‘Micro Civic Architecture: On Making Waste’ probes HK’s waste issues

July 9, 2018



Matthew Hung

Hong Kong has a waste problem. Giant holes carved in the hillsides are being filled at unprecedented rates, requiring a periodic search for new dumping grounds. With existing landfills forecasted to be at capacity in the next two years, coupled with Mainland China’s stricter policies on importing recyclables, waste is increasingly a matter of concern for the city.

Despite acknowledging that there are fundamental problems with our consumerist habits, society is unable to collectively respond, often valuing the latest iteration of mobile phone or the convenience of plastic bottles over the material implications of such choices. An obvious disconnect exists between civic ideals and material practice.

Much of these ingrained values are a result of the extent to which waste is spatially externalized from the city, leaving little opportunity to develop alternative ways of relating to waste beyond the efficiency of its removal.

bluprint architecture design making waste public exhibit hong kong
A design for a temporary pavilion that made the material afterlife of the architecture present during the exhibition period in order to stimulate debate around construction waste

READ MORE: How do we make sure Asia’s megacities are healthy cities?

With the position that our interactions with the material world and our value systems are not independent but actively co-produce each other, the deliberate invisibility of waste becomes problematic. Without the materiality of waste being made present and public, new sensibilities will be foreclosed, entrenched values will remain slow to change, and new habits slow to develop.

Making Waste Public explores various strategies to reintegrate waste back into the city by making the materiality of obsolescence present in unique ways. The three strategies shown in the exhibition challenges the very boundary of what constitutes waste and exploits the inherent ambiguity that exists as opportunity to reintegrate waste back into public life.

Material Afterlife

Material Afterlife explores the prospect of pre-designing the material future of a temporary
arts pavilion. By having a set plan for the construction material beyond the life of the pavilion, the proposal is able to create additional platforms for the arts while allowing a new waste aesthetic to be explored.

bluprint architecture design making waste public exhibit hong kong
The fabric facade provides traces of cut patterns for future products proposed by Hong Kong designers

Utilising the West Kowloon Cultural District’s temporary pavilion design competition as a testbed, this project explored unconventional strategies to simultaneously minimise architectural waste, at the same time making the material afterlife a visible part of the pavilion’s DNA.

bluprint architecture design making waste public exhibit hong kong
The timber decking provide the material platform for designers, craftsman, and the public a space of engagement

In leveraging the hidden potentials within the procurement stage and embracing the unavoidable material afterlife, the design consists of three distinct “pavilions” that take on radically different forms: the Pre-Pavilion, The Twist, and the Post-Pavilion.

READ MORE: Unfinished, award-winning Spanish architecture pavilion, now in Manila

The Wasted 87%

The Wasted 87% speculates on Hong Kong towers no longer being able to legally externalize their own waste and explores the spaces necessary within such a context. In such a scenario, residents are confronted by the lasting materials from their lifestyles challenging them to adapt their habits.

bluprint architecture design making waste public exhibit hong kong
A speculation that explores the architecture of a Hong Kong tower should it no longer be legal in the city to externalise domestic waste from buildings.

At its fundamental, the spatial exploration allocates 13% of the tower’s volume for residential units whilst the remaining 87% is allocated to accommodate the waste generated by its residents; a ratio based on the average living space per person in Hong Kong and the volume of waste the resident would generate over the 50-year period of a typical tower block in the city.

Despite affording the residents the space to continue producing current volumes of waste, the real opportunity lie in the potential to use the wasted 87% to process specific materials so that it can be removed from the building. The choices of infrastructure will inevitably make the afterlives of certain wastes more convenient, and in doing so challenges residents to collectively design the material circumstances of their lifestyles.

Rather than waste being an obscured open secret, this speculative tower suggests an urban environment where the notion of waste is dissolved yet simultaneously a constant matter of concern.

Redeploying NIMBY

Redeploying NIMBY (“Not In My Backyard, a common phrase used to describe the opposition of residents towards undesirable developments within their neighbourhood) problematises the private nature of waste management and proposes that the uneven production of waste within a community is made explicit. With this new sensitivity, it is proposed that the production of waste is gamified, creating both personal and public implications for those with the highest rates of disposal.

bluprint architecture design making waste public exhibit hong kong
Waste reduction within a community is gamified by spatialising the uneven generation of waste through locating mobile waste facilities nearby the buildings that discard excessively
bluprint architecture design making waste public exhibit hong kong
A new publicness around waste could unleash a new direct politics
bluprint architecture design making waste public exhibit hong kong
The private lives of waste allows us to have no social responsibility to each other in reducing waste. Making the statistics of waste public engenders a social consciousness

The creation of this feedback loop, that can potentially harm the property values of those wasting excessively, means there are very direct benefits associated with waste reduction. Coupled with the very public nature from which waste statistics will be recorded and disseminated, social pressure from neighbours that feel unfairly targeted provokes a more direct politics of waste and creates the accountability necessary for change.

READ MORE: A primer on Muhon — Philippine architecture’s Venice debut

Micro Civic Architecture

A component part of the Redeploying NIMBY strategy, Micro Civic Architecture explores the architectural articulation of a mobile waste facility that would periodically relocate to the most wasteful street within a district. Conceived as an oversized bin for the collection of different types of plastics, the micro architecture turns the typical act of indiscriminate disposal at recycling bins into a choreographed spatial experience.

bluprint architecture design making waste public exhibit hong kong
“Micro Civic Architecture: On Making Waste Public” exhibition at the Jockey Club Creative Arts Center, Hong Kong

Seven elevated bags to collect the seven common types of plastics are connected via wire to the doors of the structure. In sorting the different types of plastics collected, the recycler literally plays the building, announcing proudly to the street the reduction of waste going to landfill. Once at capacity, the calibrated doors are weighed down and remain shut until the a collection is made.

bluprint architecture design making waste public exhibit hong kong
The simple crafting process behind the prototype’s plastic shingle allows new rituals of community participation around waste
bluprint architecture design making waste public exhibit hong kong
Variations in the finish of each locally crafted shingle raises questions of our aesthetic preference for the new and pristine. A preference that is afforded by a culture of excessive waste.

The structure itself is designed to be easily assembled without power tools; moved as disassembled components; and reassembled again at a new destination. The regular construction and deconstruction of the collection point becomes a community ritual that reinforces the collective desires to minimise waste. Similarly, the facade comprised of 832 locally crafted shingles made from shredded polypropylene containers, is another source of ritual whereby replacement shingles are produced by the community. In doing so, working with the discarded plastics opens up the opportunity for participants to be exposed to the scales and materiality of plasticulture, raising a range of issues concerning its everyday use.

bluprint architecture design making waste public exhibit hong kong
An architectural prototype to turn the specifics of plastic recycling into a choreographed spatial experience for all

READ MORE: Pookginhawa: The Filipino spirit at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale

‘Making Waste Public’ exhibit first ran from 22 June to 1 July 2018 at Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre Central Courtyard, and the second ran from 1-8 July 2018 at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. For more details and inquiries, please contact [email protected].

Project and Exhibition Design: Matthew Hung

Fabrication: Cheng, Wing Chun (Gaau1 Up); Tsai, Hauen (Gaau1 Up); Chu, Wai Kit (Gaau1 Up)

Download this month's BLUPRINT magazine digital copy from:
Subscribe via [email protected]