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SEVERE ACUTE RESPIRATORY CITY Tom Lindsay Robinson College 23rd April 2013 Essay 4, Pilot Essay

An essay submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the MPhil examination in Environmental Design in Architecture (Option B) 2012-2014

9,034 words


SEVERE ACUTE RESPIRATORY CITY Tom Lindsay Robinson College 23rd April 2013 Essay 4, Pilot Essay

An essay submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the MPhil examination in Environmental Design in Architecture (Option B) 2012-2014

9,034 words


A new urban model for Sham Shui Po and Mong Kok; the culmination of new urban planning and policies.


fresh air The study explores the health concerns of pollution and


impure air on the Hong Kong populace, how the spaces they

The revised urban model focuses on those areas most prone to

share are potential health risks and how its urban condition

cause ill health and consternation to a significant population of

promulgates the fear of risk and impurity. The issue of fresh

Hong Kong society and encompasses both urban development

air taps into a more inherent problem about how much Hong

and policies. Through an analysing both policy and design, it

Kong residents trust their city. Communities are segmented

is possible to assess where specifically an intervention will be

and a sense of shared community is diminishing because the

most beneficial.

shared space is being rested from their control. RETHINKING POLLUTION The study looks at Hong Kong’s contemporary history and

In the book ‘Imperfect Health: the Medicalization of

unique characteristics that give this city its propensity for ill

Architecture’ the historian and architectural theorist David

health. From identifying urban typologies that are health risks

Gissen (2012) calls for architects to think of pollution in terms

and areas of concern for Hong Kong residents emerges a new

of ‘an aesthetically orientated theory of pollution’. The now

urban design model.

common materialist view, where answers must be scientific, does not address pollution on its historical, cultural or social implications. While I maintain the need for a scientific approach to environmental analysis, there is a need to critically assess air against its broader implications on city life.

Air appears ungovernable. In 2012 it sparked a diplomatic row between the CCP and the Beijing US embassy after the embassy released data publicly from its air pollution monitoring station (Yang 2012). The CCP claimed the air above the embassy was theirs. The embassy claimed it counted as US territory and was theirs to assess. It was never fully settled. 5

contents fresh air


trust your city


adjusting to a micro-environment


pollutants & contaminants 23 Hong Kong under SARS


the miasma theory


real vs. perceived risk the effect of SARS on shared public space


fear of the unknown


familiarity and distance


a split city




pandemic lockdown


existing structure


pollution visualised


unauthorised building works


transmission nodes


Clustered city


a personal chaos


Compartmentalised city


from rural to urban


the industrialisation of tradition


Hong Kong redesigned


pandemic paralysis


PHASE 1 : Expansion of Breezeways


the risk of living at high density


PHASE 1.2 : New Breezeway Policy


from public to private


PHASE 1.3 : Pedestrianisation of Breezeways




PHASE 2 : Height Difference


pandemic paralysis


PHASE 3 : Perforation of Urban Form



PHASE 4 : Set-back of Major Roads



spatial quality





urban form Sham Shui Po and Mong Kok

Hong Kong disaggregated Transitional city


Transport city


Stagnant city


a new urban design model



Buildings Department Housing Department

Development Bureau

Transport and Housing Bureau

Transport Department Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department SARS Expert Committee

Department of Health

The Government of Hong Kong Food and Health Bureau

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department Environmental Protection Department

Civic Exchange Society for Community Organisation

Environment Bureau

Public Policy Think Tanks

A brief overview of some of the governmental bodies mentioned in this study.



hong kong; ‘THE FRAGRANT HARBOUR’ 香港 Hēunggóng is the Cantonese name for Hong Kong, literally meaning ‘Fragrant Harbour’. It must come as a bitter irony to continuously call one’s hometown ‘the Fragrant Harbour’ even now.


Living in Hong Kong is about making sacrifices and adapting to a new environment. It is a balance.


trust your city China is a victim of its own industrial success. At the time of

Between November 2002 and July 2003, society itself

writing, Beijing has experienced its worst days of air pollution

retracted to expose rifts within. Traditional daily life, already

in recent history (Wong 2013) and a new outbreak of Bird

infringed upon by the demands of high-density living, was

Flu (H7N9) has killed 11 and closed all poultry markets in

stymied and never fully recovered.

Shanghai (BBC 2013). The implications of these events reverberate all the way South to Hong Kong.

Moreover, the SARS crisis simply underlines a chronic problem in Hong Kong: the pollution, contamination and

Ever since the SARS epidemic in 2003, Hong Kong has

hence distrust of breathable air. What makes the issue so

anticipated another of these ‘rare’ events. Due to its proximity

unmanageable is its near intangibility. The government, used

to a pandemic-prone China and its own urban characteristics,

to complete control of all municipal matters, found it a source

the city knows it is just a matter of time until a new outbreak.

of embarrassment while the people rallied to voice their

Its society is still reeling from the last epidemic’s long-term

frustration at the government’s lack of a solution. Even now

effects. In fact, it was arguably not the disease that made

there is a growing chasm of distrust between society and its

the longest lasting impact but its social consequences (Leung

living environment.

2004, Person 2004, Tsang 2004).

