It’s one thing to study architecture, but quite another to study it in a city that’s a living, breathing laboratory of urban life. Hong Kong is a city of extremes and home to the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Architecture (FoA). Located in one of the world’s most densely-built metropoles, Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than anywhere else on earth, giving it a uniquely vertical landscape. And yet less than half of its land area is developed, which allows for remarkable biodiversity and a profound contrast between urban and rural environments.
What’s more, Hong Kong is in the middle of a region undergoing immense change. Over the next few decades more than 350 million people will be added to urban areas in China. That’s greater than the entire US population – nearly equivalent to the requirements of building a new country from scratch. And that’s only China – half the world’s population is within a five hour flight from Hong Kong, and these cities are undergoing a similarly epic transformation.
The FoA draws its strength from these fascinating urban conditions. Ranked among the Top 10 Architecture and Built Environment Schools in the world by the 2017 QS World University Rankings, the FoA is on the cutting-edge of research into high-density cities and the challenges of rapid urbanization. From its base in Hong Kong, the FoA’s faculty and students are plugged into the most pressing issues facing the field of architecture in Asia and the world.
HKUrbanLab is one of the FoA’s leading initiatives. It brings together researchers from across the university to study the issues of designing, building and managing the high-density cities of East and Southeast Asia.
The Centre for Chinese Architecture and Urbanism is one of several projects that fall under the umbrella of HKUrbanLab. Researchers are finding contemporary relevance in historic Chinese urban spaces, tapping into a millennia of design to uncover new solutions for China’s rapidly-growing cities. Its work includes design, conservation, history, theory, architectural criticism, and curatorial research and practice.
In the Rural Urban Lab, students investigate the transformations underway in rural and urban environments around China and Mongolia. One initiative is the renovation toolbox, which analyses strategies for adapting rural vernacular architecture. By watching the way local villagers have transformed their homes to respond to ever-changing environmental conditions, researchers have developed sustainable new architectural techniques.
The Healthy High Density Cities Lab tackles one of the most pressing issues facing city dwellers in the 21st century: how to encourage health and wellness within urban environments. Bringing together researchers from the FoA and the HKU Faculty of Medicine, in collaboration with other institutions including Oxford University and Cambridge University, the lab studies the links between the built environment and epidemiology, climatology and overall health. This data-focused project taps into Big Data to develop algorithms for optimizing active transportation and environmentally-friendly built forms.
HKUrbanLab projects range from big-picture issues to architectural detail. In the Fabrication and Material Technologies Lab, researchers take advantage of HKU’s position within the Pearl River Delta’s manufacturing hub to explore innovative construction techniques. It’s a project that spans the border between academia and industry, and bridges the gap between advanced computational techniques and the local manufacturing knowledge available in the region.
FoA has undergraduate and postgraduate programs covering a full range of built environment disciplines. The Department of Architecture within the FoA offers a multidisciplinary curriculum integrating history, technology, culture and design. Aspiring architects are urged to delve into the department’s research and design projects, focusing on the challenges that occur when contemporary architectural practice takes place within a region home to many of the world’s largest cities.
Students pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies discover the art of traditional model-making, as well as mastering professional design software and the latest technology. One particularly appealing aspect of this undergraduate degree is the International Student Exchange program, which allows students to swap cities and study a few semesters at another top-ranked school.
The Master of Architecture program is a two-year course that allows graduates to get to grips with the theoretical culture of architecture and the complexities of contemporary design.
Shanghai Study Center
Once applicants have secured a place at HKU, they have the opportunity to study at the Shanghai Study Center (SSC). The SSC compliments Hong Kong-based teaching with a Shanghai-based studio project, allowing students to immerse themselves in the world of Chinese design, as well as learning advanced computational techniques in the SSC’s Building Information Modelling Lab. Investigating the complications caused by rapid urban and industrial change, the Center offers a diverse array of technological apparatus to examine the city. The SSC also hosts architecture SH, a public gallery for design project exhibitions.
Designing for the future
Architecture is more relevant than ever before – because it’s no longer simply about building design; it’s about understanding how people live to improve their living environment. That’s especially true in Asia, the world’s most populous continent and one that’s evolving at an astonishing pace. With China on its doorstep and half the world’s population a short flight away, Hong Kong really is in the middle of it all. And the FoA happens to be in the right place at the right time to contribute towards designing the future.