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.


Inevitable Architecture

“Still, there is a tougher, more critical edge to the acceptance of the decay of buildings  and their inevitable ruin that places architecture in a unique position to inform our understanding of the human condition and enhance its experience. Chiefly, this is to include in design a degree of complexity, even of contradiction embodied in the simultaneous processes of growth and decay in our buildings, that heightens and intensifies our humanity. Thankfully, there is no stagy, contrived method to accomplish this in architecture. Each architect must find their own, unique way.”

Third Generation Cities
“The way towards the Third Generation City is a process of becoming a learning and healing organization and to reconnect the urbanized collective conscious with nature. In Taipei the wall between the city and the river must be gone. This requires a total transformation from the city infrastructure and the centralized power bureaucracy. Citizens on their behalf are ready and are breaking the industrial city by themselves already. Local knowledge is operating independently from the official city and is providing punctual third generation surroundings within the industrial city and by doing that providing self organized urban acupuncture for the stiff official mechanism. The weak signals of the un-official collective conscious should be recognized as the futures emerging issues; futures that are already present in Taipei. The official city should learn how to enjoy acupuncture, how to give up industrial control in order to let nature to step in. The local knowledge based transformation layer of Taipei is happening from inside the city and it is happening through self organized punctual interventions. These interventions are driven by small scale businesses and alternative economies benefiting from the fertile land of the Taipei Basin and of leaching from the material and energy streams of the official city. This acupuncture is making the city weaker, softer and readier for a larger change.”


文:朱耀光 為了尋找「軍地」的故事,我請信謙帶我探望他的嫲嫲。駛過聯和墟不久,就是「軍地」了。「軍地」,望名生義,就是軍人的地方。自從香港政府於1920年代修好新界環迴公路,粉嶺便成為香港北方的邊防重鎮,「軍地」又位於新圍軍營和皇后山軍營的旁邊,於是大家也將「軍地」聯想為「英軍駐紮之地」,很多粉嶺老街坊也這樣告訴我。然而,歷史就像俄羅斯套娃,層層相套,打開外面的瓷娃,才發現裡面藏著一個面孔一…

Source: 口述歷史的後話:傳說離真實有多遠?

Once a disease has been diagnosed it is largely cured

Decay Aesthetics

The tenth and final chapter in Leon Battista Alberti’s book, On the Art of Building in Ten Books, is entitled Restoration of Buildings. In it, Alberti provides various solutions to building faults. It is in his introduction, where he sets the scene for the restoration of faulty buildings. He begins with:

If we are to discuss the faults of building and their correction, we ought first to consider the nature and type of the faults that may be corrected by the hand of man; as the physicians maintain that once a disease has been diagnosed it is largely cured. (p320)

While I like this quote, it leads me down a path of questions. If the cure for a faulty building is to renovate, to what state in the metaphor is the patient returned to? In regards to decay and ageing, will restoration return it to a younger more relevant…

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Proposed use of Queen’s Hill

News Clips 

土地優越 宜建一流環保型校園




東西方建築設計 擁抱過去未來




建築成本符合效益 課程收支平衡






香港城市大學專上學院 蔡耀權
文章編號: 201307310030306>>

The Red House- Not a ruin

Not until recently have I realized my addiction to adventures.
This addiction has began since my Taiwan trip last year. I know that it can be dangerous, but I chose to believe the people I met with faith.

In Taiwan, I learnt that nature can be sentimental. Even the thinnest air can be romantic. It just depends on whether or not you open your eyes, your ears, your pores to feel it.

In Portree, I came across to that middle-age man. Actually, he is like Alberto to me in “Sophie’s World”. A wild, nomadic mind that questions the norms in the society. He is such a  character that everybody hates and envy because of his ironic laughter.

Today, I went to the Red House, which is conserved by the National Trust. I was about to look at how the house is preserved technically. It is not a ruin actually, because it is always loved by the owners and now is sold to the National Trust which takes good care of it. Anyway, it’s related to the “future” of a “past”.

It was quite an experience to walk from the train station towards the Red House. Along the way, you found lots of repetitive houses. But none of them can be called “Red House”. Finally, you come in front of the red brick wall, and you know this is it. Not like typical luxurious English Garden, it is a friendly, well maintained garden of all sort of flowers and trees. Some of them climb gracefully on to the walls of the house.