“We live in a state of pervasive anxiety. Every day, we are confronted with problems stemming from the energy crisis, the use of natural resources, pollution, decreasing bio-diversity, climate change, new epidemics, the harmful effects of industrial production processes and our consumerist lifestyles. We perceive our bodies as constantly at risk (from sources difficult to pinpoint) of contamination and disease.” - Giovanni Borasi & Mirko Zardini (2012) in ‘Imperfect Health’


adjusting to a micro-environment The effect of Hong Kong’s built environment on its populace

of escape, whether it was teenagers who used headphones

is palpable. For the 58,000 new migrants who arrive yearly

to block out their surroundings, the middle-aged who would

from Mainland China, they must adjust their living habits to

use even loud chaotic 24-hour eateries or the example of the

suit Hong Kong’s smaller living spaces and overcrowded

elderly group who used a cargo working area for exercise.

streets (Yip 2011, Taylor 2011). The fact that residents seem to use public space not purely for Hong Kong residents have very little personal and private

public activities but as a refuge from the public may explain

space due to cramped living conditions. Many have adapted

the general perception of Hong Kong residents as aloof. It is,

to their environment to create privacy in public space. ‘Living

however, a change in their social habits that allows them to

at Density: Voices of Hong Kong Residents’ a focus group

survive in Hong Kong. They had to change them further still

discussion by LSE Cities (2011) discovered people found a

to survive SARS.

way to gain privacy in public. All age groups had a means New living habits arose in the space of a few months. Offices encouraged bowing rather than shaking hands. Friends no longer found it safe to meet in restaurants (Tsang 2004) when it became impossible to ignore others i.e. potential health hazards. When SARS struck, it was not simply the public space that was robbed from residents but their private space too.


A Hong Kong local sings ‘Locust World’ to a group of Mainland tourists (Fauna 2012). Tensions have always been taut between the Mainland and Hong Kong since even before the 1997 Handover when Hong Kong feared the new communist rule of the CCP. Nowadays it is a cultural difference that is the result of Hong Kong’s role as a Special Autonomous Region (SAR). In 2012, a group of Hong Kong activists sponsored a full-page advertisement in a local paper decrying the crossing of Mainland mothers into Hong Kong to give birth and telling Mainland tourists ‘to respect local cultures’. Mainland tourists Trust your city. A typical elevator sign.

have been known to litter, spit, urinate and even defecate in the streets.


The fragrant harbour is split into two sections. To the North, on the Mainland, is Kowloon where the majority Hong Kong’s local residents reside.


To the South is Hong Kong Island, the financial and therefore richer centre of Hong Kong with the largest expat community.


There is huge disparity between residents’ living conditions and quality of life.



Residential areas have an over abundance of barriers, noisy traffic crossings that demand your attention, signs and


dictate realm.






Hong Kong’s population is dependent on an excellent public transport system.

In Kowloon is where you will find old Hong Kong and its old population remains there. The



generation the



earners and the most likely to suffer from ill health due to their living conditions.



Overcrowded, noisy, congested, hectic, stressful A typical day in Kowloon; home to the majority of Hong Kong’s residents.




200 180 160 140 120 100 80 60 40 20 0 1999











AIR Pollution Indexes exceeding 100 (i.e. ‘very high’ or ‘severe’ pollution warnings) in hong kong





POLLUTANTS & CONTAMINANTS Hong Kong operates a Healthy Air Index (API) to measure and forecast daily levels of pollution. It’s Environmental Protection Department’s (EPD) Air Policy Division set Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) in 2012 that seek to decrease and control the rise of certain pollutants (GovHK 2011). ‘Very High’ to ‘Severe’ daily cases per year have steadily increased in the last decade (see graph), a result that seems unstoppable due to China’s development. The best the Hong Kong government can aim for is to reduce the year on year increase. However, as David Gissen remarks (2012), there will never be a solution that can totally eliminate pollution. Already its’ own API is well below the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) (ACE 2006) guidelines although new AQOs set to start in 2014 will move closer to WHO’s own. There are complaints from the government that WHO’s guidelines are too stringent (Civic Exchange 2010). Cynics may point out that having the EPD set and regulate its own API is suspect.

Pollution; a sign of a society’s progress.



The API on the adjacent page gives an indication of how invasive bad air is to daily Hong Kong life. In 2012 for example, it would be advisable for children, the elderly and people with existing heart or respiratory illnesses to not go outside their doors or exercise for 140 days of the year. Air quality improvement measures relevant to city street planning include low emission zones where vehicles are required to park in designated areas, rerouting of existing bus routes and the retirement of heavily polluting vehicles (CUHK 2005).

Pollution monitoring stations in Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.



Sulphur Dioxide (SO2)


Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)


Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)


Ozone (O3)




Total Suspended Particulates (TSP)


Respirable Suspended Particulates (RSP)


Fine Suspended Particulates (FSP)


Lead (Pb)




very high


medium low

201 - 500

The public is advised to reduce outdoor activities, physical exertion and prolonged stays near roadsides in dense urban areas. Children and the elderly are especially at risk.

101 - 200

People with existing heart or respiratory illnesses are advised to reduce outdoor activities, physical exertion and prolonged stays near roadsides in dense urban areas. Children and the elderly are especially at risk.

51 - 100

No action should be taken although long term exposure of several months or years is detrimental to health.

26 - 50 0 - 25

hong kong’s air pollution index 25

“the shift from infectious to chronic disease reflects a shift in the notion of health from what it meant to live in a ninteenth-century industrial city to today’s more complicated framing, in which health has to do with one’s own self in relation to things and other people.” - Linda Pollack (2012), architect participating in Fit-City and Active Design.

This viewpoint helps to explain why SARS was such a groundbreaking phenomenon. People suddenly became aware of their relationship to the wider population. In a bizarre way, SARS may be the catalyst for social change from an individual to a shared social view of the modern city.


30-40% potential AFFECTED POPULATION

HONG KONG UNDER SARS It was as a reaction to the SARS epidemic that swept through Hong Kong that health professionals began again to think seriously about the city’s health implications (S.S.Y. Lau 2006, Xin 2003). Although it was a worldwide outbreak, Hong Kong seemed a particularly perfect staging ground. Ultra dense high-rise and mixed land use means a virus does not have far to go until its next host. Additionally, cities in developed countries are largely focused on mental not physical health (Kolappa 2013). The outbreak of SARS was a shock to this system.


