Along with Nam Chung, Luk Keng and Feng Hang, Kuk Po is one of the four valleys with Hakka village arrays along the coast to the south of the Starling Inlet of Sha Tau Kok. Witnesses to the urban-rural migration during Hong Kong’s post-war development, the four villages were once productive rice-fields of the border region, and have experienced similar geographical, social-economic and ecological changes. They have now changed from productive paddy fields into valleys with mangrove wetlands of rich biological diversity.
Starting with research, CCAU (Centre for Chinese Architecture and Urbanism) at HKU is looking into conservation and revitalisation strategies for the Hakka villages in Kuk Po valley. After investigating settlement and architectural typologies, identifying landscape fabrics and interacting with communities, CCAU’s research team identified a series of micro-renewal projects as the catalyst for launching an acupunctural strategy for activating the rural architecture and communities: Exhibitions and Forums at the Kai Choi School, Installations that interact with the landscape, renovation of the Annex of Kai Choi School into the KukPo Common, restoration of the Ruin Garden, and the reconstruction of the Courtyard House to establish a centre for interpreting Hakka living experiences in the village of Lo Wai.
To establish Kuk Po Vision as an identity for the community, CCAU launched exhibitions and installations at Kai Choi School in Kuk Po, and as well as at its parallel events in the HK Architecture Biennale at North Point, and HKU’s architectural exhibition at PMQ, Central. These efforts marked the first moves for starting Kuk Po’s revitalisations while building up community awareness.
Kai Choi School: Exhibition and Forums
The architecture of Kai Choi School and Temple integrated village education with religion, and exists to demonstrate an example of a multi-functional building that bore witness to the history of rural Hong Kong. Situated in the left wing of Kuk Po Valley opposite to the pier and watch-tower on the right, facing the basin and surrounded by mountains, the school-temple complex plays an important role for Feng-Shui in forming a good site-planning that integrates mountain and water. Completed in the 1930s, the two-story school-temple building combines traditional and colonial styles. It sports three-modular bay spaces and a front porch with arched corridors typical in the region. The left room on the ground floor was used for Hip Tin temple dedicated to Kwan Tai, the deity believed in folk religion to ensure justice. The remaining two rooms on the right were used for classrooms that occupied both the ground and upper levels.
Recognising the significance of architecture and its role in embodying collective memory for villagers, the research team cleaned up the dilapidated rooms, reorganised them into four exhibition spaces by adapting and reusing the remaining classroom furniture and walls, and repurposed them to serve as a catalyst site for Kuk Po Vison.
The Exhibition for Kuk Po Vision at Kai Choi School includes Introduction, Landscape, Architecture and Community. Landscape presents the wetland, feng-shui woods, and ecological diversity of the flora and fauna of the valley. Through the control of tidal streams and waterways by moderating the dike, the basin has been transformed from a rice field to a mangrove forest and reed bed with rich habitats. Architecture introduces the evolution of building types in Lo Wai, a typical Hakka walled village. With references to San Wai and other settlements, it illustrates changes in typology from the three-bay courtyard houses to long rowhouses, and as well as the change from traditional wooden structures with masonry-rammed earth walls to modern concrete constructions and plastered walls. Community introduces the peoples and events of Kuk Po, the distribution of families and ancestral halls, and the collective memories and aspirations of the community.
After a successful opening ceremony of the exhibition that attracted over a hundred villagers and visitors, a series of public forums and workshops were launched in 2022, including Sustaining Countryside, Conser-vitalization, Village infrastructure: Eco-toilet, the North Point Encounter, and Place-Imagination and Making. Furthermore, a list of action items were identified through intensive discussions and debates between villagers and expert groups from various communities. Installations: Field Theatre and Tidal Stools
The installations of Kuk Po Vision include Field Theatre and Tidal Stool, which use wood and terracotta respectively to start parallel dialogues inspired by the mountain-field and sea-tide.
Field Theatre: a landscape garden in four acts develops conversations between architecture and nature through four camphor trees on the sea-side embankment. Reflections of how geologists and archaeologist understand landscapes through their bodily experiences in field studies, the installations are meant to encourage hikers of Kuk Po to pause and explore the engagement of their senses with the surrounding woods and the wetland. The wooden structures further extend to the interactions with the front plaza of the school, opening up the notion of public spaces for Kuk Po Valley.
Tide Stool starts from the sandy beach along the trail, with the porosity of robotic 3D-printed terracotta that provides shelter for intertidal habitants. The installation consists of twenty-four terracotta stools choreographed between the mangrove and sandstone, left to develop into coastal rocks as the tide rises and falls. Distinct from the fifteen stones on the white gravel in the Zen garden of Ryōan-Ji, the terracotta stools are anchored into the sand but able to float and move with the tide, serving also as tidal seats for travellers to meditate and frame their world before the sea view.
KukPo Common: Renovation of the Annex of Kai Choi School
KukPo Common identifies the restoration of the dilapidated Annex Block of Kai Choi School as the pioneering project for the revitalisation of Kuk Po. It will restore the roof structure, and renovate the façade window and roof projections of the annex block. In addition to providing indoor facilities for exhibition and workshops, the proposal also includes the upgrading of the temple front-patio and the waterfront tree-plaza, and the installation of eco-toilets. The project is to develop an overall design proposal integrating a sequence of public spaces, highlighting a sense of place and arrival for the Kuk Po Valley.
Ruin Gardens: Micro-renewal of Tree-House for Lo Wai Village
The project launches a series of micro-renewal projects in Kuk Po starting from the conservation of the ruin houses of the Song family in Lo Wai, and turning them into a ruin garden that integrates nature and architectural memory. The proposed design measures include the conserving and making-safe of the remaining ruin walls and built fabrics for the house, and transforming them into tree-house gardens with landscape and display spaces. It also intends to install facilities such as an organic toilet and washbasin with minimum maintenance functions needed, upgrade village public spaces nearby with paving and furniture, and re-instate a spatial sequence from the entrance gate to patios and the alleyway fabric.
The design follows the principles of authenticity and ecological sustainability, whilst integrating heritage conservation. It also provides public spaces, facilitates cultural and ecological tourism, and promotes a symbiotic relationships between the architecture and landscapes of traditional Hakka settlements in Hong Kong.
Weijen Wang, Professor at HKU Faculty of Architecture, Design Director of Wang Weijen Architecture.