DSCN4657Those little red flags are the footprint of the extension design. Morris lived here for 5 years only and left with pain, so the extension is never realized.

I entered the house, and spent some good effort reading about the story and history behind it.

The house is more interesting than I expected. It was actually a joined dream of two young men. William Morris, the house owner who designed and made the wallpaper and furniture himself, collaborated with his friend, Philip Webb, the architect, who designed every detail of the house. They have distinct but complimentary characters that made this beautiful house happened!

The quality of the conservation of the Red House is as impressive as its history behind.
I talked to an old lady who has been here for 5 years as a volunteer. She said “Oh, I really love this. If not I won’t be here for so many years. Everyday I learn new things.”

I told her that I feel so sad for Hong Kong because many of our old buildings have been knocked down. Most of us don’t really value them. And if one day we regret, we don’t even have documents to tell us how rebuild them.

She nodded with a smile and said ” That’s a process. Even here, we made mistakes before.” She said William Morris, the owner of the house, learnt the old ancient techniques and bring them to the future. This is the same of ancient buildings- we need them to depict the history for the present, but we cannot avoid some changes as we need to move on. But only by understanding the history can we know how to move forward.



He took the art of stained glass from the old Medieval fashion into a new age. That’s a true revival. And in specific circumstances, it appears in blue and green.

We walked to the front of the stained glass. “It’s an important story to tell…” she said. Last year before Christmas, there’s a gloomy night and it’s not a good idea to stay in the house. But when she came in front of this stained glass, she saw the yellow becomes blue and green! “Oh, see this!” She turned on her torch and showed us that amazing effect, which couldn’t be captured by my camera. She exclaimed that she praised the architect (Philip Webb) and the artist (William Morris) more than before since then. The brown outlines seemed to be floated against the blue and green colour. Everyone’s amazed by this detail. Probably it’s not that hard to understand it nowadays with the aid of google. However, this Red House has more than 150 years of history! Isn’t that a genius? Or if not, who else would have spent such effort to a tiny fun detail?

The old lady is such a fun and passionate person. She told me that she has never been so devoted, so in love to something before. Her energetic voice make me feel that she’s young deep inside. I’m so impressed by how a building literally attracts this lady, as well as how the lady is so deeply passionate with this building.

Conservation is not just by the specialists. Here, in UK, there’s the National Trust, the UK Association of Building Preservation Trust, etc, that has a large number of volunteers from the public. Ancient buildings, like history, are common treasures for us all. When will Hong Kong have such an awareness and love for old buildings? When will we start recognizing that we can no longer afford tearing down any more buildings?


Looking through these little circular windows is such an enjoyment in the corridor.

DSCN4642The next owner of the house had a japanese collection, so he decided to paint the room white for a better background. Lucky that the intervention is not destructive. Conservationists are able to reveal carefully the previous fresco and wallpaper pattern. Now in front of us is an overlapping of time. Isn’t that amazing?


Furniture designed by William Morris. Functional, and beautiful.


Some British old sports game on the lawn.

The house becomes a public space now. What about the future? Or are we nurturing the future indeed? The museum and stories of the buildings are like fresh springs that cleanse one’s soul. I’m sure that someone in the future may be inspired to do something meaningful. Or maybe  I’m the one who learnt something here and bring it to the future. Who knows?

Wildness in Skye

It’s all about a 51- year – old man, Angus Mcdonald, nicknamed Mongus.

I met him in the Public square of Portree two days ago.
I was sitting on a stone bench, listening to the Pipe band show. Suddenly, a weird man came to say hello to me. As I was bored, I decided to stay and talk to this seemingly- drunk man. At first he was just making jokes of my name “yoyo”. He kept telling people who passed by that my name is Yoyo, and I am from Hong Kong etc. Weird enough, I didn’t feel embarrassed.  I just thought that he is a funny guy.

The pipe band still went on. Angus asked me to dance together. I said “No”.
He laughed at me, “why? No one knows about you here! I am sure if we go out and dance, all the people will dance together.” In fact he was right, no one knows about me. Why the hell I have to control myself as a “normal person”. Everyone out there watching the show was a bit controlled in emotion. They would love to dance and have fun. I wouldn’t mind dancing together. However, the next song performed was a sad song, not good for dancing.