Protests and demonstrations about Hong Kong’s meagre pollution controls have helped raise public awareness of the risk their city poses to their health.


THE MIASMA THEORY The public knowledge of air contaminants has historically

We are most worried about what we can perceive because

been marred by misinformation. Before Dr. John Snow’s work

it is what we can assess ourselves. In terms of CO2 emissions

on cholera that pioneered the advancement of Germ Theory,

for example, cars are seen as a major polluter. However, the

it was a widely held belief that many infectious diseases

building industry is a far worse culprit but it took a lot longer

resulted from breathing poisonous air and gases known as

for the public to angle their anger towards it because the

‘miasma’ (De Paulo 2006). Knowledge was based on what

industry was not as visible to them as the cars that pass by

could be seen and smelt. Germs were not perceptible at that

on their streets.

time. However, a form of miasma-thinking still lives on today. Health professionals may be more informed but the public still lack basic knowledge on the subject (Fielding 2009).

Lack of information is what has led cities to be unprepared for contaminated air disasters and misinformation is what helps spread them.


real vs. perceived risk The 2003 SARS epidemic was an event that threatened the livelihoods of all Hong Kong citizens yet by the final count only 1755 (299 of whom died) out of a population of 6.803 million were infected (WHO 2004). That is a probability of infection of 0.03%. Although the probability of a member of the public becoming infected was very low, it was the possibility of infection that weighed most heavily in their mind. The overall burden extended far beyond the realms of health. The economy and society fell ill too. It is often forgotten that fear is a pandemic in itself; “an infectious disorder� (De Paulo 2006).









intensity of online mentions





Below are two graphs from the website ‘Information is Beautiful’. The graphs juxtapose the perceived and real risks of threats (left and right respectively).

swine flu (18,000)

wasp stings (11,000)

SARS (770)





bird Flu (260)








estimated total worldwide deaths


System 1 is the involuntary response and is often too quick to be easily perceived. System 2 is required for more ‘effortful activities’. The actions of system 2 are often associated with subjective choice and concentration. I am using the psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s (2011) behavioural and cognitive response System model as it serves the purpose of being able to describe the public’s psychosocial response succinctly without drawing me into unnecessary psychological arguments.


the effect of SARS on shared public space The onset of SARS has left an indelible mark on Hong Kong’s

outbreak by the epidemiologist J. T. F. Lau (2003) from Hong

public realm (J. T. F. Lau 2003). What was once thought of

Kong’s Prince of Wales Hospital. 1397 Hong Kong residents

as a rare event now seems likely to reoccur. The perceived

between 18-60 years old were questioned. I am also primarily

frequency of these ‘rare’ occurrences sets a city on edge,

using a literature review on the psychosocial impacts of SARS

expectant of new unknowable epidemics and exacerbates

by the Professor in Psychiatry H. W. H. Tsang (2004) from the

inherent health issues. The continuing 2013 H7N9 Bird Flu

Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

scare has already driven the Hong Kong Health Department’s Centre for Public Health Protection (created in reaction


to SARS) to issue potentially erroneous additional health

It was municipal Department of Health officials headed by the

precautions (BBC 2013). This response mechanism is not due

Director of Health Margaret Chan and under the auspices

to any cases emerging within its territory, it is simply due to its’

of WHO health professionals as part of WHO’s Global

now chronic fears of a second attack.

Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) who were given the power over the public domain during the epidemic.








The municipal officials were, however, under the control of

widespread fear of shared space, medical facilities and

Zhang Wenkang, the Minister of Health of China (based in

even whole Chinese provinces. The perceived threats in each

Beijing at the time) who was afterwards fired for mishandling

instance had repercussions on society. Crowded spaces were

the situation. The short amount of time they had due to the

not necessarily perceived correctly and there was a tendency

sudden nature of the outbreak and the inclination of the PRC

to place more risk on enclosed, unfamiliar and uncontrollable

not to share what it saw as state secrets on the epidemic

spaces. Distance and lack of knowledge about other provinces

meant their options were severely constrained.

placed an inordinate amount of risk on travel there and on people from these provinces (J. T. F. Lau 2003). Lastly, by

What the officials did manage to organise was a number

avoiding hospitals and the closure of 30% of medical facilities

of staged measures, several of which (intentionally and

during the outbreak (Kamps n.d.) those infected with SARS

unintentionally) changed the meaning of public space. They

risked infecting others in the community. The retraction

ranged in severity from public service announcements to

of Hong Kong society during the epidemic was not simply

complete closure of public spaces through to quarantine of

indicative of the fear of shared space at the time but also

possibly infected residents to total isolation of communities

promulgated long term concern and paranoia about their city.

from the city. Unwanted ramifications of such decisions was the stigmatization, ostracisation and division within communities.

To be able to discuss the psychosocial implications of SARS, I will be using a telephone survey over the course of the


22% copenhagen

32% stockholm 34% london

58% new york 48% hong kong

FIGURE 1. Proportion of public transport in various cities.


fear of the unknown One of the most powerful agents of fear is a lack of information.

