IMG_3571 2.jpg

Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities. Dr. Seuss

One last time? I thought last year would be the last time I write the Foreword of the Grad-book. It turns out this would be the last instead. As such, I am honored to do so once more. Similar to last year, I wish to offer a few snippets of thoughts for you as you move ahead to chart a new course. Hopefully, it will confuse you a little and perhaps to provoke you a bit also.


We often connect certainty with confidence and conviction, a positive attribute we often admire. However, when it comes to design there might be something else worth considering. In The Storm of Creativity, Kyna Leski writes about the importance of “uncertainty” in the design process. To doubt, to question and to be insecure about one's initial preconceptions to what the design question calls for, in her mind, is an essential and indispensable quality to creativity. An open mind that asks the fundamental and essential question of what is? at the beginning of a project.


How do we draw a distinction between fiction and reality? Is it a clear line or a fuzzy verge situating in-between? When we create an architectural proposition in the School of Architecture, or anywhere else for that matter, is it reality-to-be? Or could they be experienced as what they are whether in drawing, model and other means? Alternatively, should it be considered as a spatial hypothesis always in the state-of-becoming? Is the Architectural Project reality, fictional or transitory in between the two?


In the The Mask of Medusa John Hejduk describes the phenomenon in which the painter starts with the real world and works toward abstraction, and when he’s finished with a work it is abstracted from the so-called real world, but architecture is different. The architect starts with the abstract world, and due to the nature of her work, works toward the real world. The most interesting architect is one who, when finished with a work, the original abstraction is retained…. and that is also what distinguishes architects from builders.


Is it possible to be new? Not in the sense of wearing a new dress one just bought from the mall. But a NEW dress with a completely different performance and appearance? Under this premise, is it possible for architecture to be new? Or must the new always be understood as part of a continuum from the origin? Is the understanding of the new conditioned upon the old in order for it to be defined? When the new is so radically different from its origin does it need a separate category? If such is the case, can architecture really be new?


In 1975, Bernard Tschumi famously put out a series of Advertisements for Architecture composed of provocative texts and images. One of which is titled Ropes and Rules. On the poster he proclaimed: “Look at it this way: The game of architecture is an intricate play with rules that you may break or accept. These rules, like so many knots that cannot be untied, have the erotic significance of bondage: the more numerous and sophisticated the restraints, the greater the pleasure. The most excessive passion always involves a set of rules. Why not enjoy them?” Within the academy this provocation is fittingly true. However, what if we were to apply such advocacy in the context of Hong Kong? Would the bondage be so tight that it simply suffocates and pains without any pleasure?


We face a dilemma in architecture when it comes to endurance. On the one hand, there is a desire for permanence, from the material we choose to the space we design. In earnest or in naivete, we hope that the design we make and the actual building constructed would endure the test of time. Yet on the other hand, we also know that the only constant in life is change. Given these forces, is it really possible to design for endurance or indeterminacy?

What are your certainties and what are the paradoxes in your life? What are mine? It is the part of life that we should be most thankful for. Without it, we would be looking through the right end of the telescope always. To the 23rd class of MArch graduates, many, if not all of you were students and friends of mine, I wish the best to you. CHANGE is on your way. Having said all of this, I REALLY will have nothing else to say.

"The section is a connection between two worlds"

In Vertex and Vortex- A tectonics of Section, Jennifer Bloomer described the convergence of inscription and incision as the moment when a section is born. The collision of these two actions is what is conventionally called the poche, which is referred to by Bloomer as the floaters. It is described as a thin layer of liquid substance. A black dot that lies in between the brain and the object observed. To inscribe is to capture a situation by giving it a visual presence. It is a trace, a memory, a description in between the viewer and the spatial narrative beyond. To incise is to discover the unknown of the beyond. It is a physical act, a temporal state of reading and understanding. Furthermore, the notion of gravity and orientation must be considered in the making of a section. She argued that a plan divorced from gravity is a section through transparency, that "a plan is a section which demands the presence of gravity". It must be connected to the world of tension and compression.



Make no mistake, this is a view of a mid-rise residential development by Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP) currently under construction. A mega complex edging inches away from one of the three only wetlands in Hong Kong. Any reasonable planner would have stopped 'The city' along Wetland Park Road. Instead, it allowed two parcels -Area 112 and 115, each measured at 30,000 and 96,600 square meters- to be designated as "Comprehensive Development Area". After a bit of research, it turns out CDA is the code word for "to be designated as whatever the developer wants and to sold to the highest bidder years later".

Legislative Council paper No. CB(2)1405/09-10(01) shows that in 2010, these two lots were discussed in the context of the Panel on Welfare Services Subcommittee on Poverty Alleviation. The lots were considered as potential sites for Elderly Community to "promote social and economic development". According to the same paper, it was supposed to produce 1,900 jobs and be a hub for the local community.

Who would have thought? In 2014 the two lots were sold to SHKP for "HK$4.19 billion, which at HK$1,800 per square foot is the lowest in 21 years." Wow! Shocking. Not only are the lots being changed to residential use (vis-a-vis VILLAS OF THE MONTH), it was sold at a below market rate. Instead of being a hub for the community, i.e. Wellness Centre; Elderly Resources Centre; Vocational Training Centre etc. it will be, when completed, a mid-rise exclusive residential property with unobstructed views to the Wetlands.

I am neither claiming corrupt and/ or incompetent officials/ planners were involved, nor am I suggesting the developer tactically bribed somebody. It is to merely point out the unjust system we are living in. Perhaps it is all lawful but the smell of the fishiness stinks. If only the birds could complain, this might not have happened. Or better yet, officials with longer and creative visions.




