Imagine a “reverse tower” that rises not skywards, but plunges deep into the ocean, creating a new metropolis in urban Hong Kong. What if the mountains of waste plastic and glass currently clogging the city’s landfills could be repurposed usefully as building materials? And what if, instead of languishing alone in their rooms, the elderly could be coaxed into rejoining society by greening the city? The community is encouraged to consider such imaginings, and more, at the 2019 Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism\\Architecture, which opened on December 19 and continues until mid-March, 2020. In its seventh edition, the biennale brings together more than 70 local and overseas exhibitors under the theme “2x2: Imagine to Innovate”. The cast was assembled by chief curator Roger Wu, co-curators Alan Cheung and Sarah Mui, as well as a team of international advisers, with a view to unlocking possibilities for city living in the future. Two-thirds of the exhibitors were picked following an open call for entries, and one-third were approached by invitation. The exhibitions and programmes of the biennale represent around a dozen places and countries, including Hong Kong (the majority), Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia, Britain and the United States. Hong Kong has always been a place where different ideas come together – [for example] East and West, old and new. Through this biennale, we are not looking for answers, but for possibilities Roger Wu, chief curator of the 2019 Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism\\Architecture Wu, born in Hong Kong, trained and qualified as an architect in Britain, and was also one of the curators of the 2015 biennale. He said the vision this time was to engage people – the entire community – in a conversation relevant to Hong Kong. “We believe innovation to be truly useful, but it needs to be driven by the imagination of the people living in the city,” he says. “And that’s where the title – 2x2: Imagine to Innovate – comes in. We want to capture the spirit of Hong Kong in a very succinct way. “Hong Kong has always been a place where different ideas come together – [for example] East and West, old and new. Through this biennale, we are not looking for answers, but for possibilities.” He hopes that, in the process, Hong Kong will not just copy what others have done, but will set its own rules. “Our target audience is future city builders – not necessarily architects, engineers and planners, but also the likes of lawyers, accountants, butchers, candlestick makers and so on – engaging people from all walks of life, and all ages,” Wu says. It doesn’t matter how realistic or creative the ideas are, he adds. “They may or may not be deliverable now but, as time goes on, many clever people will be able to make use of technology to innovate.” The curators’ own entry, The Pulse of Hong Kong, sets this tone. It invites the public to grab a set of hi-tech handlebars which detects the pulse of the individual – unique to each person – and displays it as multimedia “thought bubbles” of different shapes and sizes. Wu says: “The pulse is like the imagination we all have. Everyone’s is different. We don’t have the technology at the moment to measure people’s imagination, so the pulse is a metaphor.” ‘We have to change’: the artists embracing sustainability The collection of creative works and cross-disciplinary interactive exhibits in the biennial was curated to build on “ImaginiCity” – Wu’s own concept of a hypothetical index to measure the level of imagination in urban places – and to create a “listening biennale” that encourages the expression of ideas by industry professionals and the general public. There are three subsidiary themes: identity, showcasing the core values of humanity and cultural advancement; liveability, the achievement of quality living space and opportunity in the city; and sustainability , the key to the future of our city and the world. It’s in the context of sustainability that Hong Kong firm Architecture Commons came up with the idea for Hydro Tower, an ocean abode that could provide another living place for coastal cities. Rick Lam Yin-cheuk, co-founder and director of Architecture Commons, says this futuristic concept addresses the already present challenges of rising sea levels, coupled with the increasing scarcity of land available for development in Hong Kong. “The Hydro Tower is a response to such extreme conditions,” he says. The idea came from a reaction to Lantau Tomorrow Vision , the government’s controversial proposal to build 1,700 hectares of artificial islands in the waters off Lantau Island. Inness Cheng Wai-ching, architectural designer at Architecture Commons, says that, as architects, “it doesn’t make sense to create such a super-expensive, environmentally unfriendly landfill project”. Sustainable gyms turn human exertions