Although the total amount of participants who thought their

Even worse still is misinformation. Possibly the most important

workplace was a risk was low, the real problem is still the

task for the government was to first raise awareness of the

difference between perceived risk and prevention practice. It

nature of transmission through news media outlets (Rothstein

means roughly 25% of participants were at work against their

2003) and secondly to keep the public up-to-date on current

own intuitions.

events. The government effectively sought to consolidate the two perceptions of public spaces, real and perceived risk,

The percentage of people who avoided going outside and

through its public information campaign. If, for example, the

crowded places is very worrying. Considering the relatively

public simply perceived a space as a high-risk area then it

tiny floor area that Hong Kong residents call home, this is

would cease to function productively. This would be a social

an incredibly small area to confine oneself in. From a

hazard. People being unaware of the real risk areas would

qualitative study by LSE Cities (2011) we know that Hong

of course be a public health hazard. Both were destructive

Kong residents are also used to closing themselves off from

outcomes. J. T. F. Lau (2003) concluded the dissemination of

the city if environmental problems arise. “Residents are often

information about the disease was a highly effective measure

compelled to close their windows or buy extra thick curtains

that helped the public understand the risk inherent to their city

to escape from the pollution, despite stifling temperatures”. It

during an epidemic.

suggests that they are willing to make sacrifices to personal comfort in the face of health risks. An additional point on the

Important dilemmas appear, however, where the perceived

avoidance of crowded spaces is this affects certain districts



more than others due to differing density levels. Sham Shui

preventative practice percentage (figure 2). These shared

Po for example is one of the most crowded districts in Hong

spaces are intrinsic to Hong Kong residents’ lifestyles and

Kong with 92,000 people per Km2 (Taylor 2011). The results

hence cannot be avoided. This, however, means the public

imply that local residents and neighbouring district’s residents

are grudgingly using these spaces in the knowledge of the risk

are less likely to use the streets than in other areas. This could

they represent. For example, 50.5% of participants showed a

potentially kill local business.






concern about using public transport and yet 24.4% still used it. This is unsurprising as Hong Kong has one of the highest

Another alarming situation is highlighted by popular response

dependencies on public transport of all global cities (figure

to their healthcare system. During the crisis, 87.9% of

1). During an epidemic an excellent public transport service

participants agreed avoiding health clinics was a preventative

seems to increase the risk to public health.

measure and almost as many (71.8%) actively avoided them. The conundrum here is that the sick dare not go to their

29.9% of participants thought of workplace avoidance as a

clinic due to the perceived risk of becoming infected. This

preventative measure and yet only 4.9% acted on this insight.

potentially means that those with other medical conditions did 35

not go for their treatment. There is, however, a rationale to

Many of Hong Kong’s older residential districts are widely

this perception as hospitals did tend to act as transmission

regarded as areas of disease (LSE Cities 2011). However,


specific environments within the districts are not so accurately identified. As an example, take the perceived risk of SARS

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that preventative

transmission in figure 3. The lowest number of population

practice may conversely affect perception. J. T. F. Lau found

contacts possible is inside a lift (typically 10 people max.)

“respondents who needed to travel to China on business

and yet it has the third highest perceived risk! This is a perfect

or who worked at a hospital/clinic were less likely to avoid

example of risk possibility placed over risk probability.

crowded places.” While “those who perceived avoiding

Hong Kong residents were largely aware of droplets and

crowded places as a ‘‘very effective/effective’’ measure

contaminated environments being a risk factor (thanks to

were likely to avoid crowded places.” This seems a strange

the awareness programmes) and so are right to think of a

dynamic. The latter statement seems self-evident as a measure

more enclosed space with potentially higher propinquity

of precaution. Even the respondents who needed to travel to

as riskier than an open-air street. But their risk attribution

China had a livelihood to consider. It does, however, seem

is disproportionate due to their (inaccurate) intuition. Their

odd that hospital/clinic staff would be less cautious. This may

mental risk assessment is applying what they do know about

be a good opportunity to use framing theory to understand

the spatial characteristics. There are issues to do with control,

this phenomenon. Framing is the theory that questions (or

familiarity and space that disproportionately prioritize certain

in this case ‘spaces’) can be constructed in different ways

risk areas. The feelings created by standing in a lift compared

to influence peoples’ perceptions and thereby influence

to working at the office or in the street skew our perceptions.

response. The reason why hospital and clinic staffs are less cautious in crowded areas could come down to framing by


familiarity. Their fear of infection dulls the more time they


spend in what is perceived as a high-risk space. They are

There seems to be a difference in perception within the

aware that their work environment is a high-risk space but

category of crowded spaces. There appears to also be

due to their gradual familiarity with its risks, other high-risk

a sub-categorization by spatial qualities. As mentioned

spaces are comparatively not much less or more dangerous.

previously, the public recognized the dangers of enclosed

Avoid going outside

Avoid crowded places

Avoid visiting hospital clinics

Avoid using public transportation

Avoid going to work

Not allow kids to go to school

Avoid going to Mainland China

Leave Hong Kong temporarily

Perceived efficacy of means of SARS prevention Actual preventative practice FIGURE 2. Perceived efficacy versus actual preventative practice.


spaces compared to open spaces. A claustrophobic setting such as a cinema or lift appeared as a higher risk than the open settings of a restaurant or office. It may be that the difference in perception comes down to the level of control allowed. Open plan offices and restaurants are more flexible settings; ventilation, heating and seating can all be personally adjusted. There is also the element of time spent inhabiting the space. There is a relative level of freewill that allows for people to vacate or enter when necessary. Lifts and cinemas, however, are functionally rigid spaces that are required to be inhabited at times uncontrollable by the user. The lack of control over the inhabited environment may make the average user nervous. The fact certain senses and actions are cut off only serves to confound the situation. A lift user is more aware of the person coughing next to him in a lift than a person who splutters as he passes him on the street.