In the spirit of Carl Lavia, Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, Momoyo Kaijima and the Exquisite Corpse. The first assignment for [Hong Kong Archive Super Ordinary 2047], will be Drawing City. A drawing that is about the city, about the collective and about observation and imagination.

10 Rules for Drawing City:
1. The 10 meters long drawing shall be divided equally by the number of students.
2. Students will be randomly assigned to the numeric confine.
3. Each student is responsible for drawing within the numeric confine.
4. Within the numeric confine, there are 3 AREAS identified as a, b, c
5. AREA a = b+c.
6. The streets of Kowloon will be the source of inspiration for Drawing City.
7. The drawing could be in any view the student desires i.e. elevation, axonometric, section, perspective, etc.
8. You may draw the streets, buildings, signages, and people. You may draw what is there, what was there or what will be there.
9. The student's main drawing shall be drawn in AREA b.
10. AREA a and c shall be created based upon your neighbour's main drawing. You shall react to his or her drawing.


The Internship

America was the land of opportunity back in the day, particularly for those of us who were born in the 3rd world countries. The US of A was recognised by fellow Taiwanese as the "children's paradise". For kids who perform poorly in the academics, the legend has it that there are other paths to channel their interest. As such, any parents with the means and desires will, almost without a doubt sent their kids to America: the "Beautiful Nation". A literal translation.

America did not disappoint. For someone who was at the bottom of the class, I found my way into La Guardia High School. The specialised school with an emphasis on music, art and performance, and made famous by the film FAME. After taking an elective in "Architecture Design", I was recommended by my teacher, whose name I have forgotten, to apply to a job at an architecture office. With a portfolio in hand, I went to the job interview. When asked to explain my work, I did not know what to say, except to point out what I had done and mumbled.

With much surprise, I was offered the position. So as a 16-year-old, I got my first office job at Baxt and Associates, a small 8 person architectural practice in NYC. I was given a desk, my own phone line, sitting next to the diazo (blueprint) machine. The after-school government + employer programme split the cost to pay for my $4.25 per hour salary. I worked Monday to Friday, from 3 to 6 pm for 15 months. I remember stopping by the hotdog stand for my daily sausage snack. It was my first step toward becoming an architect.

There I met wonderful architects Ben, Dick, Jonathan, Kelly; secretary Bronwen and others, who taught me how to pick up red lines, roll the pencil when drawing a line; how to take measurements on a job site; write proper architectural lettering and use the protractor to recreate curves. Of course, I also run errands and bought Ben, the boss his favourite seltzer everyday. Jonathan was the one who brought me to my first shoe shine and explained to me the importance of having well presented shoes.

As a parting gift before I went to RISD, they hand drew two gift certificates for me. One was for a helmet of my choice at a bike shop owned by Dick and Ben's friend in Brooklyn. Another was a $100 certificate at Charette, the now defunct art supply store in Providence. It was a memorable experience, they taught me not only the rudimentary knowledge of architecture but also how to treat people with respect, no matter how they look like, what age they are or where they are from.

I was surprised to find this picture on their website recently (the firm has been renamed Baxt Ingui). A picture which I took in 1990 with my Nikon N2000 film camera. I remember taking the shot from the street level on Park Place looking up the big office window. I also remember giving them instructions with hand gesturing of when the shutter will be clicked.

Is America still the land of opportunities that welcome immigrants today?


How many make a collective? Two or a million?

Asian Cities of Influx

What we have learned through the history of the city is it has always been in a state of change. In fact, this is one of the key characteristics that distinguishes the city from the village or the rural conditions. Beyond its physical manifestation, change as an idea is inseparable from the city as a project. What we have also learned is that any conception in which the city is idealized as an idled formation like those “envisaged by total design such as Filarete’s plan for Sforzinda”1 will immediately be D.O.A. (dead on arrival). The reason was clear. The complex and contradictory nature of the city will almost always outperform the deterministic principles of the ideal city. Despite this preface, there has never been such a degree and speed of change as the one we have witnessed in Asia from the last century.

In recent years, Asian cities have largely followed the development model of tabula rasa, real estate dominance, and economic prioritization by focusing on the needs of the individuals. Concerns for the collective or the public life have been largely ignored, or at best serve as a negotiating chip between the powerful. The “fierce urgency of now”2  for architects to confront this issue of the public life or the collective has never been greater.


Hong Kong and Taiwan

Between the early 1960s and the 1990s, Taiwan and Hong Kong witnessed a rapid economic development propelled by a low-cost labor force. Both regions consistently maintained 7 to 8 percent growth every year, and each established itself as an export economy making consumer goods of its day.  

In the 1980s, when Hong Kong demonstrated its transformation from a manufacturing city to a world-leading international financial center, Taiwan, on the other hand, had proven itself for contributing to the information technology revolution. This progress came after three decades of emphasis on economic transformation, lifting itself out of the “Third-World” category. A change predicated on the inevitable transmutation of the urban landscape.

