convenience in the countryside.
There are lots of beautiful villages in Hong Kong, but not all are accessible. How can we facilitate people living in the urban area to enjoy these beautiful sceneries? And how can urban living conditions enhance the value of remote villages? Hong Kong’s countryside is rich in ecology, architecture and culture. However, since the 1950s people in these villages began to move to the urban area for a better living, leaving the villages in ruins. Today, policies have been announced to promote sustainable development of remote countryside areas.
The CCO was set up to coordinate conservation projects, starting with those in Lai Chi Wo. We studied the environment and the village community, then took actions through initiating minor works, such as repairing footpaths in the village and constructing eco-friendly and family-friendly public toilets with the application of smart technologies, and facilitating non-profit organisations (NPO) to work towards countryside conservation via funded projects. We also educate the public to raise awareness towards the beauty of our countryside. During the process, we collaborate with different groups, such as stakeholders, our Advisory Committee, scholars, engineers, volunteers and so on.
At the same time, supporting facilities, like guesthouses or eating areas, are necessary when people make long journeys to reach villages in the countryside. We try to facilitate their licensing from the angle of various government departments and look for means to fit the standards of licence authorities. Way forward, we aim at creating a new page of conservation development in Hong Kong with more applications of smart technology and eco-friendly approach to reach carbon neutrality. (ST)
Northern Metropolis - Leveraging Opportunities to reshape Hong Kong
Hong Kong 2030+ provides the framework for local metropolis development strategy which is different from previous strategic plans in two ways. The focus has moved from passive environmental conservation approach to active environmental capacity generation. Development capacity and environmental capacity are not mutually exclusive. It also moves from a development-oriented approach to one that is livability-oriented.
The Northern Metropolis Development Strategy (NMDS) includes policies to be clearly embedded in a public policy document published as part of the Chief Executive’s Policy Address.
First, we need to create a unique metropolitan landscape featuring urban-rural integration and co-existence of development and conservation. Before this, we had taken the metropolitan landscape as something that naturally evolves, particularly the development along Victoria Harbour. Instead the government should make a conscious effort to create a unique metropolitan landscape. Second, we should implement a proactive conservation policy to create environmental capacity. The government will take the initiative to resume private land of very high ecological value and create a comprehensive 2000ha conservation system here. Third, community making. It requires government officers to break through the conventional project-oriented framework. Fourth, “Twin Cities, Three Circles” – a cross-boundary land use framework which conflates both Hong Kong and Shenzhen’s strategic plans to synergise the efforts.
The 2000ha comprehensive system of wetlands and coastal ecological conservation mentioned above does not mean changing the present conservation areas. We need a more comprehensive viewpoint for a more efficient layout and operation system. Through this proactive conservation policy, we can compensate more than the loss during the NMDS process. (KKL)
Constructing a Sustainable Northern Metropolis with Ecological Civilisation in the Perspective
Taking off from urban-rural symbiosis, we should look at urban-nature symbiosis which I will demonstrate through two case studies, and how these concepts can apply to the Northern Metropolis.
Development footprint should not overlap natural habitats of highly threatened species. In a building proposal in the green belt of Pok Fu Lam, the consultant shifted the layout of the architectural proposal to prevent damaging a well-vegetated area. More innovatively, it is also possible to elevate the house to allow sunlight entering the ground to keep the habitat.
The other case involves a marshy grassland in Hong Kong evolved from open farmland where fireflies are found. Fireflies are highly sensitive to light because they use their light to communicate. Even streetlights can affect their population. None of the above mentioned options is possible. The proposed housing project next to this firefly hotspot should be stopped.
While NMDS proposes protecting wetlands and coastal areas, we also want to protect farmlands – active farmlands that produce food and contribute to the resilience of the city. Farmlands are important to wildlife. An ongoing farm and food survey shows that the area within NTN (Tai Po Tin, Lei Uk, Chow Tin, Sandy Ridge Wetland Mosaic in Man Kam To) are very important for birds due to their high diversity.
Animals such as large waterbirds and Eurasian otters are highly sensitive to human disturbance. Humans have been identified as the largest disturbance that should be controlled as a priority. All recreation proposals should be treated extremely carefully. KFBG proposes a Greenway Network to respond to the Urban Rural Greenway proposed in the NMDS report to connect different ecological areas. (TN)
Building a modern Yeuk in Hong Kong’s Countryside
How do we define the countryside or understand the relation between rural and urban? Usually “rural” and “countryside” are used interchangeably to describe the periphery of the urban, which alludes to the marginalised area in the entire human settlement. These two types of settlements intermingle and mutually influence each other. The new understanding of urban-rural relation brings about an ever-evolving and multifaceted nature of “rural” through emphasising rural-specific characteristics and unleashing its potentials, which are specifically exemplified in the case of Yan Chau Tong.