Public transportation


Walking in the street


Going to cinema


Eating in restaurants


Working in office


Using lifts


Figure 3. Perceived risk % of shared spaces ranked by number of population contacts





Figure 4. Perceived risk of trips to provinces outside of Hong Kong


Avoid going outside

Avoid crowded places

Avoid visiting hospital clinics

Avoid using public transportation

Clinic Shek Kip Mei MTR Sham Shui Po MTR

Sham Shui Po market


lack of community due to the constant flux of population

familiarity and distance We have a desire to cut reality into crisp shapes to be able

each other. Ignorance also plays a part; Hong Kong citizens

to understand it. It is our natural inclination to categorize our

have historically (and increasingly) become mistrustful of

world into the familiar and unfamiliar. However, while we are

their Mainland cousins. The alien is instantly labelled as a

able to categorize and assess what is familiar to us, the same

potential risk factor. The 58,000 yearly Mainland migrants

means of assessment are not relatable to the unknown or the

that move to Hong Kong find difficulty integrating into their

unfamiliar. The inherent risk lies in the fact we are unable to

new communities and there has been plenty of social tension

actively assess our familiar environment using the same means

caused (Fauna 2012, Yip 2011).

as for our unfamiliar environment. How then can we compare the two? Our consciousness (system 2) relies almost solely on


the familiar, experienced spaces, having little influence from

When on the 30th March 2003 the Hong Kong Health

events or spaces it has not experienced. In terms of a rare

Department quarantined block E of the Amoy Gardens housing

event such as SARS, the unknown or unfamiliar cannot remain

estate, the real risk of infection was reduced. However, the

equivocal – it must be categorised and assessed for risk.

stigmatization began of the housing estate by the public. An element of this social stigma may be attributed to the issue of

Large distances, outside the sphere of an individual’s familiar


habitat, appear to be a determinant of perceived risk. There appears to be a comparatively high risk attributed to visiting

Amoy Gardens is an estate comprising of 19 tower blocks

Guangdong province (the known epicentre of the outbreak)

of roughly 1,000 residents per block. The majority were not

and other Mainland China provinces (figure 4). This seems

infected but still came under the homogenizing label of Amoy

a farcical line to draw around whole provinces. As I will

Gardens. Much like the distrust of Guangdong, the name of

examine later, this protectionist mentality is exhibited at a

Amoy Gardens became synonymous with SARS. The public

citywide scale too. In the case of areas outside their daily

were unfamiliar with the estate and so drew a mental line

world, citizens have no cognitive knowledge (out of sight, out

around everything to do with the name Amoy Gardens. Could

of mind) and hence can draw sketchy conclusions. Compare

half or more of the residents been saved from social exclusion

the more well-known spaces in figure 3 versus figure 4 and

if their residence had been named differently?

see how far more reasoned the percentages seem as people are clearly able to prioritize by comparing familiar areas to










Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission that suggested

environmental factor that was spreading SARS throughout

the closure of all schools in contrast to the original plan of

the block, residents of block E were moved to two holiday

school closure only in high-risk areas. Now that the high-

camps on city’s periphery. Geographically displacing the

risk schools were categorised among the low risk schools,

residents outside the city’s centre, whether intentional or not,

the public had no chance to isolate and stigmatize those

was a sensible move. Concerned public did not feel their

vulnerable schools. The familiar has been categorised with

neighbourhoods were in any more danger since the main

the unfamiliar. In their eyes, all schools were a risk.

threat (or the most reported threat) moved further from them. FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTENTMENT Yet the stigma that hung over Amoy Garden residents

An important distinction needs to be made here between the

remained when they returned to their homes. Many found

familiar and known spaces. Known spaces are within the local

it difficult to get taxis and had to lie about where they came

area of an individual while familiar places are generally areas

from in public. A study of family members of SARS patients

where one has spent comparatively more time and hence is

found 50% to be suffering from numerous psychological

comfortable with their surroundings. However, one may feel

problems, from depression to stigmatisation (Tsang 2004).

safer in a familiar environment because over time nothing

In terms of the estate itself, residents either left during the

unsafe has happened. This is not an accurate risk assessment

scare (a very real health risk if potential SARS carriers went to

of a space and the risk here is complacency sets in.

stay in other districts) or left months afterwards because they could not face the stigma (Tsang 2004). There does, however,

The difference in public perception between offices and

seem to be no difference in stigmatization between infected

other spaces may serve as a microcosm for Hong Kong.

and uninfected blocks. Even unaffected stores in the Amoy

‘Working in office’ gained a score of only 24.3% in terms

Plaza below the estate tried to cancel their leases early. Both

of perceived risk. This was the second lowest score on the

the apartment complex and the shopping plaza underwent a

whole table. It is also arguably the space with the second

HK$60 million (£5.1m) facelift, a makeover that tries hard to

lowest possibility of population contact. Whereas other

dispel the notoriety of the place.

shared spaces risk perception scores varied over the epidemic phase, the ‘working in office’ percentage remained relatively

It does seem that the Hong Kong government did take into

stable. I believe this is because respondents accounted for

account the risk of stigmatization of particular areas in the

their familiarity with the space and those they were in close

city. The quarantining of block E incited the citywide closure

proximity with. What is known about the co-workers is not

of schools, a decision taken by Arthur K. C. Li, the head of the

necessarily important, simply that they are familiar.

Hong Kong Education and Manpower Bureau. It was actually


In terms of a rare event such as SARS, the unknown or unfamiliar cannot remain equivocal – it must be categorised and assessed for risk.