Rural farmlands in Hong Kong’s New Territories were urbanized within a decade. Its population multiplied from 300,000 in the 1960s to nearly 4 million today.3 The once agriculture community whose operation depended on sourcing of irrigation systems now requires a network of infrastructures to support its everyday function. In Taichung, the once vibrant city center has become old and derelict as people disperse outward to create new satellites in the suburbs. The reliance on automobiles further exacerbated the sprawling. This metamorphosis of Hong Kong and Taichung brought with it structural reorganization and completely reshaped both cities.4


Forming of a Type

Long before Rem Koolhaas’s ‘Elements of Architecture’ (Venice Biennale, 2014), there was Jean N.L. Durand's attempt to determine the fundamental principles of architecture. For Durand, it was necessary to establish the basic elements that characterize architecture as a discipline. Just as Euclidean geometry begins with the definition of ‘point’ and ‘line’, architecture also needs to have its own ascertainable elements. The fundamental elements of a building and, by extension, of architecture, were for Durand those that can be found in any building, regardless of its style. His theory was painstakingly recorded in Précis des leçons (Accurate Lessons) and published in 1802.5

Fast forward 150 years. What does it mean to work with the elements of architecture in the Asian cities of influx during the 1970s? Part and parcel of the rapid development of the city came the necessary byproduct of the ‘typical-type’ in architecture. The typical-type enables the infestation of mass housing, satisfying a growing post-war public. It is the great promise of Modernism put into real-world application. The mastermind behind this, of course, is not Durand but Le Corbusier

In Asian cities like Taichung, where valleys of farmland were eradicated and replaced by the Dom-Ino House, the axiom of Le Corbusier and the replicability of its fundamentals put all other challengers to shame. The sheer scale of its germination alone is unprecedented in the history of cities. In Hong Kong, hectares of waterfront and seashores were ‘reclaimed’6 to make way for thousands of cloned crucifix towers from the fiction of Ville Radieuse. Looking at Shatin7 from the eye of a flying drone, it is possible to see the smiling face of Le Corbusier.  


Path of Resistance: Revisiting the Typical

Premise upon the Asian cities of influx – of perpetual action, reaction and transaction – and as a starting point for the studio. Several questions were asked before establishing the pedagogical framework: What role does Architecture have in generating a collective sense of place, of creating a ‘pause’ within a city that is becoming highly transactional?8 Is it possible to use Collective Housing as an agency to trigger placemaking through a balancing act of architectural forms with cultural and social contents? If the motivation is to make a place in a highly urbanized city like Taichung, must the premise of the design project be ambitious in scale through enormous Floor Area Ratio? Could an alternative development model be possible, allowing the propositions to fit within the existing neighborhood rather than the prototypical blank slate approach? Is it possible to reimagine a new typical through collective intelligence? These are the questions posed in the process of forming the U5 Studio for our Year 4 students?


Collective to Collaborate

Deterritorialization is the norm in architectural practice today; it is not an exception but an expectation. It is anticipated that students of architecture will either work in an unfamiliar territory or on projects which disposition is foreign. Under this assertion, what are the means and what is the end to the path of education in preparation for this evolving profession? In other words, what should the form of knowledge in architecture be? How should it be conveyed and learned?  

Ever since the last century, architects have either worked in contexts that are alien to them or developed design approaches from their home of origin and transposed them to a different context. Whether it is Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence to and by Japanese architecture, or William Burton, the British national who helped to plan the city of Taichung, such exchange had become a common praxis. In this era of globalized architecture, the end is not about producing students with architectural knowledge catered to a local industry, but instead for them to develop architectural intelligence and skills that are transportable.  

Collective studio, by ways of collaborating with others students of architecture, is what we believe the first step toward familiarizing with this cross-boundary/cultural inclination. By departing from the students’ home city, it leaves behind their blasé attitude and stimulates them into seeing and experiencing with greater awareness. The curiosity to explore and deviate from the expected is further enhanced.


Critical Collectivism

For the first time since the inception of the compulsory U5 core studio, our students have the opportunity to consider the global challenge of housing design through the local conditions of Taichung. The objective of finding a middle ground between the universal necessity of habitation and the particular character and texture of the context echoes Alexander Tzonis and Kenneth Frampton’s call for a critical regional awareness of architecture.

For educators in architecture, it is a necessary step to reflect on the evolving and changing landscapes of architectural practice. One that is increasingly homogenous and globalized. The collaborative studio allows us to highlight the importance of producing architects with knowledge not catered to a particular industry or locality, but instead, it is for them to develop architectural intelligence and skills that are mobile and fluid, therefore enabling them to contribute and manoeuvre reflectively according to the specific situations confronted.  

This article began by posing the question: what is a collective? And how many people does it take? It is not only a provocation to bring awareness to the topic of collective housing, but also an attempt to seek a different way of working vis-a-vis collective intelligence. Like all the design studios in our School of Architecture, this U5 Studio is meant to sow a potent seed in the young minds of the students.


1 Pier Vittorio Aureli (ed.), “Introduction”, The City as a Project Hegel, Berlin: Ruby Press, 2013.

2 Is it possible to shepherd a collectiveness in architecture emulating the idealism of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

3 Fan Shuh Ching, The Population of Hong Kong, Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 1974.

4 As people’s livelihood became more prosperous, the demand for quality built environment increased. The fundamental purpose of architecture was also questioned, moving from the basic desire for private spaces to an increased awareness of public spaces for social and cultural production. 

5 According to Durand, Architecture is a science and an art at the same time: like science, architecture demands knowledge; like art, it requires talent. Talent is none other than the just and easy application of knowledge. This correctness and facility cannot be acquired except by sustained exercises and multiple applications. In the sciences, one can know something perfectly after having done it a single time. But in the arts, one cannot know how to execute something well without having done so a considerable number of times.