As a basic self-organisation in ancient China, the Yeuk is a governing system and social norm emphasising mutual help and reciprocity among villages. Hing Chun Yeuk in Yan Chau Tong area comprised seven villages, who initially came together to consolidate small Hakka villages against external threats and to facilitate inter-village trading and social bonding. Our study renews this system towards a modern Yeuk of Yan Chau Tong, with the addition of Kuk Po and Fung Hang under these five closely linked elements – social organisation, physical space, economic activities, cultural inheritance and social bonding, as well as renewed Hakka cultural traditions.
There will be short term, midterm and long term goals for the vision of a modern Yeuk. Each village starts with developing its distinct characteristics. Gradually a cluster will be formed to benefit with adjoining neighbours. Finally regional impact will spread in the whole area. We aim to achieve five goals in this Yan Chau Tong project – exemplary model for “Modern Yeuk” governed by a regional coordination hub, world-class agrarian landscape, village circular economy with strong reciprocal relations and supported by indigenous entrepreneurs, multi-generational living communities practising traditional and modern village lifestyles, and finally, unique Hakka cultural inheritance defined by distinct and vibrant village cultures and empowered by new technologies. (SH)
Urban-Rural Symbiosis & Development
What should architects consider when intervening in the countryside? The existing Hong Kong development model has failed to provide or take action to enable Hongkongers a better quality of life. Yet with emerging plans such as Hong Kong 2030+ and efforts from academics, there are new ways of how Hong Kong should be developed.
Hong Kong’s economic power concentrates on a very small footprint of the urban area. This model has served us well in the past, providing the efficiency that enabled the city to compete. This strategy is no longer working in the twentieth century. Instead a fairer development system, with social institutions providing decent economic growth for all, is needed.
We can do better with a smarter urban-rural symbiosis and development instead of turning our countryside into congested urban areas. We should look at market demand and the user density together with the wage gradients, rather than a straitjacket zoning plan and density of development. With technologies, we have new opportunities such as working remotely instead of at a centralised office and using e-commerce rather than going to shopping malls. There are lots of new ways for this to happen.
When we look at countryside symbiosis in the urban area, we also consider the opportunity to fully integrate with the Greater Bay Area. A lot of development plans still leave the north of Shenzhen River blank. The ecosystem knows no boundary. We need to look at the GBA as part of our development plan, so that we can have a holistic future for Hong Kongers, as well as all the people living in this region. We should extend our discussion of how to make use of the land to provide better and eco-friendlier intervention into nature and the countryside. (DC)
How do we make Hong Kong happier if the countryside is one of the helpful mechanisms? How do we conserve the countryside as natural as possible and keep the sensibility to control development? How do we improve the qualities of the village houses with more environmental, ecological and nature responsive approaches? (WW)
Currently only 25% of Hong Kong’s area is urbanised, how can we make use of the remaining 75% for relaxation from urban congestion? The availability of the open spaces depends on how accessible and equipped it is. The solution is to make rural areas more accessible and organised with plenty of activities to meet the expectations. Thomas and Weijen are doing architectural experiments in the countryside to convert dilapidated areas into usable community spaces. That is the way forward. Those living in remote areas and working in the city spend a lot of time and money commuting. We can develop a more positive and concentrated mode that makes use of the countryside and multicentric area as a back garden in the North Metropolis so that people can live and work. Now we should draw more viable solutions to revitalise those areas and protect nature for a sustainable planet. (ST)
A change in mindset is needed. Making transportation cheap and affordable will disrupt the existing market. A lot of vested interests will fight against what we term as a more equitable development model. The scarcity of land is not the real problem because we do have land in Hong Kong, but they are not shared with the community. In terms of open spaces, we do have a good country park system that people make use of. Yet brownfield land has not been fully utilised. (DC)
First of all, we need to have a clearer definition of the countryside through measuring human intervention. For instance, country parks generally indicate minimal human intervention, which need less conservation. Village areas with farming activities are between the natural and the urbanised. Their connecting parts can be considered for recreational activities. Second, I emphasise several times the importance of the role of farmers. Farmers are not only food producers, but also managers of our rural landscape, which is freely enjoyed by the urban travellers. However, the farmers only earn from selling agricultural products, which does not cover their whole contribution. The government should provide proper subsidies to farmers to ensure their living quality. Third, we need to understand the unique characteristics of Hing Chun Yeuk, which is almost an enclosed area without road access. If we build a road to this rural area, the whole situation will be fundamentally changed. Yet we can still provide a relatively convenient waterway for both villagers and visitors if the Sha Tau Kok pier is opened up for public use. Therefore, I suggest making it a designated area for countryside conservation and revitalisation with special policies on licensing permission, hostels and even housing forms. Then we can demonstrate this sort of built form to conserve the characteristics of our countryside. (KKL)
