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From Las Vegas ... ... Space used to be only identified by message we perceive from either the appearance of architecture or signage. Borrowing Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown ‘s terms in describing the architecture models on the Las Vegas Strip, they are the “duck” and the “decorative shed” which represents building as sign and building and sign respectively. Both architecture models advocate the physical present of sign as a channel for transmitting message to the pedestrian or, on the Las Vegas Strip, the car driver. However, as we now perceive customized information (about space) from personal mobile device, the semiotic model of sign and building has changed. Mobile device has become another channel that transmits information to the reader, i.e. pedestrian on the street. However, instead of replacing the decorative sign by mobile devices and information technology, this thesis argues that mobile device will interact with sign and suggests a new form architectural model and streetscape.

Intelligence of Mobile Device Mobile devices are now designed with built-in intelligence that to read/understand/map (react to) physical space. It allows mobile devices to react instantly to the actual physical space, not expired data. For examples, Project Tango run by Google explores a mobile device that maps physical space and generates precise augmented reality which overlays information on physical reality. This new intelligence suggests a change to streetscape, from reading information of space on signboards to reading multi-layer information of space on mobile device triggered by variation of street form generated by architectural features such as signs. Therefore, signs will not only communicate with the pedestrian, but also triggering reaction of mobile devices by their forms. The formal signs suggest new explorations in its function and relationship with interior space and the street.

Traditional Signboard vs Future Sign

Context: Message: Contact: Code:

Interior Space (Addresser)

??? “Run the Script” Sign (Physical) Optical Data e.g. Barcode/QR Code/Image

Mobile (Addre

Context: ??? Message: “Come!” “Cool?” Contact: Sign (Physica Code: Linguistics/Fo /Light/Graphi

Context: Official Identity of Interior Space e.g. Name, Location, Program /Virtual Shop/Ratings /Photos of Products, Service or Interior Space /Current Activities (or Schedule) Message: “Come!” “Buy!” “Judge if this is good.” Contact: Screen Code: Linguistics/Symbols/Photos/Diagrams

e Device esser/Addressee)

al) orm ics?

Context: Identity of Interior Space e.g. Name, Location, Program Messagea: “Come!” Contact: Sign/Light Code: Linguistics

Pedestrian (Addressee)

Post - Decorated Shed in Cities

Times Square, New York In New York Times Square, buildings provide large surface area to accommodate signage. Signs in Times Square function for advertisement, at the same time covering and capitalizing the building facades. The signs are not necessary to provide information of the interior space.

Shibuya, Tokyo In Shibuya, due to the high density of volumetric program organization, signs are responsible to identify the interior space stacked in low-rise buildings. Instead of following Venturi‘s model of one building and one sign, the architecture transformed into another model that many interior spaces and many signs in one single building. Building becomes a container for signs and programs.

Mong Kok, Hong Kong

Times Square, New York

Shibuya, Tokyo

The Decorated Shed Model

mutates differently under different culture and economies in different contemporary cities. However, a unique model is found in Hong Kong. Similar to Shibuya, signs are used as tools to identify the interior retail space at different levels in buildings. High density and Small scale of program trigger emergence of layers of signs that blur the exterior and the interior space on the street. Signs function horizontally instead of vertically compared to Shibuya. The horizontality and the density of sign create a surface that large enough to create a semi opened space on the street. New street form is generated.

Mong Kok, Hong Kong

Projecting Signboards in Hong Kong

Signs have been developed in Hong Kong since 1920s and become the local identity of place/street. From signs painted on retail-residential mixed use buildings to projecting signboards, signs in Hong Kong are not only about design of planar surface, but also structure, circulation and air space occupied on the street. Moreover, the economic value of sign is comparable to that of interior space. Sign in Hong Kong is a type of building and properties.

Quotation for Erection of Signboard in Hong Kong The price of erecting a signboard on buildings is extremely expensive and it’s cost is comparable to that of monthy rent in golden retail area in Hong Kong. However, signboards are still being erected in Hong Kong. Sign is one of the most valuable properties of a retail shop.

Before 2009 and the return to China, there was no regulation about signage in Hong Kong. As in 1960s, the British government knew that Hong Kong was going to be returned to China, construction of signboards were not restricted and regulated. However, 12 years after the return of Hong Kong, regulation of minor construction was established, built and new signs were regulated. The regulation restricted the size, material used and position of projected signboards. Signboards are determined as a problem of form. In fact, it is a question of properties.