Compare the 24.3% risk perception for offices to the 37.5% of restaurants. The difference here may not the proximity or numbers of people but the respondent’s unfamiliarity with the people he or she shares his dining experience with. In terms of districts, it could be assumed that residents feel safer in their own districts. The mentality exposed in this last analysis is endemic to Hong Kong and potentially dangerous. Historically, Hong Kong has been a city of divided societies. Paul Yip (2011), Director of Hong Kong’s Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, makes reference to this in his article “Disconnection in a highly connected city”. In it Yip details the disparate lifestyles of Hong Kong. “Hong Kong’s Gini coefficient (a statistical measure of income disparity) is ranked as one of the highest in world – at 0.535 in 2010”. What may be the case is Hong Kong society is particularly susceptible to the insular attitude that can occur during disease outbreaks. The society is already relatively fragmented compared to other cities and due to its many levels of disparity may be more liable to distrust itself. Any new approaches to pandemic prevention must address the disparity margin within the city.

The disconnected city.



‘We Demand Fresh Air’

我 们 要 新 鮮 的 空 氣



a split city We have seen a fear of public space in cirucmstances of epidemics and an individual’s retraction from city life when interaction with others can be potentially fatal. The following chapter is a design study exploring how residents may react in the result of a pandemic. If trust of one’s city truly collapsed, how far could an individual resident retract and what could they claim as safe and sanitory if even the streets outside his or her house are deemed unsafe? A total failing by the government and society to maintain trust is unlikely and there is evidence that they are becoming increasingly aware of the real risks. However, the merits of taking a reductio ad absurdum approach is it allows an exploration of how individuals may react to their environment without state intervention.



pandemic lockdown

airborne disease

In the event of a pandemic, compartmentalising

security polluted air

Hong Kong may break the path of infection and mitigate outbreaks. Can one compartmentalise even further - can we segment the urban fabric at street and neighbourhood level?

The three major concerns for society

Military barriers regulate the flow of people and disease

Infected districts are isolated so as to prevent further spread

Isolation booth

Adjacent buildings close down their facades in an effort to reduce risk of cross-contamination Quarantined floor Circulation circumventing Wind baffles reduce the build up of

infected floor

stagnant air and airborne viruses A makeshift entrance to the building allows health workers to circumvent the public view so as to clear out dead bodies and cause the least amount of distress possible The rolling news updates on the pandemic is Local residents protest about the segregation

the publics’ only way to gauge the extent of

of their community and demand to be

the crisis

allowed to move freely


‘The Mask That Cannot Be Taken Down’

脫 不 下 的 口 罩

Inspired by a slogan from a clean air campaign by the Environmental Protection Group, a design emerged around the idea that a resident may adapt their apartment to protect themselves from the exterior environment.


A facade for a museum in Bangkok that

Kayt Brumder’s thesis project Breathing Room

uses electrostatism to collects CO emissions.

explores a facade that can act partly as a

The design, 2002. The work is by Architects

filtrative fixture as well as acting as a sign of the


daily air quality.


The building geometry is already acknowledged to be a factor

Buildings themselves are typically only horizontal and vertical

in shaping wind paths (feasibility ref) so could the design of a

lines. More streamlined geometries, in the same line of

facade been developed further to increase airflow in further?

thinking that curves on an aeroplane increase speed, could potentially be a research area worth exploring.


Prevailing wind


existing structure 23 Wong Chuk Street is the standard housing type for the

droplets that fall into the street below are both potential risk

majority of Kowloon’s districts. They remain largely unaltered

factors for not only the residents but also pedestrians passing

since completion with only private additions to improve living

by. The facade is an expression of people’s own reaction to


shared and private space. The interiors are often very well cared for, being the small part of the city owned by the

Two cuts into the facade allow for greater ventilation and

resident. Anything outside of this realm, which literally starts

cuts into the deep core to also allow sunlight in. There is a

at the window, is seen as public and therefore of little concern

central void where bathrooms and other services open up

to them.

onto to emit used air. The whole facade of this residential unit is peppered with air conditioning units. The condensed water





The evolution of personal space. The eventual adaptation of balconies into private from semi-private areas has separated the private and public realms entirely. Existing building


From the gigantic landfill projects to expand the harbours to the reclaiming of balconies as private space, the lack of useable space is


something Hong Kong battles with on many scales.





Depending on the perceived threat

Each room has been given its own air supply. The deeper



into the core of the building, the more mechanical

sections of each apartment can be

ventilation will be needed to force air through. It is a real

closed to reduce the risk of external

problem on how to properly ventilate these deep plan

contaminants from the street. This is

existing buildings without knocking the whole building

at the owner’s discretion.

down and starting again.




pollution visualised THE












Structures and materials are those already





Initially, the idea was to use bamboo scaffolding but equally useful are the steel structures used to hang advertising signs on the front of facades.



unauthorized building works (UBWs) Hong Kong residents have a penchant for unauthorized

The Buildings Department (2011) released a comprehensive

building works. They are a perfect exhibition of the typical

summary report intended to be distributed to the community

dissent from authority. Try as the Hong Kong government

on UBWs. Below is a visual key from the report that illustrates

might to properly regulate space, individual residents see the

perfectly the types of UBW typologies that are commonly

restrictive space as lacking for their needs.

found in residential areas of Hong Kong and in particular the Kowloon side.

Offenders are liable to up to $400,000 and two years imprisonment although this does not seem to deter anyone. In the case of rooftop communities, officials actively turn a blind eye knowing that rehousing these communities is a much bigger problem.


Enclosed balcony


UBW on podium flat roof


Large glass panels


Sub-division of flat units


Large signboard


Opening formed in the staircase enclosure wall


Window enclosure on approved planter


Metal gate obstructing the means of escape


Metal cage attached to external wall




UBW on rooftop


Supporting frame for air-conditioner/water cooling


UBW in yard


tower on external wall 2















The design was reconsidered to take into account the street environment. Theoretically, the landlord or municipal powers provide a structural frame on which residents can build into. Private interventions can range from extra blinds to external balconies all of which divide the individual from the street.


street pollution level intensity





pr ev ail

r ly



Stack chimney to extract used air from the interior.

