Visions of Hong Kong's future: architecture biennale's theme timely

The Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture starting in December in a Tsim Sha Tsui park and a former Shenzhen factory offers young Hongkongers a say on city's future, curator says

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 October, 2015, 4:25pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 October, 2015, 8:23pm

Kowloon Park in Tsim Sha Tsui is to be transformed into a laboratory for examining some of the most critical issues facing this city – from politics to urban redevelopment – as part of this year’s Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism/ Architecture.

As with the previous four editions, the biennale is split between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, with exhibitions and events held more or less concurrently in the two cities from December to February to highlight the growing integration and urbanisation of the Pearl River Delta.

The 2013 Hong Kong portion was a fairly light-hearted affair along the Kwun Tong waterfront. This time, the sixty-odd participants are being asked to imagine the city’s future just when recent political developments have shaken a lot of people’s belief in it, and organisers are aware that the question of “what is the future of Hong Kong?”, even when framed within a debate on architecture and urban design, is far from an academic matter.

Christine Hawley, professor of architectural design at London’s Bartlett School of Architecture, is the chief curator of the Hong Kong segment this year. She said the event was a timely platform for young Hong Kong talent to comment on the city.

“This is an extraordinarily interesting time for Hong Kong. Last year’s 'umbrella movement' was a vocal protest by the younger generation to demonstrate their concerns for Hong Kong and it captured the world’s attention. I hope that the biennale will be a platform for younger people to have a voice in the future of their city and to be a catalyst for discussions,” Hawley said.

She's given participants free rein to choose whatever topic they want to address. The results include ingenious ways to tackle universal, global problems such as water scarcity and ageing populations, as well as Hong Kong-specific issues such as our relationship with old buildings inherited from the colonial era

There were around 140 applications to take part in this year’s Hong Kong biennale, more than in previous editions, according to Yutaka Yano, a Hong Kong-based architect in charge of innovation and design. He said most of the finalists were local and around a third were below the age of 40.

For three months, a host of urban-themed exhibitions, statues, and pop-up exhinits will be shown in the park’s Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre and along the main avenue leading from the Austin Road entrance.

Unlike last year’s choice of venue, Kowloon Park is not under redevelopment, which means that the biennale is deprived of a chance to play a real role in shaping the site on which it is held.

That has always been a major attraction of the Shenzhen portion of the UABB, which can count OCT-Loft and Shekou  among the sites that it has helped to redraw. This year, the main Shenzhen venue will be the abandoned, former Dacheng Flour Factory in Shekou.

In Hong Kong, organisers hope the Tsim Sha Tsui location will pull in a bigger crowd, since the exhibitions will draw park visitors unaware of the UABB. Yano also points out that the biennale can have a lasting legacy without leaving a physical impact: by allowing young Hong Kong architects and designers to shine in front of an international audience. His own career took off after he participated in the 2013 edition, he said.

Visions 2050 – Lifestyle and the City, the fifth edition of UABB(HK), Kowloon Park and the Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre, Haiphong Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, from December 11 until February 28, 10am-6pm (Monday to Wednesday, and Friday), 10am-7pm (Saturday and Sunday), closed on Thursdays except public holidays. Kowloon Park is open 5am-12am every day.