Re-Imagining Urban Space

Re-Imagining Urban Space

Mr Weijen Wang
Awardee of the Faculty KE Award 2011
(Faculty of Architecture)

The sight of high-rises crammed together against a backdrop of green mountain peaks is Hong Kong's signature, but does that represent good architecture?

This question is at the heart of architectural biennales, events held every two years to bring together architects, planners, designers and the general community to consider the function and possibilities of architecture.

Hong Kong's first biennale was held in 2007-08 under the curatorship of Wang Weijen, Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture, and attracted more than 70,000 visitors from Hong Kong and participants from Japan, the US, the UK, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Mainland China.

The theme was "Re-fabricating the City" and the goal was to get the public thinking not just about architecture, but about urban spaces, or relationship between buildings.

"I don't think there are more than three buildings of first-class architecture in Hong Kong, but everybody thinks Hong Kong is a fascinating city with very unique urban spaces. It has this very unique urban fabric and infrastructures that create urban spaces between older and newer districts, like the escalator in Mid-level connecting the old lanes and terraces to the new towers and malls in Central, and they continuously change," Mr Wang says.

But Hong Kong also faces challenges. ''With the fast pace of economic development, government and developers had never hesitated to take down and renew. And after 1997, with the development on the notion of culture and urban identity, the community's attitudes gradually changed. The Star Ferry conservation event [in which people protested against the pier's demolition] was one of the highlights of this. It triggered questions of who and what we are, what is our urban memory, and what kind of city we want to have.

"How can we address the spirit of creating new and still sustain and reform parts of the city to make them work well together? Facing the large scale developments in West Kowloon and many places, should we think more before we build? Should we think more on how they can be connected to the urban and social fabric of Mongkok, to moderate these relationships so that we are not just creating an enclave when we plan new districts and build new buildings?"

"The vitality and momentum of Hong Kong are important – we don't want a frozen tourist piece like Venice. But what can we learn from the past and how do we bring the past into the future?"

These ideas were explored in exhibitions, talks, workshops and other events held over the biennale's three months at the historic compound of the Central Police Station - a living example of how to re-invigorate an old building. The large turnout showed the depth of public interest in the subject.

The biennale also involved Shenzhen, whose own first biennale in 2005 served to inspire Hong Kong to follow suit, and to work together in the following years as a Bi-city Biennale.

"Events like the biennale are not only about exchanging knowledge. It's a platform for professionals like architects, scholars, planners and designers to share knowledge, and it's also a platform for knowledge exchange with members of community. More importantly, I hope it can kick-start a regeneration of urban public spaces in Hong Kong," Mr Wang says.

A second Hong Kong biennale was held in 2009 on City Mobility and a third is planned for later in 2011.

  • The Opening Ceremony of 2007-08 Hong Kong-Shenzhen Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism

Mr Weijen Wang received the Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award 2011 of the Faculty of Architecture for the "2007-08 Hong Kong-Shenzhen Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism" project.