The Existing Regulation

inhibits the development of signs and streetscape that provoke different social, political and culture activities. If the future street experience relies on mobile devices reacting to the street form, signs will be important elements in generating street experience. Sign should be regulated and protected in a new way.



Sign Illumination


No Function

Info on Signboard

New Sign Effect on Mobile Device

Retail Staging Air Ventilation Functional Info on Mobile Device

This Thesis

argues that the development of space/form-reading mobile device will bring sign and streetscape into a new era. Instead of replacement, signs will transform into space and structure that brings variation to the street-form. New signs that create the form of street will become an important data carrier that communicate with future mobile device. A new regulation for signs is proposed to Hong Kong (Sign Rights, see Appendix), from a new perspective of treating sign as properties instead of two-dimensional shape. Similar to Air Rights in the USA, the new regulation Sign Rights proposes redistribution of developable air space for signs, allowing signs vary in form, material and function with repsect to the future street form. This thesis will demonstrate how the new regulation changes the streetscape brought by the interaction between digital mobile devices and new signs.



Sai Yeung Choi Street is one of the most busiest street in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, housing hundreds small, medium, large retail stores. The Street has been under the pedestrian scheme since 2000, under certain time thoughout the week, the street is retricted to pedestrian use only. It provides a performance ground for different social, culture and political activities.

Volumetric Study of Redistribution of Developable Sign Rights Space

Architectural Demonstration of Sign Rights

The next development of the thesis will demonstrate how the new regulation changes the streetscape brought by the interaction between digital mobile devices and new signs.

Orchard Garden Cafe & Restaurant 風月堂 2/F Oriental House 24-26 Argyle Street

Treksio Art Gallery 3/F Oriental House 24-26 Argyle Street

Levi’s Store G/F, 1/F Leun Hing Building 86-88 Sai Yeung Choi Street South

Broadway (Electric and Electronic Appliance Store) 百老匯電器店 1/F, 2/F Mong Kok City Centre 74-84 Sai Yeung Choi Street South

Critical (Audio and Video Store) 鐳射影音唱片 Room B, 1/F 70-72 Sai Yeung Choi Street South

HK Reader Bookstore 序言書室 Room B, 1/F 66-68 Sai Yeung Choi Street South

Regal Hair Salon Room A, 1/F 62-64 Sai Yeung Choi Street South

Appendix - Sign Rights Building Department

Practical Note for Authorized Persons, Registered Architects, Registered Structural Engineers and Registered Geotechnical Engineers Sign Rights


Background 1.The Building (Minor Works) Regulation was established in 2009 and Validation Scheme for Unauthorized signboards has been carrying out since 2013. Based on the two policies, old signs can be maintained while new signs with limited size can be built. The policies aimed to regulate the amount and safety of signs in the city. According to the statistics research done by the Building Department in 2013, the number of signs inspected has increased from 1000/ year to 3000/year since 2009. However, by estimation, there are still over 120,000 signboards in Hong Kong. Even though the number of signs inspected has increased, it is impossible to inspect and register all the signs in Hong Kong in a short period of time. At the same time, unauthorized signboards are built and demolished. The current policies to register signs in Hong Kong are not efficient to meet changing rate of existing signs. The Policies have to be improved. Hearing from many voices in the society, signs are unique local culture in Hong Kong. The large projecting signboards has become the identity of urban space, the image of the city and the instrument to trigger social and cultural activities. After reviewing the effect of the current policies, it is found that the current policies are inhibiting the development of sign culture. Preserving signs will be one objective of the new policy. However, lacking maintenance and management, sign becomes dangerous structure. Furthermore, without regulating the construction system, signboards were built without negotiation between signboard owners and interior space users. Signboards covering window of residential units in mixed used building influence the living condition of residents in mixed used building. Interior space users should be protected. Rights should be granted to the interior users to manage and use the exterior air space in front of the interior space. Sign owner is responsible for the influence bring to the interior space user. On one hand, signs should be regulated. On the other hand, signs should be protected. The current policies, signs are treating as a problem of form. In fact, signs can be manage as a question of properties. Signboards should be protected: the air space it occupies and visibility. Therefore, both properties of interior space and signs should be regulated and protected. Study has been done since Jan 2014. The new policy, Sign Rights, will replace the “Projection, Clearance and Location� restriction (see Appendix A2.3) as the new advice for design of signs in Hong Kong.

