Proposal: Building on Ruins: A _____ Commune

The book “Media and Politics in Post-Handover Hong Kong” suggested that Hong Kong people should have transformed from apolitical disconnected individuals to ‘interpretive communities’ that were able to enact active political dialogues among themselves and the government since the handover in 1997. Unfortunately, this remains a dream as the SAR government’s communication with the public lacked exactly such two- way codetermination and constitution. The concerns over PRC relations had dwarfed the concern over public relations in HKSAR government. The cautious and subservient role to China exemplifies the inabilities and indecisiveness of the government, which contradicts with most Hong Kong people’s expectations. [1]

The discontent of politics evolved into complaints of the status quo of society in various scales. People have become very sensitive to the distorted urban developments which are mostly steered by private developers. They witness the vanishing of old towns and buildings. They experience the rupture of the once tight-knit neighborhood: shrinking space for the alternative living communities and loss of choices in their daily lives.

Despite the declining sense of belonging, the young generation decided to speak of the values of this new era. They no longer accept the passive way of living of the older generation. They reaffirm their autonomy to decide the future of this city, Hong Kong.

This thesis tries to establish a touchstone for a new commune design which is open to the current generation’s mindset by utilizing the often- ignored ruins in Hong Kong. Instead of a utopian ideal, the proposal tries to fight off the onslaught of the monotonous developments which are driven by developers, by proposing an alternative design against the housing development of Queen’s Hill Camp, which is now at its first phase of construction in reality.

The Queen’s Hill (Burma Lines) Camp was a military training base of the British army back in the 50s. Located in Fanling, it was home to a group of Gurkhas, who defensed Hong Kong from Mainland China. After the handover, the ownership of the camp was handed to HKSAR government. In 2013, HKSAR government suddenly confirmed to launch a public housing development at the site without any dialogues with Hong Kong people before. Now we shall ask: Is the motive of such re-development justified in terms of public realm? Can we express our desire of autonomy, under this in-between situation (a gap between demolition and new construction)?

Instead of directly answering to these questions, this thesis will explore on the less- known history of the site and the relationship between man- made and nature through ruins. Not about nostalgia, nor a simple reiteration of preservation or conservation, this thesis can be understood as resituating or restructuring the ruins into our desired life. Ruins are neither useless dead objects, nor a certain species of kitsch[2]. Rather they are the witnesses of time, history, and social political issues, that we may re-establish our sense of identity through re-connecting with our ancestors. The process of re-thinking these ruins embodies a new and open attitude to address both individual desires and collective needs in the present. Only by rediscovering the missing parts of the fragmented local history and relationships with nature, and integrate them with the present with honesty and integrity, should we can rebuild a healthy sense of community and identity.

[1] Joseph M. Chan, Francis L.F. Lee, Media and Politics in Post-Handover Hong Kong

[2] Brian Dillon’s “Fragments from a History of Ruin” suggested that ruins always totters on the edge of certain species of kitsch.