Then he told me his story of life.
His lover (partner) died few years ago, and his daughters are studying in Glasgow soon.  It sounds like a sad story. An old man living in the Skye alone…

But as I kept listening, he changed his tone, and said,
“I don’t give a shit to anyone else. I was a tv program of the American Nomad yesterday. It was so good. When I come home, I felt that I am just Me! I am Me.”
He told me he has a house in Staffin in Skye, which was built in 1912, hundred years of history.
“My dream is to sell my house and then buy a boat. I will travel around Scotland with the boat. Picking sea shells on the seashore, and sell them for 25 pounds per bucket. Fishing my lobsters for breakfast. As simple as that!”

I was so impressed  by his simple and nomadic dream, and I really wanted to leave my boring tour group to see his house the next day. He bought himself a beer and for me a coke in a bar, and pointed on the map that hangs on the wall. “With a house, you have only one fixed window frame. But with a boat, I can put my window frame here, or here , or here!” He asked if I will go to his house to have a look.
” I really want to, but my tour bus is going to pick me up at the morning”. He said, ” You are an individual. I’m not telling you what to do or not.”

So the next morning, I made up my mind, and met him at the public square early at 9am. We got on to the bus to Staffin. Oh yeah, I followed a mad man to a wild place that I had never been to! (Maybe I am a bit mad too. Happy madness!) The house was not as grand as I imagined, but it is still truly stunning. Facing the sea, backed with a mountains and green fields, what more can you ask for? Angus told me that that whole piece of land belongs to his father… And his father is a wild swimmer who swims with the cattle to the other island. Oh, and it’s not a joke. I found his father on BBC news. How weird to find these unbelievable stories on BBC news! ( Actually this  makes me feel better… at least what I heard from this random man was true stories dude!)


His house, composed by three structures, is  actually in ruin state. No body lives in there – deteriorated interior, cracks on the walls, wild vegetation inside the house… But still, it is a lovely place. (At least for me. I probably have developed a lust of ruins)

Angus told me that he wanted to sell the house only to young couples who will probably have a family. He doesn’t want to sell to retired couples. He wants people in this house to be happy, to have a good life. Probably he had a lot of happy moments in this house long time ago, and would love to pass it on.

Although the house is a ruin now, it doesn’t feel like a dead place. Refurbishment can be done to make it an interesting and lively space to live. He said there’s so much potentials to be a good house. I kept saying “Yes!” and I could even imagine that it will look so great with some intervention, strategically designed with new and old parts. It is not just an architectural interest, but it is the spirit behind  impressed me the most. An abandoned or ruined object may symbolize a fall of happiness, pride, or honor, but what makes life so wonderful is that these seemingly negative things can always reborn to something with hope! Bringing new- life to something dying, healing the deteriorating, inheriting the lost happiness to other people, rediscovering a new love relationship to the once- abandoned… Isn’t that the most beautiful thing on earth? This sentimental thought led me to think about the meaning of preservation and conservation. These words are now no longer just academic terms, but truly meaningful and emotional actions. Conservation is no longer just changing function, but to pass on the long lost spirit in an alternative way to prolong its life. It sounds like “incarnation” of Buddhism. Ah, and in Buddhism, one keeps practicing with good will to become a better being and eventually sublimes. Maybe the same thought should be applied to “Conservation”?

Walking across the bushes and rocks, Angus showed me the site of an ancient village, which is now an empty grass land. Good imagination was needed to picture this empty place was once occupied by thousands of people. But through his description, I could imagine how people lived near the seashore, transporting their food along the little path on the hill towards the other villages, buying and selling seafood next to the port… The contrast between the imagination and the empty site composed an interesting mental debate. I experienced the “emptiness”, “the presence of absence” by looking at this empty field with Angus’ verbal descriptions.

The Mad Angus brought me the experiences that I will never learnt from books. He brought me to climb across the bushes, down to a water tunnel! Down there was a peaceful hidden area, in which you know no one’s gonna find you there. Nothing really matters at all.