Definition 2.Sign Rights comprise the rights vested in the ownership of air space (Sign Rights Space) in front of all interior property at the building façade. This means in effect a vertical division of real property, with the parts under separate ownership and involving an allocation of responsibilities and rights. The utilization of sign rights consists of construction of non-habitable structure “in space”, in front of area of façade at corresponding interior space. Sign Rights will replace the existing “Projection, Clearance and Location” restriction (see Appendix A2.3) starting from 1 Jul, 2014. Transfer of Sign Rights 3.Transfer of Sign Rights allows for the transfer of unused development rights from one Sign Rights Space to another, usually to promote the preservation of projecting signs. In the case of a projecting signboard across the road, for example, a transfer may be made by BD special permit from the air space in front of an interior space to an adjacent airspace or one that is directly across a street or, for a corner space, another corner lot on the same intersection. General Reminders 4.Definition of sign/Separation from building

4.1Any construction within Sign Rights Space should

not be part of the building structure.

4.2Any construction within Sign Rights Space should

be submit as an independent construction to the

Building Department.   Technical Guidelines on Sign Rights 5.The design of structure in Sign Rights Space should follow the


tions below:

Any structure in Sign Rights Space should follow the regula

tions below: 5.1 All structure constructed in Sign Rights Space should be within individual or merged Sign Rights Space. 5.2 The total volume of Sign Rights Space equals the sum of volume of signs allowed to be built on one single building based on the existing regulation (updates in 2013, for example of calculation, please see Appendix Diagram I).

i.e. Total developable Sign Rights Space for a building= 10m X 4.2m X 0.6m X Quotient of (Width or building / 3m) 5.3 The maximum depth of developable Sign Rights Space is defined as below: 5.3.1 For buildings on the street with Pedestrian Scheme and the distance between exterior walls opposite buildings not greater than 15m, the maximum depth of total developable Sign Rights Space equals the distance from the exterior wall to the center of the street. 5.3.2 Otherwise, the maximum depth of the developable Sign Rights Space is 7m. 5.4 Interior space users who own Sign Rights Space has the rights to request demolition of other unauthorized signs in Sign Rights Space from the Building Department.

(Chan Tai Ming) Building Authority Ref. BD GP/BORD/698 First issue March 2014 (AD/CS)

Appendix Advice from Other Government Departments A1.

General Advice A1.1 Any person who intends to erect a sign should obtain permission from the building owners and/or owners corporation and prior approval from the electricity supplier concerned as appropriate and check that the sign does not contravene the conditions of the land leases. A1.2 Sign owners should arrange to have their signs inspected and properly maintained regularly to ensure continuing safety. A1.3 The sign owners may be liable for damages or injury caused by his sign. A1.4 A sign shall not contain obscene or indecent materials.


Advice from Building Department A2.1

Application of the Buildings Ordinance (Cap 123) and Public

Health & Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap 132) A2.1.1

A Sign permanently attached, fixed, annexed or

secured to a building normally falls within the definition of “building” or “building works” and is subject to the control of the Buildings Ordinance. A2.1.2

A sign that is liable to cause danger to the

structure of a building may be removed under section 26(4) of the Buildings Ordinance. Any structure erected solely for the purpose of exhibiting advertisements and which is dangerous or is likely to become dangerous may be removed under section 105 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance. A2.1.3

Save where exempted by the Building Authori-

ty, no building or other structure shall be erected in, over or upon any portion of any street. A2.2

Appointment of Authorized Persons & Registered Contrac-

tors A2.2.1

Approval and consent from the Building Author-

ity should be obtained for the erection of any advertising sign which is within the definition of building or building works under the Buildings Ordinance. A2.2.2

An Authorized Person should be appointed to

co-ordinate the work.


