Four storeys up from the dust and exhaust fumes of Wong Chuk Hang Road is a bamboo grove - a fitting sight in a neighbourhood named for yellow bamboo. These stalks are actually made from aluminium, however, and, surrounded by mirrors, create the illusion of an infinite forest. An installation by local architecture firm Eskyiu, whose founders, Marisa Yiu Kar-san and Eric Schuldenfrei, curated the 2009 Shenzhen-Hong Kong Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture, it's known as the Industrial Bamboo Forest. As with natural bamboo, the garden's 320 metal rods sway in the wind, but they can also be positioned to create distinct spaces within the garden, which sits on the terrace of Spring Workshop, a non-profit art space.
Where did the idea for the bamboo garden come from? "The original idea was that it would be this experimental garden," says Schuldenfrei. "We had a tabula rasa to do what we wanted."
Yiu says: "Mimi [Brown] from Spring Workshop gave us a choice between a space outside or inside, and we were really excited by the terrace along the highway. Wong Chuk Hang has so many generic buildings we wanted people to stop and think."
Why metal rods instead of actual bamboo? Schuldenfrei: "We started with the idea that it would be all natural and ended up moving radically away from that. Mimi had this fake grass she found in Australia that looked drought-stricken. Because of the drought, fake grass had to mimic reality - if it were green it would look unnatural. We were really taken by that idea."
Were there any problems along the way? Yiu: "One weekend we were quite close to erecting the mirrors and we had natural bamboo scaffolding. We came back Monday morning to do a site check-up and we were like, 'Where's the bamboo scaffolding?'"
Schuldenfrei: "Everyone was pointing fingers at each other but there was this moment of realisation that some outside force had taken down the scaffolding."
Yiu: "We called them the bamboo ninjas.It turned out the owner of the building's façade - which is held separately from the units in the building - had chopped down the scaffolding because he thought it infringed on his property."
How does this project fit into the Eskyiu model? Yiu: "We've always operated mostly on the not-for-profit, intellectual installation-meets-academia model. An architecture practice is an agency for spatial change - it's not work that is completely service-driven. At the same time, we are interested in engaging different clients and audiences."
What else have they been up to? Last year, Yiu and Schuldenfrei were asked by Nike to participate in the Flyknit Collective, a platform for design and architecture exchange inspired by the Flyknit, a knitted shoe that reduces material waste. Eskyiu teamed up with several designers and artists on workshops related to a four-day sports festival in Shanghai. "That was an eye-opening experience because it threaded a lot of our interests, and we couldn't have done stuff like that without the mechanism of a large brand and its network," says Yiu.