6 Oxford Dictionary defines ‘Reclamation’ as: “the process of claiming something back or of reasserting a right.” So why is occupying a former seafloor by human beings called reclamation? It is a highly anthropocentric word to which we have become numb.

7 A “new town” of 630,000 inhabitants with a density of 45,000/ km2, Shatin was built entirely on reclaimed lands previously nonexistent.

8 Economic exchange and monetary transaction as a form of social interaction as described by Georg Simmel in his essay “The Metropolis and the Mental Life”, in Donald N. Levine, ed., Georg Simmel: On Individuality and Social Forms (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971).

Source: How many make a collective


    "The truth is rarely pure, and never simple." Oscar Wilde, 1891



I have been coordinating the Thesis Project at CUHK since 2012, the longest serving faculty member for this post to date. This means, I have been invited to write the foreword section of the thesis book five times prior. For what else can I say about the ‘thesis project’ that I haven’t already written in the past attempts? Perhaps through the lens of an (attempted) academic/ intellectual? Done that.  What about from the role of a seasoned (somewhat) practitioner? Done that also. Maybe as a compassionate teacher who discourages the students from falling into tremendous self-doubt? Tried that in 2016-17. Perhaps to craft a coherent argument for continuing with the optimism for believing in this thing we do called ‘Architecture’? Yes, did that as well. After a long struggle, I have decided to write down snippets of provocations as my ‘gift’ to you but also as a reflection and critique to our own microecology at the School. The order in which they appear bears no intentional agenda or hierarchical order.



Architect Mark Rakatansky suggests that architects don't just make things, they also make up things[i]. Too often architects forget the second, often the equal if not the more important part- that architectural fabrication involves stories, scenarios and situations through which they can communicate to a larger audience. This is the narrative necessary in conveying a message through the proposed architecture.  Isn’t the architectural studio part of the educating process in learning how to ‘make up things’? That in order for the project to be mesmerized by an audience, it must possess qualities like those found in a captivating works of fiction, qualities that appeal to the soul, intellect and the emotion? Such as: focus (the power to bring an issue into clear view); logic (a coherent system for making your points); a sense of connection (the power of personal involvement); simplicity (clarity and focus on a single idea); imagery (the power to create profound spaces with architecture); creativity (the ability to invent); excitement (designs with energy that infects an audience with your own enthusiasm); provocation (architecture that makes people think or act); a sense of Wow! (the wonder your architecture that imparts on an audience); transcendence (architecture that elevates with its heroism, justice, beauty, honor). That, my friend, is the highest form of architecture.



To be different is what architects that achieved notoriety says when describing their projects. It is the aim of what they hope to do and accomplish. It is also why their lectures are usually less inspiring than anticipated, typically organised linearly with pictures and drawings of their design, annotated with their words. The simple fact is, it is precisely because of their visual difference that we recognised their work in the first place. Therefore as an audience we go to the lecture to be enlightened by a narrative, to discover a revelation of a rigorous process, perhaps a unique methodology of design. But instead we learned about their non-transferrable intuition, a particular feeling to react, an eureka moment, and we hear the use of exhaustive metaphors. Therefore we leave the lecture room knowing nothing more than when we entered 60 minutes prior.



The Dutch architect Michiel Riedijk describes position as the ground through which the work is operated on[ii]. Not only is he articulating the physical grounding of the project, but the origins through which the work is conceived and rooted from, ethically, socially and technically. The position an architect adopts with regard to a given assignment is fundamental to the design of architecture. For example, should an architect work with any commission that comes her way, regardless of the social, political and ethical considerations? Should an architect work in every part of the world because she is able to? What is the financial condition through which the architect is working under? Should the architect be a service provider to the client, accommodating the client’s demands as best as possible? What role should the architect play in the construction process, as an observer or provide fantastical imagery without intervention to the production of the building process? These are not rhetorical questions, the nature of the position is utterly important particularly due to the permanence of the building and its impact to the city and the society at large.



The critic assumes the role of the judge which exudes an aura of authority, an authority whose command and mastery of the subject matter supremes over the students. Commentary and advice all come with an absolute and definitive undertone, plus an occasional hint of mysticism. Sometimes the authority is an elderly gentleman with a suit and tie who speaks with a deeply accented voice. Other times it is a young man in his early 30's that we see in the School. Despite his appearance, the critic is someone of a particular expertise and knowhow— so thinks the motivated year-one student. For why else would the critic be there in the first place? The student soon learns by year-three that the critic is not always the authority he is assumed or projected-to-be but in fact, someone who wishes to be away from the mundane of and relief from the everyday architectural practice. To return to the crit room is for him, a rekindling with the naiveté he once felt, that fuzzy feeling of optimism which propelled him to study architecture in the first place. So, in order to regain that nostalgic urge of making the world a better place, the critic accepts the invitation to attend the review.



In the words of Frank Gehry, he describes the act of coming into being with himself when confronting the question of the beginning[iii]: “but what interest me- and I've talked about this before- is the moment of truth. Take the simplest example of a painter: you have a white canvas, a brush and a palette of colours and you look at this white canvas and now you've got to make a mark. And I call that moment of truth. It's clean and pure. It's direct. It's hand-eye coordination, it's the brain, it's your thoughts, it's millions of years of history of art packed into your brain, and it's what you had for breakfast and whether your kids were a pain in the ass, and all kinds of stuff. So that first moment is a moment of truth. And I kept looking for the analogy in architecture, because in architecture you can hide behind so many things. You can complain: 'Well, the client wanted this. I didn't want to do it but I had to' or 'The building department wouldn't let me do this' or 'The budget wouldn't let me do this.' So you have an excuse mantra that's two miles long if you want to use it to explain why the building looks like it does. I was looking in my own psyche and in my own life for the moment of truth where you're clean of all that; where you can't hide. I don't want to hide. I just want to get out there. I don't want to have any reasons. I've got to keep the rain out, maybe, but I only want very simple reason, so it's not cluttered. And Philip Johnson gave a lecture in which he talked about one-room building being the greatest buildings of all time. And that's it! 'You gotta just make the one room.' And so I started thinking of that as the moment of truth in architecture. And I still think about things that way. The rooms are discrete and they're objects in their own right, but then they're part of a continuum, part of a bigger picture.”


