USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program


Sunday, typically known as the day of rest in most western societies, has been taken to a whole other level in Hong Kong. Since Sunday is the only day that Filipino migrant workers have off they take to public spaces to reconnect with their community. In most cities the conventional idea of public space is plazas, parks, squares, etc but in Hong Kong it has now become corridors within infrastructure and most fascinating the under belly of Norman Foster’s Hong Kong Shanghai Bank.

The sheer volume of people occupying the under belly is astounding, the amount of activities endless. The customary blanket has become card board boxes, making the concrete jungle into a brown landscape. The only reminder of the previous hardscape is a sliver of space for circulation. Within this landscape you see the everyday happening; conversations between family and friends, eating, reading, sleeping, preaching, etc. This sensory overload becoming so intense you began to welcome the sound of honking horns as a relief.

This phenomenon sparks the question: what do events like these pose to the architect and the creation of public space? First off we should start with what is “public” which has been posed many times throughout this trip. As students, we tend to equate of public space as open aired squares, parks with trees, plazas with cafés. But when you begin to see mass public interaction under one of the most private and high-powered institutions in Hong Kong your preconceptions of public space become skewed.

In Aesthetics + Urbanism the articles touch on “what can architects offer to the city?” The opening paragraph stating; “The design of avant-garde works of architecture, influenced by science fiction and digital and aerospace technologies, strains ever toward the future. At the same time, the popular idea of the beautiful city is based on nineteenth-century or even medieval stereotypes. How do we explain this contradiction in aesthetics?” As cities have begun to grow rapidly, especially in China, this question has been pushed to the forefront.

The western model of public space is largely focused on plazas, parks etc. This mentality easily accepted with the abundance of land. Yet as China’s population increases dramatically and space becomes limited the notion of public space needs to reevaluated. This is not saying all parks should be scrapped in order to make room for developments but it begs the question can public spaces begin to encroach upon infrastructure? Even more, do we begin to look at built form not just as an envelope where only privatized program takes place but can this envelope begin to open and fold and allow for public interaction within?

b5 2 c6: Public Space by Wolf Prix discusses the creation of public space through architecture. Using the example of his UFA Cinema Center he begins to discuss how through organization of program, space, and envelope Coop Himmelb(l)au was able create a project that did not focus on “the building as an object” but rather “the idea of an urban transistor-an architecture that is capable of amplifying the urban spaces adjoining.” Contrary to Prix you have Robert A.M. Stern whose title Urbanism is about Human Life seems to contradict Prix’s process. Using the example of South Bronx he talks about how “streets have been recaptured for people, buildings have been erected in which people can live with reasonable dignity,” ending the paragraph with “maybe every site does not call for an architectural art project.” Stressing, “We need to think more about how people live.”

Both Prix and Stern have merit in their thinking. Though what seem to be contrasting ideas, they are not mutually exclusive. As architects we need to look at the built environment and the problems set before us. You cannot discuss the creation of public space through architecture without first evaluating the context. At the same time that does not mean that every piece of architecture that has form is an object. The best architecture is one that takes these two issues and finds a way to mold them to not only create “unexpected encounters occurring on street corners and sidewalks” but also within the building itself.

– Precious

Filed under: Architecture, China, Hong Kong, HSBC, Urbanism


The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu