ENDING AS A BEGINNING
What we call the beginning is often the end And to make an end is to make a beginning
THOUGHTS ON EDUCATION
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.
A SCHOOL OF THOUGHT
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.
THESIS AS A PROJECTION
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.