Rice University-RSA (Nkiru)

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    China Lab Charrette

    By Nkiru
    Feb 14, '08 11:26 PM EST

    In Clover Lees studio we are taking part in the China lab Charrette. The brief is not too far from the overall intentions for the semester. We are looking at reinterpreting high density housing. Our site is Tseung Kwan O, Hong Kong. Currently these massive, gated mega blocks are being described as the vertical equivalent to US suburban sprawl. We are being encouraged to think of new ways to achieve the density and efficiency of the generic tower, podium typology while overcoming the banal, interiorized urbanism that it often introduces.



    Cities in the Pearl River Delta are clearly growing fast and efficient space use and infrastructure implementation is paramount. But how do you tackle the scale of these mega blocks that house thousands of people pulled way up above the plane of the city street? Many of the new housing developments currently being built are becoming mini cities in themselves with all you need built into the complex. The metro (mtr) will often plug right into it from underground leaving the surrounding streets dead, compared to the vibrancy of life found in the streets of the old town. The charrette should be interesting.



    • futurist

      This is a real problem as Asia continues to become more and more urbanized. Density is a good thing, but we don't want the horrendous Le Corbusier-like megablocks of NYC. The problem is not a massing or density issue - that needs to be preserved.

      The last thing architects and planners need to do is raze buildings and create blocks of green nothingness and isolated towers like we have here in the West. This is the wrong approarch. Asia has vibrant, dense, diverse urban areas. KEEP IT THAT WAY.

      The only thing that really needs to be considered is how to make the architecture interesting for the residents and the skyline. How to make the buiding appealing inside and out, so that we don't have cookie-cutter towers spreading across the horizon.

      Get creative architects. Rooftop gardens. Midlevel open areas and terraces. And if you can integrate the vernacular or respect the architectural materials/identity of the area, that is very important.

      But preserve the density and the MIXED-USE nature of the building. That means commercial below, residential above. Do not deviate from this model.

      Feb 15, 08 12:53 pm  · 

      ...unless, through exploration, you can find a different model. it IS school after all.

      Feb 16, 08 7:17 am  · 

      Actually I just got back from Tokyo and they have an interesting typology called "Zakkyo Architecture" which are multi-level commercial buildings that have different programs on each level. They have a vertical circulation core which is accessible from the street and signage displayed at each level indicating the store. The typical western model is to have the ground level as commercial and the levels above as residential, but it was interesting to see how the Japanese were able to very successfully create "vertical urbanism". It sounds like this will be an interesting Charrette... are you actually going to Hong Kong?

      Feb 17, 08 3:07 am  · 

      i m a hong kong resident. so questions are always welcome

      Apparently our residential buildings are all highly efficient "generic towers" - the vision of our dearest corbu.

      Towers constructed at the same period of time inevitably look alike with similar solution to MAXIMIZE the sustainability quality, area efficiency, number of units, construction cost and efficiency (concrete is awesomely cheaper than steel), and to satisfy the general market wish of 20000 potential residents of one residential development

      the site context does affect the shape of the plans; however imagine that our buildings are mostly over 50 storeys - i.e. structural/construction constraint, while having a strict set of building codes for health & safety, architects can rarely do much for the creative process.

      for your information, our buildings are usually layered up vertically
      - penthouse
      - larger residential units
      - smaller residential units
      - podium and amenities (whatever sports / function room that you can imagine for 20000 people e.g. usually a number of swimming pools of different temperature or function)
      - shopping mall
      - carpark
      - bus terminal
      - metro

      My apology, rooftop gardens, midlevel open areas and terraces are already old-fashioned idea for us. And be aware of that we must have balconies in every flat from first to the top floors since the 00's.

      gonna share more and show u pictures if u guys are interested.


      Feb 18, 08 4:12 pm  · 

      The 'vertical urbanism' in Japan sounds very interesting. It seemed to be a common ambition in the projects submitted for charrette. The deadline was yesterday at midnight. I'd like to post a few images of our proposals but the studio is heading to Hong Kong tomorrow and I need to pack!

      Whilst in Hong Kong we are going to visit many examples of the housing developments scrutinized by the competition. Our site is at Tseung Kwan O.

      Thanks for the input ottodesk. Much appreciated.

      Feb 18, 08 4:52 pm  · 

      while your list sounds reasonably interesting, ottodesk, the podium typology is almost as banal in hong kong as a typical suburban neighborhood is in florida. i studied in hk for a summer and our studio project was also to reconsider the podium typology. a few of the projects from that studio are published here:

      although these and most of the proposals were highly theoretical and not very developed, they do represent alternative ways to consider the podium building (not killing street life, not creating a placeless big box, otherwise not creating an alienating building, and so on). There are some examples of amazing large scale sectional architecture in hk that manage to avoid the negative side effects of podium buildings. the place has the lessons in it, but so long as these podium projects put maximum financial profit before maximum social and environmental profit, the results will likely continue to undermine what is so great about hong kong's urbanism.

      Feb 18, 08 7:56 pm  · 

      i m happy to see your sharing.

      AP: it's debatable but podium projects indeed have the potential to maximize environmental profit since it can offer a large green area with resonable distance between towers. You can rarely see trees in our streets of the old central districts.

      Our generic towers also allows every room in an apartment to enjoy natural ventilation and plenty of daylight exposure. i'm sick with london's poorly ventilated flat with not much daylight when I first settled here.


      we're able to maintain street life in central old districts
      since the available site is always small and cannot accomodate highly efficient package of podium + 10 towers

      however all shops/street life are accomodated in mega shopping malls in most post-80's developments in areas where there had never been any street life; It's conceivably difficult to build streets from nothing and therefore the metrostation+shoppingmall package is always successful and certainly this's true everywhere in the world.


      Tsang Kwan O is a recently developed area and distant from central districts and there the average household income is comparatively low. I don't see it as a good example to study HK (too extreme on the notion of "generic buildings"); however it may be a nice choice to reflect China's real estate bloom


      look forward to your project
      despite my "defence stand" to keep this debate going
      i m indeed sick of the generic architectural language of all real estate development


      Feb 19, 08 5:22 am  · 

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