Wind tower to extract fresh air into the interior.

Could the new facade promote the flow of fresh air through the street?

Views cut to provide sightlines to the sky. This increases privacy between neighbours and gives a brief respite from the urban environment.

Protective barrier that blocks both sightlines and pollutants from the street.

Barriers differentiate the pavement that shoppers and commuters (minibus/ bus/taxi ranks) use to reduce likelihood of transmission.

The supporting structure for the facade changed from bamboo scaffold to steel barring that could be added to the existing concrete structure of the building. Wind towers and stack chimneys have been used to be able to cycle and control air through the building; an issue that was mentioned earlier as a critical problem. The idea was eventually dropped as a new facade like this would be impossible to administer at a grassroots level.


Final design : shared responsibility 2.







some collaboration between buildings on either side of the street to make sure that air circulates



the street.

2. 1.

By utilising both sides of the street, fresh air can be siphoned down into the street and polluted air pulled up out of the urban canyon.


1. 2.

More importantly perhaps, in terms of clean air, is the ability for residents to tap into clean air through the wind towers (1), structures that rise above the polluted lower air levels to collect air from the prevailing wind path. Futhermore, the stack chimneys (2) extract air from the street level. By making the air in the vicinity cleaner, one can begin to build a healthier street environment.



transmission nodes what are the building typologies that engender disease and distrust?


TRANSMISSION NODES During SARS certain building types were affected more than others (Lam 2011). The spread and intensity of the disease differed due to the urban, or rural, environments. This chapter follows the path of the disease from farmhouse to high-rise, studying the control measures emplaced on each and the effect this had on Hong Kong society when their city changed dramatically over a short period of time.

PHASE 2: market places

PHASE 1: swine and poultry farms






PHASE 4: mass transport hubs PHASE 3: highrise housing hotels hospitals/clinics













poultry farms and wet markets

a personal chaos: the loss of cultural life 78%

Cantonese-speaking houseCantonese-speaking households holds who buy live chickens. who buy live chickens to cook



from rural ...


... to urban


stats from 2011

poultry consumed by Hong Kong locals that came from local farms

Cantonese-speaking households who buy live chickens.

total land use

current number of poultry farms compared to the number before the Voluntary Surrender Scheme 2005 76

current number of pig farms compared to the number before the Voluntary Surrender Scheme 2006

one of the reason people move to these areas is for “cheap and fresh food, groceries [and] affordable rents� - Mr Fung, 63 year old Kowloon resident

poultry farms & Wet Markets POULTRY FARMS


Poultry farms our on the furthest reaches of the municipal

Wet markets originated due to the inability to store food for

powers. The level of control is minimal compared to the

long periods in the hot humid climates of Southern China. It

inner city environment and makes micromanagement almost

is ironic that these markets came about because they were

impossible. To ensure hygiene and safety is preserved,

the most hygienic solution as they are now seen as the least

policies often have to be wide sweeping and somewhat

hygienic market type. The reason they cling on is because

heavy- handed.

they are a traditional part of life for many residents. The SARS scare reduced the number of these markets to the detriment of the local culture. The bustling crowds that attend these markets daily are, however, a likely point of transmission. Post-SARS, Hong Kong has had to deal with the sensitive clash of traditional lifestyle versus sanitary practice. For example, a central abattoir project set to be completed in 2011 by the Hong Kong government to reduce the likelihood of further epidemics was abandoned after public opposition.


The industrialisation of tradition

mainland china

poultry farm new territories

market kowloon


Hong kong island

densest urban areas


The rapid rate of Chinese urbanisation makes poultry farms in rural areas of both Mainland China and Hong Kong the most likely areas for a new emergent disease (Martin 2011, Wilcox 2011). This is due to new emergent diseases (NEDs) developing due to many of the world’s wild fowl migratory routes passing through China mixed with China’s new intensive farming systems.


Local scale broiler house

Industrial scale broiler house


Sham Shui Po indoor market outdoor markets

The larger indoor markets become a hub for new private start-ups in the surrounding streets. The markets are often centrally placed in residential districts for ease of access. It also affords the smaller shops to be situated on largely vehicle free roads (except for the occasional goods lorry). As fresh food is a tradition that spans many generations of Cantonese life the easy access appeals to the older generation who would find out of town supermarkets difficult to commute to.




While more hygienic and controllable than street vendors,

Around Hong Kong, the Food and Environmental Hygiene

outdoor wet markets are still chaotic affairs. Hong Kong

Department (FEHD) has designated government-owned indoor

residents like to inspect the quality and freshness of their meat.

wet markets divided into various different produce. It is a form

While the shops exposure to street life makes them part of

of planning that seeks to regulate the markets while trying to

every day life, it also exposes them to pollution and infection.

conserve traditional lifestyles. Indoor markets also have the added advantage of not being exposed to roadside emissions, a problem for outdoor vendors.


pandemic paralysis

Due to the ideas of lack of familiarity through distance as discussed in the Real vs. Perceived chapter,






appreciate the changes to their daily life as readily as if the changes had happened in their own neighbourhood. The further away poultry markets are, the less fresh meat will turn up in Hong Kong’s wet markets; a cultural aspect of life that is being slowly phased out.

poultry farms PANDEMIC PREVENTION Farm reports unusually high mortality rate in stock in one broiler house. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) notified. Movement control and strict attention to biosecurity. More and more deaths due to disease are detected in nearby broiler houses. Farms are quarantined. Ring Vaccination Programme; local farms’ livestock are vaccinated (in accordance with the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for containment). All livestock is likely culled unless there is time for them to be vaccinated. The safest measure, however, is to cull. END RESULT The disease is stemmed but at a loss of thousands of livestock. Farms are compensated for this.