What is your moment of truth? What is mine? It is the search that most of us are still looking for. To the 22nd class of MArch graduates, my best wish to you. Having said all of this, I will have nothing else to say.





[i] Mark Rakatansky, “Fabricators”. Tectonic acts of desire and doubt, p12 – 27.

[ii] Michiel Riedijk, “The Drawing”. The architect’s raison d’être , P 42- 48.

[iii] Frank Gehry, “The Pritzker Architecture Prize acceptance speech, 1989.

Reflections on 'criticality' in Hong Kong

Critical architectural practice in Hong Kong is part and parcel to offer both engagement with and resistance to a development model based heavily on land-economy. A phenomenon created by the overlapping of three conditions: land shortage, planning policy and influx of legal and illegal immigrants. The first and major policy to affect this evolving and challenging practice was defined in the “Colony Outline Plan” published in 1965 where large scale New Town planning was advanced to expand the limits of the colonial territory.

Through the reclamation of lands and construction of infrastructures and buildings, the execution of policy consequently has increased the construction output of the city for decades to come. However, under this directive the production of architecture is largely synonymous with and diminishable to the financial bottom line where form follows faithfully the buildable area, across scales from urban spaces, public buildings to private dwellings. The distress of these three conditions has given rise to a number of building typologies and spatial praxis reflective of the constraints.

One such example is the Municipal Services Building, which began surfacing in 1978 as a government-led effort to provide district-based enhancement of the public life through work, leisure and intellectual development in a self-contained architectural form. This paper examines its performance, and the possibility to transgress within a system formulated upon a capital-driven land-economy.

Critical architecture as enunciated by the architectural provocateurs of —Manfredo Tafuri, Michael Hays and Peter Eisenman— as having the ambition to critique the normative practice by resisting market-driven forces (Tafuri)[i] and; to search for an abstract and autonomous perfection of form to express the architectural truth (Hays)[ii]or; concerns the possibility of knowledge against any accommodation with the status quo (Eisenman)[iii], I would argue does not exist in Hong Kong, or within the sphere of its pursuits. Michael Speaks made a similar observation when he pointedly announced “theory was interesting or at least not harmful when there was no work; but now that we have work we must leave thinking for later.”[iv]

The uninterrupted investment provided ample construction opportunities for the greater architectural industry, giving no impetus to confront the notion of a utopian architecture as described by Tafuri where he claims, in order to achieve an utopian architecture, architects must bring an end to capitalism.[v] Well, in the case of Hong Kong, the marketization is so engrained and pervasive that the discussion of the "critical architecture" has never entered into the debate. Autonomous perfection of form instead is driven by the knowledge of the spreadsheet, a kind of architectural form mutated from the criterion of carpetable and non-carpetable areas, where architecture is analyzed by its effective efficiency. Eisenman attributes this absence of criticality to the lacking of an enabling mechanism to support critical architecture, hence “to build in emerging countries requires accommodation rather than transgression.”[vi]

Critical spatial practice when defined as the “modes of self-reflective artistic and architectural practice which seek to question and to transform the social conditions of the sites into which they intervene”[vii] can be detected in reinterpreted forms within this densely populated, capital-conscious and land-scarce city. Productive ways of appropriating unfavorable conditions have emerged from under-privileged sites for those living on the fringe. For example, a barber who sets up a temporary business alongside a construction hoarding is one of the many scenes one could find in this city where critical praxis exist, see Figure 2. It begs the question what is the minimal sheltering one need to operate a barbershop? In this instance, an overhang, a mirror, chair, pair of scissors, a ritual calendar and an entrepreneurial spirit is all one needs to set up a barbershop. In the older fabrics of Kowloon, tactics are parasitically deployed to appropriate residual spaces underneath stairs, in between alleyways, where small business operates such as a shoe or watch repair store. The business-minded spirit is typically supported by an inventive use of constrained spaces. In the touristy neighborhoods of Tsim Sha Tsui, it is not difficult to find diminutive money exchange booths, some of which measure less than 0.5 meters deep by 1 meter wide.  The miniscule scale of the exchange stalls over shadows the fact that shops like these play an extremely important role in not only servicing the tourists, but those Foreign Domestic Workers who sent their remittance to the Philippines and Indonesia annually, estimated at 800 million U.S. dollars[viii].

The implicit critique to the normative and the accepted practices can be understood, I would argue as a conditional situation forced upon those on the fringe by the developmental policy hence, the critical spatial practice is the practiced act of survival.

[i] Michael Speaks, "After Theory." Architectural Record, June 2005: 72-75.

[ii] K. Michael Hays,. "Critical Architecture: Between Culture and Form." Perspecta Vol. 21, 1984: 14-29.

[iii] Peter Eisenman, "Autonomy and the Will to the Critical." Assemblage, No. 41, 2000: 90-91.

