urbanism, villages, design code, community

RESEARCH // TEACHING // THE UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG 

DESIGN CODE: HOW DO WE DEFINE A VILLAGE?

How do we define the village specially within a contemporary context which is increasingly fixated upon the city? The city abounds with definition; the medieval city, the tabula-rasa city, the industrial city, the shrinking city, the mega city, just to name a few. The village, on the other hand, has a relatively stable anchor in our historical consciousness. It is rooted in tradition, agriculture, timelessness. But if we take a closer look at what could be called villages today, very few could be understood in the classical sense. The most ‘traditional’ examples have become tourist attractions, subsumed by the city as a pastiche of rural life, an artifact of the past. The village as an idea, remains open for new definition. Its potential still situated in opposition to the city, rather than in any particular quality or attribute. This leaves fertile ground for new exploration. 

The village is first and foremost a community of people. This will form the basis for our study. A common site. Each student will develop an individual project in relationship to the collective transformation of the village. This brings up the question of a common dialogue, and a shared architectural language in the process. Meeting periodically as a group, rules and relationships should be established. As in vernacular villages, limited access to materials and techniques frame the ground for a common language. 

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Illegal structures documented in walled villages in the New Territories

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Drone footage of San Wai Walled Village

VILLAGES IN HONG KONG 

There are 642 recognised villages in the New Territories. These villages, which are scattered between urbanised parts of the Kowloon peninsula and mainland China, existed when the New Territories were added to the British colony in 1898, but many existed for hundreds of years before that time. The Small House Policy (SHP) was introduced in 1972 in Hong Kong. The objective was to improve the then prevailing low standard of housing in the rural villages in the New Territories. The Policy allows an indigenous male villager who is 18 years old and is descended through the male line from a resident in 1898 of a recognised village in the New Territories, an entitlement to one concessionary grant during his lifetime to build one small house. 

What is the problem with the policy? Land supply in the New Territories is not unlimited. It is impossible to satisfy indigenous villagers’ demand for small houses indefinitely. According to a study on the Small House Policy by the think tank Civic Exchange, it estimated that there may be 90,000 outstanding small house claims. These claims would require another 10+ square kilometers of land to fulfill – around the size of 270 Victoria Parks in Hong Kong. Small houses are legally limited to three storeys, but poor rural planning has led to the problem of illegal building works, the local media have often found illegal structures in some small houses, in some cases making them up to seven storeys in height. In 2013, 18,000 declaration forms of illegal infrastructure were declared, but the Buildings Department suspects that this is only half of the real amount. It is estimated that there is total of 200,000 possible illegal structures. 

Has the illegal become legitimised over time? From an architectural and urban perspective, this is an interesting phenomenon. That’s why we are interested in the code. The challenge could be to find a new way to re-write the building code for the village in Hong Kong. Can the illegal become legitimised through design? Can the informal be formulated (as a code) without losing its natural spatial quality? As architects can we develop the unique moments of problem solving occurring in these villages? The studio will collectively analyse the small house policy on houses in three walled villages in the New Territories and attempt redesign the code for the village. Our goal is to translate bottom-up processes into top-down strategies. The final result will be the design of new housing prototypes, and a new collective proposal for villages in Hong Kong. 

Teaching staff:

John Lin, Ben Hayes, Donn Holohan, Liu Chang

Research and teaching undertaken at the University of Hong Kong 

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Students plan a new village with a new design code