All of your designs are focused on bringing plants into urban spaces. What’s unique about your approach to greening? “In Hong Kong, ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ are like gimmicks or selling points. Even when [developers and the government] spend a lot on greening work, most of it is not sustainable. What they are planting I call ornamental plants; they are very pretty but their tolerance for the harsh conditions in the city are not as good as wild plants. This means their lifespan will be much shorter and we will need to keep doing maintenance, which is not sustainable.
“We need to learn to appreciate weeds. I remember with one project, I took many pictures [of plants around the site] and showed them to my senior in the office. I said, ‘Wow, you planted so many great native plants.’ And she said, ‘Oh, we didn’t plant them.’ And I thought, ‘Why do we bother planting things if plants will appear by themselves?”
Your “Unplanned – Green Block” prototype is in the running for the Golden Pin Concept Design Award in Taiwan. What’s the idea behind it? “The Green Block is the size of a typical paving brick. You can see weeds usually appear near the edge of a pavement because people don’t really walk there. My idea is to replace some of the paving blocks to provide an opportunity for wild plants to germinate and grow. I’m trying to make the Green Block with polymer concrete. I need to get the wall as thin as possible but at the same time it needs to take the loading of pedestrians.”
So the idea is to install it, fill it with soil, leave it and then see what happens? “Yes. But I understand that we are trained to see tidy, nicely cut plants in Hong Kong, so another method would be planting seeds of the species we [are used to seeing] and putting them in the soil. So we can have more organised, tidy greening – but this is not really what I’m looking for.”
What other projects are you working on? “In alleys, where not many people go, you can often see mosses and ferns [growing on the walls]. We can hang [specially designed] planters on the wall and leave them there with some soil. And I’m working on a suggestion for highways. On [lane] dividers you can see that many wild plants have grown by themselves, which is a great thing. We should open up the concrete tops [of lane dividers], to provide more greening.”
What’s your day job? “I’m assistant resident landscape officer at [engineering, architecture and city-planning consultancy] AECOM and I’m supervising a project near Kai Tak Cruise Terminal. There’s an elevated landscape deck. I hope it’ll be something like the High Line [in New York]. The High Line includes wild plants on the tracks.
“In Hong Kong, it seems we can only appreciate plants when they are cut in a ball shape. “We never see ball-shaped plants in country parks, so why do we need to put them in the city landscape?”