Farmers should be subsidised for their ecosystem service. Now there are Management Agreement (MA) projects in fishpond areas where fishpond operators can get the subsidy if they conduct an annual drain-down of the water level to provide more food for waterbirds. In terms of revitalising remote village areas, the sewage system is a major concern. They mainly rely on septic tanks. The situation will improve a lot if the government also provides financial support for this. (TN)
It is necessary to evaluate the values of the countryside and the conventional rural system. We see that during COVID, urban dwellers can escape to the countryside when the city is in partial lock down. We also have to realise the barriers we need to break in order to achieve urban-rural symbiosis, for instance administrative boundaries, to explore the possibility of building a polycentric governance system, and utilise this idea to implement a new mode of the cross-boundary governance system and build appropriate infrastructure such as sewage, toilets and housing. It is also crucial to introduce a special licensing system for the rural, and the economic support mechanism to encourage more eco services provided by farmers. Digital infrastructure will also help villagers to promote their agricultural products and enable multigenerational linkages and co-development as well. (SH)
In view of the work of CCO in Hing Chun Yeuk area, in fact this area is not subject to the most critical pressure considering the metropolis as a whole because of its inaccessibility. The rural scene in Yuen Long is totally different, if not chaotic. These areas in Northern New Territories are facing a more critical situation. With the opening up of the frontier area, Hing Chun Yeuk may not be able to keep its rural conditions. How this relatively rural area can be conserved before it turns into another Yuen Long is indeed a critical, urgent problem that we need to face. (KKL)
In this session, we focus on architecture. How can we build more environmentally-friendlier, more natural and more sustainably? How do we learn from tradition? And how do we become more sensible to look forward to future architecture? The main issue is about architecture and nature in the bigger context of Hong Kong countryside. (WW)
Architecture in Nature
Architecture co-exists with nature. It appears in the course of human development. When we advance in technologies, we often make irreversible impacts to the environment.
In the case of Green School Bali, a 500 people community built in the wilderness since 2008, almost all its building materials are from nature, such as bamboo, grass and mud. Since last year, they even have their own independent power supply, mainly from the Voltex generator installed in the river, solar panels and biofuel. They use composting toilets from Australia. Bamboo structures are smartly constructed to form spaces that accommodate various activities. Even a huge gymnasium with a large span of 19m can be achieved through the proper use of materials and the strength of the bamboo.
After almost 14 years of development, the founder of Green School Bali starts to apply this idea elsewhere. The main concept is to let younger generations understand sustainability, and to practise the concept of sustainability. (KL)
Hoi Ha Visitor Centre
The idea of a building in the countryside as a perfectly embodied living shelter in the Western tradition stemmed from Palladio’s intention to equate country living with the classical temple – the ideal of a perfect geometrical structure resting on the mount. Nature, in this respect, is seen as an open ground or a backdrop for built structures to rest on, as geometrical orders dominate over nature.
The East traditionally views the countryside in a very different light. Chinese heritage sees nature not as chaos to be dominated, but as an integral part of a living environment. The idea of inside and outside as one as well as integrating nature as part of the living have been in the Chinese architectural system well over a thousand years. Such a system was exported to other East Asian countries to adapt to their different climate and social needs. Modern architecture in the 21st century should not be a self-centred sculptural object, but a set of spatial experiences organised around human activities, and conceptualised through a series of relationships with our surroundings or natural settings. Architecture is, afterall, a place for cultivation and a journey of self-discovery.
Hoi Ha Visitor Centre is located about 400m from the Marine Park. It is connected to the waterfront by a country trail within the woodland – a gateway for visitors before they proceed to the waterfront. The buildings are organically related to the natural landscape. The multipurpose room and the caretaker’s office with supporting facilities embrace a lawn in the middle, which becomes the main outdoor space for gathering and activities. They also create a variety of outdoor spaces in between, such as small courtyards, semi outdoor spaces, verandahs and walkways, working together to form a village-like settlement. Facilities are designed in a way to form outdoor spaces in between and enhance people’s relationship with nature in the centre.