[iv] Michael Speaks, Architectural Theory and Education at the Millennium, Part 3, Theory Practice and Pragmatism, A+U: Architecture and Urbanism 372 no.

[v] Manfredo Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia, Design and Capitalist Development. Cambridge, Massachusettes: MIT Press, 1976.

[vi] Peter Eisenman, "Critical Architecture in a Geopolitical World." Edited by Cynthia C. Davidson and Ismaïl Serageldin. Architecture Beyond Architecture (Academy Editions), 1995: 78-81.

[vii] Jane Randell, "A Place Between Art, Architecture and Critical Theory." Place and Location. Tallinn, 2003. 221-233.

[viii] According to a 2006 report conducted by Asian Development Bank, Workers' Remittance Flows in Southeast Asia.

Drawings by Lam Man Millyan

Creating scientific knowledge in architecture?


J.N.L. Durand

Durand, like his teacher Boullée, did not practiced but contributed to architecture instead as a theoretician and educator through developing specific methods and systems of reading, theorising and teaching.

According to Durand, Architecture is a science and an art at the same time: like a science, architecture demands knowledge; like art, it requires talent. Talent is none other than the just and easy application of knowledge. This correctness and facility cannot be acquired except by sustained exercise and multiple applications. In the sciences, one can know something perfectly after having done it a single time. But in the arts, one cannot know how to execute something well without having done so a considerable number of times.

Long before Koolhaas's 'Elements of Architecture', there was Durand's attempt to determine the fundamental principles of architecture. For Durand it was first necessary to establish the basic elements that characterize it as a discipline. Just as Euclidean geometry begins with the definition of the point and the line, architecture also needed to have its own ascertainable elements. The fundamental elements of a building and, by extension, of architecture were for Durand those that can be found in any building, regardless of its style. His theoretical objective was to systematize architectural knowledge in order to establish a rational way of design buildings. As result, he developed a science of architecture, perhaps as an attempt to match those scientific disciplines rising rapidly during his time. Précis des leçons (Accurate Lessons) which was published in 1802 to articulate his position.

Kicked a Project Lately?

Essay on architectural criticism in the school of architecture.

The title of this essay rephrases Kicked a Building Lately? the 1973 book written by the late architectural critic Ada-Louise Huxtable. It aims to offer observations found in today’s architectural criticism in the school of architecture, particularly through the lens of Hong Kong where I currently teach. Kicked a Project Lately? is meant to illustrate the idiosyncrasy and  nuanced exchanges that occur between the studio instructor, the guest critic, the student, and the audience during the design review.

What does it take to be the first?

Excerpts from the University newsletter:

As part of the University’s internationalisation initiatives, the Bilateral Teaching Exchange Programme encourages faculty members to participate in teaching exchange at universities overseas. Mr. Patrick Hwang of the School of Architecture at CUHK and Mr. Stefano Milani of the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), the Netherlands were the first pair of faculty members awarded under the programme.

Original article >>

To be the first, sometimes just means a bit of naivete, persistence and luck.



CORNERS, curves, deep spaces, details, Elevations, and places

  1. What is the architecture corner?
  2. Is the architecture corner necessary to form a building?
  3. Is it possible to perceive an architectural idea through the architecture corner?
  4. Is it possible to conceive an architectural idea through the architecture corner?
  5. Is the architecture corner an inevitable part of the whole, or could it be identified as it own discrete entity? Or made indistinguishable?
  6. If a building possesses an expression through the articulation of its facades and form, what is the role of the architecture corner within this premise?
  7. In what ways does the architecture corner affect, or contributes to the perception of the architecture facade?
  8. What is the aesthetic relevance of the architecture corner?
  9. Could the perception of the same architecture corner differ due to its interior and exterior context?
  10. What is the relationship, if any, between inside corner and outside corner in architecture?
  11. What are the technical functions of the architecture corner?
  12. Is the architecture corner different from the eaves of a building?
  13. Is the architecture corner only possible through an autonomous setting or does it also occur in an infilled site?
  14. Why is theorizing the architecture corner necessary?

Digital cultural heritage Future Visions Conference - The University of Queensland, School of Architecture

Between 1780 and 1797 French architect Etienne-Louis Boullée began projecting a vision of the architectural monuments during his twilight years through the use of ink-wash drawings on hot-pressed straw paper.   The visionary projects, embraces both formal simplicity and expressivity simultaneously.  While simplicity of form was believed to be the key for ease of apprehending the work, expressivity was seen as necessary to convey the meaning of the form itself.  This research presents a study on one particular project produced during this period: Cenotaph of Turenne 1782 (Figure 1) by reconstructing and analysing the unbuilt paper architecture through physical and digital modeling.  It seeks to provide an alternative frame of reference to the discourse that evaluates the metaphoric or the iconographic aspects of Boullée’s project.  The goal of this study is to unfold the stereometric forms and examine the reciprocal relationship between the project’s conceptual intention as conceived by Boullée with the affect of the spaces as perceived by the viewer (Figure 2).  It proposes to investigate Boullée’s Cenotaph through the chasm between:

1.     Concept of the work and its representative images;

2.     the apparent and the literal solidity of structure;

3.     the idealized form and the perceived form by the viewer. 

The research methodology is organized in four phases.  The first two phases aim to forensically deconstruct the guiding principles of Boullée’s Cenotaph in order to reveal how the Cenotaph is conceived, while the third and fourth phases enable the reading of how the work is perceived.  Although the project is well-publicized in books on Boullée through the five known orthographic drawings, very little has been written about the project. 