Angus kept saying “Thank you” to me. He said I inspired him and he admired my individuality. He was so grateful that I chose to believe him, and I was not like the other people who judge him as a crazy man. Now, he is so determined to sell his house and get his own boat! Such a Bold Nomadic Scott! I am so happy for him.

This special expedition will probably be on my brain forever. I promised him I will keep faith in myself, and am not going to be a fucking robot.

There’re so many ways to fulfill one’s dream. You can always walk out your own path on the mountains. Choose the one belongs to you. Don’t regret. You only live once!

Thesis Proposal Draft

The Queen’s Hill (Burma Lines) Camp was abandoned since 2001, just few years after the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from United Kingdom to China. Located in Fanling, it was once an important military base near the Hong Kong- Mainland border. Regardless of the natural decay, the ruins of the Camp still stands until today. However, these ruins may soon crumble as the HKSAR government has decided to redevelop the whole former campsite into a high density residential area.

The re-development occurring at this former campsite did not face much resistance because of the absence of direct inflict of interest. Nonetheless, public doubts arise along the years over the government’s planning decision of such large scale project concerning issues on practicality, feasibility, and negative impacts on the neighborhood. Without sufficient information and proper consultation sessions, local residents have little opportunity to express rational opinions and to control what is happening. Surrounding inhabitants have humble hopes for a better supporting system through the redevelopment, in a cost of risking losing their local history.

The thesis tries to establish a touchstone that will inevitably occur. Infrastructural construction within the campsite will be soon implemented for the re-development. The critical questions to date are related to the appropriateness of future alterations: whether it is a wise decision to demolish the potentially cultural-rich campsite to redevelop it as a massive residential area? What is the better alternative? How to maximize its potentials?

The thesis focuses on the conservation of the ruins in campsite. Ruins are not merely useless abandoned objects, instead they depict the witness of time, history, and social political stories behind through material’s decay. “Conservation” in this project includes preservation of the existing ruins, as well as introducing modern interventions to fit new programs and functions. This simultaneous approach aims to reveal the hidden historical values and achieve sensible and sustainable re-development in an alternative way. Part of the barrack compound will be chosen as a focused study.


The research work will be based on the theories mentioned in Alois Riegl’s classic essay “The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Essence and Its Development”. Through historical study and research, four values will be identified from the site: historical, age, newness, and use values. These values are essential to understand the essence of the Burma Lines and to set principles for preservation and new interventions.
The site is currently restricted from public access. Site study can be done only through historical documents, or photographic surveys from online resources. Special application of permission to the site may be applicable when detailed photographic and geometric survey is needed. Decay phenomena study of the existing buildings is also useful for design whenever possible.

( I will keep refining it during the summer.)

Political move against the re-development

Recently I wrote a Facebook Post expressing my doubts of the re-development of Queen’s Hill. Quite surprisingly, over hundred of feedback (likes and comments) have been received within a day. It seems that there are literally a lot of issues concerning these big scale developments, especially on the capacity of the existing transportation network.
However, almost no one ever thought of any new possibilities on the Queen’s Hill. Yet, it is understandable that they are not thinking about that since the they are not the direct stakeholders of the site. It is obvious that more intellectual discussions are needed among the public in order to achieve meaningful outcomes.
It is, however, a good ignition to arouse attention of the development of the district. I sent letter to the District Council to reflect my opinion, and will continue to investigate the potentials of the campsite with the hope for bringing new ideas for the community.


吳錫山 Seksan Design - 光興民宿 - Photo 04 中庭外觀(Photography by Rupajiwa Studio)

Case study
//馬來西亞建築師吳錫山將光興民宿(Sekeping Kong Heng)帶進了馬來西亞霹靂州首府怡保市的舊街場,隱身在舊樓,精品咖啡店和傳統茶室之間,為了保留一所昔日戲班居住的新古典主義風格建築,也把隔壁的 老房子買下來,逐一加以改造,旅客所看見的每一片風景,無論是民宿的結構或斑駁脫色的牆身,都有著不可磨滅的歲月故事。



吳錫山 Seksan Design - 光興民宿 - Photo 08 玻璃箱房(Photography by Rupajiwa Studio)