into electricity “It dawned on us to create an inverted tower that plunged into the ocean,” he says. The Hydro Tower would be self-sufficient, desalinating its own water, generating power and recycling trash. The envisaged tower would be 30 metres tall, made mostly out of precast concrete and, in addition to housing, would incorporate sectors for community living, farming, recreation and infrastructure. The design team imagines that the towers, grouped in clusters anchored to the ocean floor, could potentially house thousands of people. Some would live above the surface, and others, “submarine-like”, below. Lam and Cheng hope the exhibit will begin discussion about the new types of development beyond landfill. It is also under sustainability that local architects Arnold Wong Yok-fai, Keith Chan Chun-yu and Stephen Ip Hay-fung moot possibilities for glass recycling . In Hong Kong, only 10 per cent of all waste glass bottles get recycled. Some are reused to make pavement bricks; the rest is sent to landfills. Through their exhibit, Glass Recycling Tower, the team hopes to raise awareness by inviting the public to crush a bottle, engaging them in the first steps of glass recycling. Meanwhile, the exhibit (un)bottled future, a collaboration between charitable youth group The Warehouse Teenage Club and the Young Planners’ Group of Hong Kong Institute of Planners, shows the transformation of recycled plastic into construction material. In addition to an exhibit, there will be a workshop showing the recycling process and inviting the public to be part of it by shredding plastic waste into reusable particles. High hopes for Hong Kong-designed robot marine trash hunter Under Liveability, the exhibit Growing Together, from Studio Poppop in Seoul, South Korea, tackles the issue of isolation among the elderly, many of whom now live alone, rather than in multigenerational households as was the norm in Asia for generations past. Growing Together proposes using urban gardening as a means of re-engaging the ageing population into society. The conduit is a compact and affordable DIY garden bed kit, made from a digital template, which residents would assemble, place throughout the building and tend to as a community. “The structure itself is just the beginning to the end,” says Jason Chan, founder Studio Poppop. “By promoting active participation through planting, you get people to start talking to one another, rebuilding intergenerational bonds.” We hope to suggest new ways to solve some of the city’s current problems and anticipate future issues, in order to empower the people of Hong Kong to build a proud, liveable, sustainable, and inclusive society Roger Wu, chief curator of the 2019 Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism\\Architecture For the first time, this biennale features access for the visually and hearing-impaired. Titled “Seeing” with Multiple Senses but Sight, an installation by Beyond Vision Projects (BVP) – a social enterprise founded under the Hong Kong government’s Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Fund – features a series of landmarks, cultural elements and authentic objects that represent life in Hong Kong. Selected elements are converted into Tactile-Audio Interaction System panels developed by BVP, which allow both sighted and non-sighted visitors to touch, hear and feel the display. During the three months of the biennale, a series of community activities will also take place at different venues. These include talks and symposiums, round table discussions, educational programmes, workshops and guided tours. According to Wu, the idea is to raise public interest in architectural and city planning, “as well as calling upon our future city builders to explore solutions to Hong Kong’s current problems of land shortage in a more appreciative and inclusive way”. The biennale – organised by The Hong Kong Institute of Architects Biennale Foundation in conjunction with The Hong Kong Institute of Architects, the Hong Kong Institute of Planners, and the Hong Kong Designers Association – is being held mainly at The Mills, Tsuen Wan, a former industrial textile mill repurposed as a design hub. Some of the exhibits will also be displayed in Futian Station, Shenzhen, as part of the Shenzhen portion of the bi-city exhibition. Wu believes the biennale will be relevant to everyone in the city, from children to the elderly, and from industry professionals to government officials. “Through our professional knowledge, connections and interaction, we hope to suggest new ways to solve some of the city’s current problems and anticipate future issues, in order to empower the people of Hong Kong to build a proud, liveable, sustainable, and inclusive society,” he says. More event details will be announced on the biennale website, http://uabbhk.org , and the official Facebook page. The event runs until March 15, 2020.