The architecture of Hoi Ha Visitor Centre is conscious of emptiness that permeates all around us both inside and out. The emphasis of the design is on the empty space and the gaps between the forms. Architecture celebrates emptiness through its enclosure while building aims at providing functions through a structural envelope. The difference in their intention and manifestation greatly affects the conditions of our mind in terms of understanding of ourselves and the nature of life. (TW)
Tzu Chi Tai Wai Environmental Action Centre
Tzu Chi Environmental Action Centre, originally built in the 1950s as a village school in Tai Wai, was renovated with the vision to protect the environment. Over the past few decades, Tai Wai has changed drastically from villages with farming lands into urban areas with public housing and private residential highrises. Surprisingly, the old Tai Wai village still remains.
With a limited budget, we adopt the principles of environmental design in various aspects and minimal interventions. We began with cleaning the existing building, opening up some places while keeping most of the structures, and doing minimal changes to retain the original architecture of that time which was environmental with natural lighting and ventilation.
Innovative green materials and residual materials are used to the maximum without any waste. Tiles and the floor with wooden appearance are made from recycled plastics. The original plastering of yellow sand is made into bricks, and further becomes a feature screen. To save energy, solar panels are installed to generate electricity. Natural ventilation is maximised.
Promotion of a simple sustainable living style was also present. It is not only about technology, but also rebuilding the connection between human and nature. We use the frames of windows and doors to capture the changing sceneries in nature like traditional Chinese gardens. Greeneries are added on the vertical walls to enhance the green ratio. We emphasise rainwater collection and community engagement for volunteers to participate in the construction process. The centre also promotes vegetarianism as another way to help the planet.
As an architect, our job goes beyond just physical design. We invite people from different practices to create the exhibitions together and promote the concept of 7R – Respect, Recycle, Reuse, Reduce, Repair, Refuse and Rethink. These ideas are from traditional wisdoms that adapt in the modern time. Most importantly, we respect each other. If we respect nature and consider ourselves as part of nature, then there is no need to convince people to become eco-friendly because we are one with the environment. (CC)
An Eco-Community in the Making: Natural Building Practice at PEACE, Nam Chung
This is the sharing of a project in a village community in Hong Kong. As an architect who has worked in the city for several years, I have become more concerned about sustainability. With much reflection, I decide to change the scene of working and living from the urban to the rural in Nam Chung, a place in the Sha Tau Kok inlet, where the wildlife inhabit in the valley, and a Hakka village settles at the foothill.
A bunch of people with different backgrounds including anthropology, cultural studies, and engineering have come together for this ongoing project. The construction industry is the most energy consuming industry, along with highest carbon dioxide emission. Apart from the operational energy of buildings, we are also concerned about the life cycle of products, including what comes before the upstream energy consumption and what comes after the domination of buildings.
The countryside landscape in Hong Kong is at many locations occupied by sheds and warehouses for assembling scraps, metal sheets and plastics. We came up with the idea of completely using local composable materials. The project in Nam Chung is a community kitchen built with bamboo, mud from the fish pond and straw from the valley. We attempt to create a prototype to test if we could build any structure in Hong Kong completely with local materials from the land.
Apart from physical space, we also look at building sustainably such as financial capital, nature, infrastructure, human and so on that contribute to development of the community.
