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Architects at the Frontier

Stanley Siu
Curator Stanley Siu with his exhibit, First Confession, made from layers of metal bunkbeds to mimic the face of a dense residential tower

The voices of young Hong Kong architects and artists are ringing loud and clear in an international exhibition focused on improving global living conditions.

Seventeen of Hong Kong’s rising design professionals have contributed to the Hong Kong exhibit at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale Venezia (Venice Biennale), which opened in Italy last month and runs until November.

The prestigious biennale is known as a showcase for the iconic projects of established international architects. In a twist this year, participants from Hong Kong are all aged in their 30s, many engaged in not-for-profit enterprise, and working on projects that relate to issues of local identity and social empowerment. Their contingent to Venice was led by curator Stanley Siu, co-founder of the architectural firm Daydreamers Design, who was recently hailed as a rising star of architecture in Perspective magazine’s 40 Under 40 awards.

The exhibitors looked to inspiration from ancient Chinese military strategies – the 36 Stratagems – to interpret the theme of the biennale, “Reporting from the Front.” In setting the theme, Chief Curator, 2016 Pritzker Prize-winning Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, challenged participants to raise awareness of minority groups whose voices had not been heard.

Solutions Steeped in Wisdom

Aden Chen
Architect Aden Chan with his exhibit, Memory Tanks, crafted from fish tanks salvaged from his family’s New Territories farm

According to Mr Siu, the exhibition, Stratagems in Architecture: Hong Kong in Venice, demonstrates how Hong Kong architects are attempting to address issues faced by urban planners everywhere in the current social climate – namely, finding innovative solutions to achieve a fine balance between city development and sustainability.

“Coming from a city that is constantly evolving, we are often bound by difficult choices we have to make in our practice in order to move forward,” Mr Siu said. “Inspired by the 36 Stratagems, we aim to blend in ancient Chinese military wisdom and demonstrate how we overcome our own challenges and adversities at the frontier of architecture and art.”

The exhibition embodies an important characteristic defining Hong Kong: its spirit of perseverance and ability to turn adversity into opportunities, Mr Siu continued.

“The young architects and artists of Hong Kong are a hybrid of Eastern culture and Western education, which makes us unique,” he said. “We are innovative and flexible, and we don’t give up. If we come to a dead end, we try something else to move forward, and find a way.”

The Hong Kong exhibition was organised by the Hong Kong Institute of Architects Biennale Foundation (HKIABF) and the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC); in partnership with the Hong Kong Institute of Architects (HKIA); and sponsored by the government body Create Hong Kong (CreateHK).

Urban Role Model

Angus Ngai
Architect Angus Ngai with his exhibit, the Unlimited Quality of Limited Space, which shows how low-income people in high-density housing addressed issues of cramped sleeping space

Vincent Ng, HKIA President, said that their experience in designing for a dense, vertical metropolis where green open space is valued, equips Hong Kong architects with the expertise to offer solutions to other cities facing similar issues.

“I think we have set a very good example of preserving nature while developing a city in a sustainable manner,” said Mr Ng, pointing out that while Hong Kong has developed as an international financial centre, about three-quarters of its land is reserved as countryside. Hong Kong, he said, is a model high-density city where residents enjoy urban convenience, don’t need to rely on cars, and have nature on their doorstep. “I think a lot of visitors were very impressed by the Hong Kong exhibit,” said Mr Ng upon his return to Hong Kong from Venice after the exhibition opening.

HKIABF Chairman William Tseng agreed that the exhibition showcases how young Hong Kong architects and artists formulate strategies and tactics that reflect the changing lifestyles in a metropolis “and the transcending of social norms within our city.”

Winsome Chow, Chief Executive of HKADC, said the centre was stepping up its overseas promotion of Hong Kong’s arts and artists. “We are proud to present this exhibition that demonstrates the contemporary voices of Hong Kong’s young generation on the world stage. Many of our artists are ready to go on different international platforms to connect to people in other regions, and the HKADC will strive to facilitate the process and build up strategic partnerships with our counterparts around the world.”

Promoting Creativity

Tony Ip
Architect So Kwok Kin demonstrates people power in Hometown Trilogy, his depiction of the restoration of an abandoned Chinese village house

Mr Ng added that the HKIA will continue promoting creativity and appreciation of Hong Kong architectural excellence worldwide, through such activities as major biennales. “Especially for our young curatorial team, this coincides with the HKIA Council’s direction in providing opportunities for young pillars of our profession.”

And as Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region continue to converge and drive regional economic growth, Alice Choi, Deputy Representative of the Hong Kong Economic Trade Office in Brussels, said that Hong Kong architects would be needed at the frontier, finding innovative solutions to achieve a sustainable modern metropolis.

“Stratagems in Architecture: Hong Kong in Venice” is being staged at the Campo della Tana, Castello, Venice Italy, until 27 November 2016.

Related Links
Create Hong Kong (CreateHK)
Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC)
Hong Kong Institute of Architects (HKIA)
La Biennale Venezia (Venice Biennale)

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