On the Edge

23 december 2013 / architecture / words christopher dewolf

01-02 The site of UABB Hong Kong 2013; 03-08 House of Red. House of Blue by Kacey Wong (Images courtesy of Kacey Wong)


What is the ideal city? That’s the question driving the fourth edition of the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture (better known by its less unwieldy acronym, UABB) which opens to the public last week in Hong Kong. From now until the end of February, dozens of installations, talks and performances will explore how to build the best possible city.


It’s a question that goes beyond the built environment and concerns itself with society and culture. The biennale’s full theme – ”On the Urban Edge: The Ideal City?” – hints at the notion that the greatest diversity and the greatest potential for innovation are found on the city’s social, cultural and economic fringes. “At the edge, the old rules of the city lose their hold, allowing it to reinvent itself, redefine its values and create new forms,” writes curator Colin Fournier, a professor at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The concerns are reflected not only in the biennale’s content but in the site itself, a stretch of waterfront in Kwun Tong that is being transformed into public space after years as a working dockyard. The change is part of a broader, government-led transformation of the surrounding area into new business district dubbed CBD2, a project that many of the area’s creative industries fear will price them out in favour of Grade A office space.

Those concerns manifested themselves in a protest at UABB’s launch ceremony last week, but they are also present in many of its 80 installations. HK Farm explores how urban agriculture can be used to mobilize local communities in a kind of grassroots regeneration that is at odds with top-down redevelopment plans. Architecture professor Tris Kee looks at how small creative businesses who make use of space in old factory buildings are being affected by a government programme that encourages those factories to be converted into high-rent offices and hotels. Perhaps most spectacularly, architect/artist Kacey Wong has built a cocoon-like structure from charred wood that he says is a symbolic meeting place for people from opposing sides in Hong Kong’s many social and political conflicts.

Across the border in Shenzhen, UABB’s other half was launched on December 7 in two venues, the Border Warehouse and Value Factory, curated by a team that includes Dutch architect Ole Bouman, Chinese architect Li Xiangning and Jeffrey Johnson, founder of Columbia University’s China Megacities Lab. Similar to UABB Hong Kong, the Shenzhen exhibition focuses on urban borders: the border between the industrial and postindustrial city, or political borders that divide transnational urban areas like San Diego and Tijuana or Hong Kong and Shenzhen.

One of its main attractions is the Value Factory itself, a former glassworks that has been transformed into a multi-faceted exhibition space with galleries, workshops, cafés and a farm. “The building becomes the main protagonist rather than the background of a show,” says Ole Bouman, who asked participants to “do almost nothing” to transform the building, giving it a raw presence that pervades every aspect of the exhibition.


UABB Hong Kong runs until February 22, 2014. See uabb.hk for more information. UABB Shenzhen runs until February 28, 2014. See szhkbiennale.org for more information.


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