In this project, I’m not only a designer, but also a contractor who coordinates people to work together with their hands. We are living as one. The idea of considering the countryside as a backward and impoverished area should be challenged. The countryside is a working site for us to rethink how to live together with nature. (LL)
How would one critique the different models for building in the countryside? Is there a way we can learn globally from each other? How can architects transform the current way that people build in the countryside? (WW)
Before architecture, there is overall planning and policy. In view of the NMDS, there are possibilities to start with collective, collaborative involvement in the planning. I see the power of community involvement in LL’s project. There is collective wisdom in the scale for a big city even from a small project. The institute has proposed to the government for a less centralised, but more coordinated design office, like a sustainable design office, not only for the rural, but also taking the city as a whole with both rural and urban. The government has set the target of zero carbon before 2050. Sustainable architecture and adaptive reuse should be encouraged. A revisit to the building code would also support this direction. I’m seeing the efforts from different parts, such as the community, NGOs, and the government. (CC)
One of the major target to reduce the consumption of electricity is to significantly cut down the use of air conditioning (A/C) in buildings and employ natural cross ventilation as a mean of passive environmental control which was utilized in all civilizations for thousands of years as the most sustainable way of building. I have do away with A/C in the public circulation areas in Shatin Che Kung Temple Sports Centre, Shatin Community Green Station (CGS) and the Hoi Ha Visitor Centre. Both Shatin CGS and Hoi Ha Centre have openable windows to allow natural cross ventilation and nature to come in. As nature is an inseparable part of our environment, we can’t treat it as separate entities, but rather, to acknowledge and harmonize with our natural environment. In the case of Hoi Ha Visitor Centre, cows can come into the venue to graze. That’s part of nature. (TW)
We need a new typology for office and commercial buildings that do not totally rely on central AC. This will substantially change the architectural design of office buildings to support more natural ventilation. (CC)
Building typology in the city can change a lot, but how about in the countryside? If we propose a workable way, what kind of architecture could we imagine? Is there any change of mindset? How about the role of government? Can there be special places for experiments in the countryside that the government can take up the initiative to enable alternative ways of making architecture? (TC)
The example of this Green School in Bali is quite interesting because it starts with nothing. It is located in a very remote area. The founders started with bamboo, and found methods to enhance the durability of the materials. They consult experts from Germany and structural engineers from the UK to transform those materials into something quite substantial. Moreover, they make use of local craftsmanship. Indonesians are good at using bamboo. (KL)
ArchSD has designed facilities in country parks. In the case of Hoi Ha Visitor Centre, we have tried with new construction methods, like steel structure prefabrication and the use of old shipping containers, to express the design in such a way that made reference with traditional Chinese building. We also investigate different ways of relating with the landscape, by re-organizing the building programme into small pavilions meandering around the existing trees in the form of traditional village like atmosphere. The design team also use natural materials like timber and fair-face concrete expressing the timber formwork, these combinations blend harmoniously with the spatiality of natural surroundings. (TW)
There are a lot of studies from abroad or from China in working with natural materials for instance, on rammed earth building and legalising it as a construction material in China. There will be many examples of other kinds of natural materials to become more operable and durable. Apart from physical space and technology, it is the mindset that matters. There should be a place in the countryside of Hong Kong to explore and experiment, by not only using the conventional system and typology, and simply putting it in the countryside, but also allowing more possibilities to happen. (LL)
Countryside is our next project, and our next step for architecture, environment and future living. (TC)
Countryside Conservation & Urban-Rural Symbiosis
Kuk Po Vision: An Acupunctural Strategy for Rural Architecture in Hong Kong
Urban-Nature Symbiosis – Mission Impossible or Possible?
WEEDsilience: Human-Plant Symbiosis and Spontaneous Landscape
Hakka Life Experience Village at Lai Chi Wo
Chapel Revitalization for Countryside Conservation: the Epiphany of Our Lord Chapel in Sham Chung
Conserving Sai Wan Star of the Sea Mass Centre
The Legend of Shek Pik: Lantau Stories under Water
Lantau Mountain Camp: Multi-layered Regeneration of Missionary Heritage
Architecture and Nature
Valley Retreat: Xiaoyou Dongtian
nnovative Rammed Earth Construction Approach to 70 Sustainable Rural Development
Christian Zheng Sheng Ha Keng Centre
Tzu Chi Environmental Action Centre: Architectural Insights from Nature
Hoi Ha Visitor Centre: Expression of Spatial Consciousness through Nature
Natural Building Practice for Sustainability The Many Experiments in Nam Chung
Team Tombolo: Sandbox Projects on Po Toi Island
A Music School as a Rural Community Catalyst
Water Hall & AGS School in Rural Cambodia
柬埔寨村落的 WaterHall 水堂和 AGS 學校
In-situ, Light-touch, Co-create: Experimental Restoration in Mui Tsz Lam village, Sha Tau Kok
Trans-scalar Imagination: Fragmentary Notes on Exhibiting the Coastal Settlements in Peri-Urban Hong Kong
Sai Kung Hoi Arts Festival: Revitalising Our Islands 124 through Arts and Nature
Three Experiments on Materiality in Yim Tin Tsai
The Beads and Threads of the Northern Metropolis
Quarantine Tourism: Theory & Practice of Quarantine Measures & Possibility for Post-COVID Tourism
隔離旅遊:後疫症的旅遊和隔離建築模式 - 理論與實踐
Webinar Forum - Architectural Competitions as Policy - Case Study