ON THE FRINGE - In a Crowded City

The compact-city land-use policy of Hong Kong has resulted in a number of positive outcomes: from having a low per capita carbon-footprint; to a highly efficient and viable transit network system; and to the protection of its country parks, allowing 70% of its territories from being overtaken by real estate development. However, such an ideal model has occurred with adverse consequences for those living and working along the fringes of the society, particularly those that possess fewer means to climb up the established regime. One affected group is foreign domestic workers, essentially lived-in maids, who have become an indispensable part of the social fabric in Hong Kong. 

Part of the InDeSem International Design Seminar at TU Delft, this lecture presents a study that analyses the use of residual spaces in Hong Kong by domestic workers as a temporary extension of their social commune.

Student works cited: Eunice Tsui, AY2015-16 U5 Studio.

Mr. Sou Fujimoto

To be different is what architects that achieved notoriety says when describing their projects. It is the aim of what they hope to do and accomplish. It's also why their lectures are usually less inspiring that anticipated. Typically organised linearly with pictures and drawings of their design. The simple fact is, it is precisely because of their visual difference that we recognised their work in the first place. Therefore as an audience we go to the lecture to be enlightened by a narrative, to discover a revelation of a rigorous process, perhaps an unique methodology. But instead we learned about intuition, a particular feeling to react, an eureka moment, and we hear the use of metaphors. Therefore we leave the lecture room knowing nothing more than when we entered 60 minutes prior.

But like all things in life there is a positive side to it. Mr. Fujimoto revealed to us, when responding to a question from the audience, that during the seven years of inactivity between his graduation from Tokyo University and the inception of his firm in 2000, he was 'thinking'. He was, as he described a shy and young person without much confidence. He worried about being rejected by two of his heros, Ito and Sejima. Two people with whom he wanted to work for but never applied. It wasn't until when he received the second prize in a competition that Ito wrote in an essay about Fujimoto's work that he discovers his confidence. This was an encouraging confession useful in future desk crits.

Architecture Synthesis : Mirror and Window

Under the premise of looking out and mirroring ones inner self, the lecture discusses the means and end to the path of education in preparation for the evolving world, specifically in the field of architecture.  In the age of de-territorialized architecture practice, the end is not about producing students with knowledge catered to a particular industry or locality.  Instead, it is for them to develop architectural intelligence and skills that are mobile and fluid so they can contribute and manoeuvre reflectively according to the situations.  Therefore I would like to argue that architecture education must create the conditions that enable this potential.  

The lecture aims to offer a pedagogical framework addressing the challenge of evolving practice.  Four keywords are selected to reflect the notion of mirror and window: Position, Transmutation, Communication and De-territorialization.  The four categories are examined through design problems from the School of Architecture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

POSITION_As argued by architect Michiel Riedijk Position is used to define the ground through which the work is operated on.  The position an architect adopts with regard to a given assignment is fundamental to the design of an architecture.  The nature of the position is utterly important particularly due to the permanence of the building and its impact to the city and the society at large.  Forming a position in architecture is not exclusively a matter for the practice.  It is something that is advocated in School of architecture, and particularly important when it comes to the Thesis Project. Unlike design studios where the briefs are given by professors.  Thesis, for the most part is self initiated in a one year long research and design project. It could be summarized with the following key principles: Define, Delve, Deduce, Develop and Defend.

TRANSMUTATION_To design is to imagine and synthesize, it often involves taking one form of thought and mutated into something other than its origin.  Be it turning paper into a cup or wood into musical instrument, or more in recent times an idea into a functional app.  In architecture, imagination means transforming a given circumstance by giving a new purpose, form and life.  This given circumstance is at times abstract and formless (such as a schedule of accommodation, a client’s vision or instinct for a project), while other times it starts with the concrete matter (of an existing building or the specific conditions of a site).  Transmutation therefore could be understood as the means through which imaginations are materialised.

COMMUNICATION_Architectural communication is understood as a means to an end: lines, notations in a series of steps from idea toward built realization, the projected building-to-be. Reinforcing the distance between the concrete/ low-level codification of the building form to the abstract/ highly codified drawing.  Representation therefore could be understood as a series of provisional strategies to mediate between the two different worlds, the imagined and the built.  Representation in short is a vehicle; a mediator; an in-between of the two fields.  

DETERRITORIALIZATION_Deterritorialization is the norm to practice today; it is not an exception but an expectation. Students of architecture in droves will either work in an unfamiliar territory or on projects with which its disposition is foreign.  Not only are buildings being designed from across the globe, but parts of a building could be manufactured and sourced from all over the world.  This ease of border-crossing has resulted in cities becoming monotonous for their lack of differentiation, where cities are at risk of becoming more like one another rather than carrying its unique identity and lineage.  Because of this inevitable trend, I have been doing a number of collaborative studios on the MArch level, that exposes students to the broader set of concerns in the practice of architecture.

Student works cited: Jisoo Park, Eunice Tsui, Larry Liu, Thomas Chee, Sophia Au, Shirley Cheung, Kitty Zhou, Cyrus Chan, Doris Leung, Cindy Ng, Wayne Wan, Tiffanny Wong, Magenta Kietkhajornsiri, Kattie Yau, Derek Pang, Christy Lee, and students from the National Chiao Tung University of Taiwan.