A Registered Contractor should be appointed for

the erection of advertising signs. A2.3

Projection, Clearance and Location A2.3.1 -

A sign shall not

obstruct or reduce the width of the escape route or stair

provided to a building or service lane -

obstruct or reduce the required natural lighting and ven-

tilation or open air provided to buildings -

project more than 4.2m from the main building line or

beyond the center line of a street A2.3.2 -

A sign shall

have a minimum clearance of 3.5m and a minimum clear

distance of 1m from the curb if projecting over a pavement -

have a minimum clearance of 5.8m if projecting over a

street -

have a minimum clearance of 7m if projecting over a

tramway A2.3.3

Two adjacent signs shall have a minimum later-

al distance of 2.4m. A2.3.4

Two signs erected from the opposite side of a

street shall have a minimum clear distance of 3m. A2.4

Material and Structural Safety A2.4.1 -

A sign shall be

made of durable, fire resistant material proofed against

rust and corrosion -

structurally safe as not to cause any injury to the public

and shall not cause any adverse effect on the buildings to which it is fixed A2.4.2

The structure of a sign shall be securely fixed

to avoid falling or swinging. It shall have a minimum of two support points on the building to which it is affixed. A2.4.3

A sign shall not be affixed to or take support

from another sign. A2.4.4

The structural steel members of a sign shall

have at least two coats of paint or other treatment for corrosion protection. A2.4.5

Electrolytic reaction shall be avoided (e.g.

steel screws shall not be directly fixed to aluminium bars). A2.5

Other Points A2.5.1

Details of the sign owner should be prominently

displayed on the sign. A2.5.2

A damaged or defective sign should be repaired

or renewed. A2.5.3

A sign should be removed when no longer

required. A3. Advice from Electrical & Mechanical Services Department A3.1

A neon sign or any other sign with current using equip-

ment shall conform to electrical safety requirements under the Electricity (Wiring) Regulations of the Electricity Ordinance (Cap. 406) and the technical guidelines given under Code of Practice for the Electricity (Wiring) Regulations. A3.2

The electrical installation of a neon sign or any other sign

with current using equipment shall be undertaken by a Registered Electrical Contractor / worker. A3.3

Every switch for a discharge lighting circuit shall be iden-

tified with a permanent label. A3.4

The neon tubes and current using equipment shall be

installed so as to be free from contact with inflammable materials and exposure to mechanical damage. A3.5

Ancillary equipment including inductors, capacitors,

resistors and transformers shall either be totally enclosed in a rigid and effectively earthed metal container or alternatively be placed in a suitably ventilated enclosure of incombustible material or of fire-resisting construction. A3.6

The transformer, discharge tube and other parts of high

voltage circuits shall be located out of reach of the public. A3.7 Fireman’s Switch A3.7.1

The Fireman’s switch of an approved type shall

be situated in a conspicuous position, not more than 3m from ground level. For an exterior installation it shall be as nearly as possible vertically below the sign, or alternatively, a notice shall be placed directly below the sign to indicate the position of the switch, which shall bear a name plate. For interior installation it shall be near the main entrance to the building. Where more than one Fireman’s Switch is installed on any one building, such switches shall be clearly marked to distinguish one from another.


The ‘ON’ and ‘OFF’ position of the Fireman’s

Switch shall be conventional. (i.e. push upward – ‘OFF’; push downward – ‘ON’) A3.7.3

The switch is to be affixed on a board approx-

imately 300mm long by 250mm wide, which is painted white and edged with a 50mm red border. The inscription ‘NEON SIGN-FIREMAN’S SWITCH’ in English is to be painted on the top and in Chinese at the bottom of the board in black. The switch is to be positioned in the middle of the board. A4. Advice from Civil Aviation Department A4.1

No sign shall be erected above airport height limits under

the Hong Kong Airport (Control of Obstructions) Ordinance, Cap 301. A5. Advice from Transport Department A5.1

Advertising signs shall not be erected on expressways and

other roads with high speed limits; at locations which require a motorist’s full concentration such as junctions and crossing points or at locations where the signs may impede already restricted visibility such as at horizontal and vertical curves. A5.2

The colours and shape of advertising signs shall not be

such that they could be confused with traffic signs. A5.3

Advertising signs shall not obstruct the operation and

safety of transport facilities such as the Central-Mid Levels Escalator System, traffic signs, traffic lights and surveillance cameras. A5.4

Signs shall not be located such that they may cause dis-

traction to drivers. The Transport Department should be consulted regarding the installation or erection of any such signs which will be visible to drivers of motor vehicles. A5.5

A sign shall not obstruct traffic signs, traffic lights, traffic

surveillance cameras or the operation and safety of transport facilities.

Diagram I Examples of Re-distribution of Developable Sign Rights Space

Diagram II Examples of Ownership & Transfer of Sign Rights Space

Total Volume of Sign Rights Space = 100m3

Sign Rights  

Extract of thesis 2014 by Pak Lun, Leung