你我未來 循環再造 (Recycling Our Future)
by John BATTEN
at 5:55pm on 26th February 2016
1. Still from Fruit Chan's movie Hollywood Hong Kong, 2000.
2. Dennis Maher, Hole in the (Window of the) World House, mixed media, 2015. An installation at 2015 UABB, Shekou, Shenzhen. Photo courtesy: John Batten.
3. Rob Voerman, Shenzhen Entropy, mixed media, 2015. An installation at 2015 UABB, Shekou, Shenzhen. Photo courtesy: John Batten.
(Please scroll down for English version.)
中環填海區至今仍只是一片工地：它應該是一個大型公園，但中環至灣仔繞道把 它一分為二，而公園的建造似乎被刻意推遲––據說是等待所有繞道建築工程完成。 現有郵政總局和天星碼頭停車場這兩個重要的現代主義風格例子，均清拆在即，它們的土地會出售用來發展商廈。在未來數年，隨著中環的整體高度不可避免地提高，這兩座建築物將可作為區內重要的通風廊。它們不應該被保留和重用嗎？
如何建立未來的潔淨、可持續和讓人安居樂業的大城市，深圳雙年展只提供了很少答案。但雙年展中兩名視覺藝術參展人Rob Voerman（荷蘭，如圖）和Dennis Maher （美國）則以檢來的物料建造了兩座精緻的建築物，讓我想起位於鑽石山的香港最後一個大型寮屋區（現身於在陳果的電影《香港有個荷里活》中）。這些建築物是支持未來循環再用的一大挑戰，但它們所預視的世界，其命運是有更多人將住在這些不正規而且設備不足的居所內。
Recycling Our Future
by John Batten
While Beijing was again breathing unbearably poisonous air, the recent Paris climate change conference coincided with the opening of the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture currently running in Shekou, Shenzhen. The Biennial has a range of exhibits from around the world and uniquely considers the urban environment. It focuses on the architectural and urban planning design of our cities and the buildings within them. The design of large urban areas is in the hands of architects and planners, and the problems facing cities are well described in the biennial – but solutions – real, achievable solutions - are harder to find amongst the exhibits!
Inevitably, the biennial covers similar issues discussed in the Paris conference. Our environment urgently needs care, repair and new approaches to building cities. Aaron Betsky, one of the biennale’s four curators, says that “This Biennale makes a simple argument: we have enough stuff. We have enough buildings, enough objects, and enough images.” This appears idealistic, and he further argues that architecture needs to reuse and recycle buildings and resources. Betsky suggests that our future cities will be a “collage” of reused objects that have been readapted for other uses.
The biennial unfortunately does not satisfactorily explain how we get the correct balance of capitalism’s need for consumption and economic growth alongside the need for better resource management and environmental conservation. This is the exact dilemma that developing nations explained in Paris to the world’s developed countries – those nations that had already undergone structural advances could more easily make cutbacks to their development to reduce resource waste and carbon dioxide emissions. This is not so possible for countries trying to raise their standard of living.
Hong Kong is a model for high-density living. The city’s high-density population enables an efficient and profitable MTR railway system to function. One of the greatest miseries of big city living is endless traffic jams and associated air pollution. It is the freedom of car travel and individuality versus the better good of mass transportation: it is a dilemma each city faces if sustainability is to be a real goal. The implementation of small incremental behavioral changes to reduce the impact of climate change is possible. Hong Kong’s plastic bag levy is a small example of a positive solution to a reduction in waste. Now, we should also follow San Francisco’s banning of the sale of water in plastic bottles – bringing instead our own flask to innovative re-filling stations installed in shops and MTR stations. And, what about solar panels being incorporated into the framework of high-rise buildings, and when not producing electricity for its own building can be sold back into the electricity grid – as now happens in Australia and which has considerably cut the output of coal-fired power stations, thus substantially cutting emissions.
The biennial curators advocate buildings should not easily be demolished, but, like other materials, be recycled. Demolition and rebuilding has long been the preferred redevelopment option in Hong Kong, ostensibly to maximize a site’s available air space. However, in the future, the necessity to impose environmental considerations in our large cities will see the imposition of newer, drastic approaches to planning. A balanced, people-first planning strategy could see a community approach to redevelopment. Entire communities could benefit in the sharing of profits of large high-rises to cross-subsidise the retention of selected low-rise buildings. Hong Kong sees this already: schools are low-rise for fire safety reasons, but their location also ensures air corridors in crowded districts. Some government properties play similar, almost unintentional, roles: for example, both PMQ and the former Central Government Offices, were sites that the Central & Western Concern Group campaigned to preserve – these two sites continue to allow sightlines towards Victoria Harbour, and good airflow and light for neighbouring properties in crowded Mid-levels.
The Central Reclamation is still a building site: it should be a large park, but the Central to Wan Chai by-pass road cuts it into two and construction of the park appears to be intentionally delayed – supposedly waiting for all the by-pass construction work to be completed. Slated for demolition and land sale for high-rise development is the current General Post Office and the important modernist-style ‘Star’ Ferry Carpark. In years to come as Central grows inevitably higher, these two buildings could be valuable as low-rise breathing corridors. Shouldn’t they be retained and reused?
The Shenzhen biennial gave few answers to how we build future clean, sustainable and enjoyable-to-live-in large cities. But two exhibiting visual artists at the biennial, Rob Voerman (Holland) and Dennis Maher (USA) built two intricate buildings from found material. They reminded me of the houses in Hong Kong’s last large-scale squatter area in Diamond Hill (epitomized in Fruit Chan’s movie, Hollywood Hong Kong). These buildings are a challenge in support of a recycling future, but also anticipate a world whose fate may see many more people living in such informal and inadequate accommodation.
Links for further information:
Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture
Originally published in Ming Pao Weekly, 2 January 2016.