2017 Thesis Foreword


What we call the beginning is often the end And to make an end is to make a beginning
T.S. Eliot


In her TED Talk, Grace Lin -a children’s book illustrator and writer- describes the need for children to have two types of books on their shelves.  On one level, books that provides a window to see the immense world out and beyond, with another serving as mirror for discovering who they are deep inside.  Lin warned of the deficiency for having books of one kind, which she argues will either overemphasize the singular interpretation of the world through their narrow point of view, or amassing great knowledge of the world without knowing how to contextualize it through their personal experience.  

I believe this articulation also applies to architectural education, particularly now, at a time when the practice of architecture has become increasingly global. Not only are buildings being designed from across the globe, but parts of a building could be manufactured and sourced from all over the world.  This ease of border-crossing has resulted in cities becoming monotonous for their lack of differentiation, where cities are at risk of becoming more like one another rather than carrying its unique identity and lineage.  


At the School of Architecture, the discovery of the world and one’s inner self occurs in different degrees and levels.  It is as important for teachers to share with our students, ideas conceived by influential figures such as Ebenezer Howard, whose 19th century idea of Garden City have, for better or worse, indirectly reshaped our cities.  But equally relevant, is for them to draw from their surroundings, the important lessons of vernacular settlement and architecture without architects such as Tai O village, whose strong sense of community are often absent from modern societies.  It is this combination of self-confidence to extract from their own context and keen awareness to acquire knowledge through others, that we wish to instill in our students.


Master of Architecture students from the Chinese University of Hong Kong has been, for the last 21 years, authored, designed and produced a graduation book, much like the one you are holding now which contains the architectural production of their Thesis Project, concise distillation of their intellectual and design pursuit.

Our school offers one of the few architectural programmes in the world which is affiliated with a Faculty of Social Science rather than with art and design or technically-driven institution.  What this implicitly means is that our students are keenly aware of their role as socially-oriented cultural producers enabled by their disciplinary knowledge of architecture.  This is evident from the graduating class’s Thesis Projects.

The source of their inspiration comes from the city they inhabit, Hong Kong: ranging from climate change, social inequality, ineffective housing and health care policies, ageing urban fabric, phenomenological discovery, privacy protection, spaces of production and display, and more.  Despite such drastic variations, there is a common ambition among these projects.  It is to provoke and elevate these pertinent issues to the public’s consciousness.  For some students, it is an opportunity to offer their answers to these complex set of issues.

Thesis Project is the last major required course in the School of Architecture, yet it is the first time students are given the chance to define their architectural supposition and to defend the position they take.  The process pertained involves defining a topic that is curious to the individual students but also relevant to the discipline of architecture; of deciphering through the overwhelming research to distill its core knowledge; of thinking independently without the safety net previously expected from the studio instructors; of choosing the tools and methods to develop the work; of developing the patience to sustain the thesis for two semesters; of staying the course during many temptations to deviate from the crux of their intent; or simply, to figure out which first steps to begin.  It is, I hope, not only the course that consummated the students formal architectural study but the commencement of their life-long project.

The Funeral of Jan Palach

John Hejduk’s House of the Suicide and House of the Mother of the Suicide, remembers the fatal act of a Czech philosophy student Jan Palach, whose 1968 self-immolation in protest against the Soviet occupation became a symbol for national resistance.  The memorial formed by two nine-by-nine-foot steel cubes is situated at the edge of the Jan Palach Square Prague.  If House of the Suicide expresses confrontation and resistance through its reflective brushed stainless steel and sharp thorny tentacles. House of the Mother of the Suicide on the other convey ‘a corresponding rage tempered with steely resolve’ through the use of Cor-ten steel with chamfered tentacles.  The structure is complimented by a poem written by David Shapiro dedicated to the memorial.


The Funeral of Jan Palach


                          When I entered the first meditation

                                                                                escaped the gravity of the object

                                   I experienced the emptiness,

                                                                                And I have been dead a long time.

              When I had a voice you could call a voice,

                                                                                My mother wept to me:My son,

                                                       my beloved son,

                                                                                I never thought this possible

                                                I’ll follow you on foot.

                                                                                Halfway in mud and slush the microphones picked up. It was raining on the houses;

                                                                                It was snowing on the police-cars.

                                   The astronauts were weeping,

                                                                                Going neither up nor out.

And my own mother was brave enough she looked

                                                                                And it was alright I was dead.

—David Shapiro

Didactical program disposition in a space of learning

After a blaze that burned down the 'old' modernist building designed by Jaap Bakema which housed the architecture programme at TU Delft in 2008, a design competition was organized shortly after to re-shelter its 4,000 students and professors.  Within one year, an existing building originally intended for students of chemistry was transformed into “BK City” for architectural studies.   Having visited the building many times since arriving NL, one interesting observation to note for this transformed structure.  The shape of the original 19th century building is formed by the alphabets of “E” and opposite-hand “F” connected by a rotated “I”.  In between the strokes are courtyard spaces for leisure activities and to allow for light to enter the interior spaces.  Two of these exterior courtyards was transformed  through the insertion of  two large, volumetric and light filled multi-purpose spaces. While one of these halls function as the great orange lecture hall plus socializing and gallery space; another is a 6,000 square meter “greenhouse workshop" (metaphorically speaking)  positioned across from the bibliotheek (library).   These two critical programmes representing anchors for the faculty is diametrically situated along the main entry axis of the building.  The disposition of these two important spaces establishes an interesting dialectical synthesis between the production of the body with the production of the mind, providing a clear pedagogical position for the Faculty of Architecture.  The walls along the library is lined with the names of those architects with whom have made significant contributions to the work of architecture.