wet markets PANDEMIC PREVENTION Indoor Wet Market - The single poultry level can be closed while the remaining floors stay open. In actuality this is rarely the case as authorities will not risk further contamination. Outdoor Wet Markets - Single meat stalls can close as they are spread sporadically along the street. Remaining floors or stalls, regardless of whether they sell meat or poultry, are put under surveillance. END RESULT The area will become stigmatized and lose business. In some cases it takes months for normal business to resume. The closure of a large market in the centre of a residential district can put pressure on the surrounding smaller outdoor markets and compounding the situation of overcrowding. Famously the chinatowns in America took a full year after the epidemic before normal business resumed. Residents must travel outside of their neighbourhood, a particularly difficult task for the elderly. Unaffected markets become overcrowded increasing overcrowding and further risk of transmission.




the risks of living at high density


from public ...


... to private



housing While I have argued on the subject of the top down approach

restricted period of time i.e. until the regulations are needed

of the government, market forces are far more destructive to

no longer. “Private citizens should also be encouraged

the urban and public environment. This is largely due to Hong

to make suggestions and demands to participate in the

Kong’s position as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) which has

redevelopment.” ‘Trade up plans’ would allow the sharing of

resulted in rampant wealth gains for private investors. The

property rights and the owning of living rights. These steps are

upshot of this is a wildly fluctuating property market making

crucially important in giving a stake of the city to the resident

it difficult for landowners to do anything. In ‘Transforming

and hence making them feel more empowered and tied to their

the Urban Development Model is the Key to Post SARS

city. This last sentiment is one that the art historian Elke Krasny

Rebuilding’ Xin (2003), a senior economist at the Hong Kong

may hold too, as her research on grassroots urbanism points

Trade Development Council (HKTDC) argues for new policies

to empowerment when a community collectively organises its

and a new development model to improve residential living

shared space. Additionally, a report by the public policy think


tank Civic Exchange (2010) ‘Hong Kong lags far behind other developed cites in involving the public in district level planning

Xin’s argument seems to be, while Hong Kong is constrained

and decision-­making’.

by available land use and would if it were any other city expand beyond its borders, it must densify. He advocates an

Overall, I believe Xin makes an argument that Hong Kong

increase in periphery building to alleviate congestion in the

development is not inherently broken and small, precise

inner city. What has not happened alongside the densification

changes to the urban model can be decisive. In terms of urban

is the increase in quality of building which is a must when

planning, I believe the same sensitivity or ‘urban acupuncture’

services and infrastructure face unprecedented strain. As I will

is in order for many of the same reasons as Xin states. It also

explain later the redistribution of density to the outskirts of

seems, according to various bodies, that the public need to be

urban areas can simultaneously benefit air movement in the

far more involved in their city’s development.

area. NEW PUBLIC TRUST While I have argued against the top down approach of the government, Xin argues otherwise and points to certain controls that are in fact out of officials’ hands. At the moment the land use is organised by private developers. Xin argues for a government-restructuring period that still allows developers to build but under a new urban development model for a



Wong Chuk Street

Oi Man Estate

Amoy Gardens

Old (left) to new (right). A variety of housing typologies have emerged in an effort to accommodate Hong Kong’s increasing population.


not built up < 1,000 people/km2 < 10,000 people/km2 < 50,000 people/km2 > 50, 000 people/km2

Wong Chuk Street Amoy Gardens

Oi Man Estate




High density

2 Overcrowding 3

Multi-use space


Poor ventilation


Poor daylighting


Single, shared circulation


Reentrant services

Reentrants are typically incisions into the buildings floor plan that house exhaust fans, plumbing, drainage pipes and condensers from air conditioning units. They arise due to building regulations requiring all family rooms to have one externally facing window which leads kitchens and bathroom to be clustered together. This 92

shared space is at high risk of cross-contamination (Tsou 2003).

0.8 rooms/person

1.2 rooms/person (average)

â&#x2030;Ľ1.7 rooms/person

Wong Chuk Street Amoy Gardens

Oi Man Estate


23 wong chuk st. District


Sham Shui Po

9, Ground Floor Commercial Floor Area

Density Tier 4 tier : >50,000 people/km





4 per floor, 40-48m2 each




urban areas are being gradually replaced by ‘real-estate pressure and by the government’s Urban Renewal Authority, which is replacing blocks designated unfit for living.’ LSE Cities



ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT Hong Kong’s Building Environmental Evaluation Assessment

Urban areas, like Wong Chuk Street are being gradually

Method (HK-BEAM) was originally based on the UK’s

replaced by ‘real-estate pressure and by the government’s

BREEAM framework (Lau). The problem with this tool was

Urban Renewal Authority [est. 2001], which is replacing

that Hong Kong quickly grew to have an incredible variety of

blocks designated unfit for living.’ (Taylor 2011). These plans

building types due to the entrepreneurial capitalism witnessed

have been in action for over a decade but the problems of

in the 90s. The system began to expand to a Comprehensive

older neighbourhoods still persist.

Environmental Performance Assessment Method (CEPAS) so as to recognise the large array of building types.


oi man estate District


Ho Man Tin

20-23 Floor Area

Density Tier 2 tier : <10,000 people/km





34 per floor, 36-44m2 each






SOCIAL HOUSING Rather than just demolishing central urban areas, authorities

space per apartment is smaller than Wong Chuk Streetâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s.

built social housing on the outskirts of older districts in

Although it would seem sensible to assume modern buildings

response to overcrowding in Kowloon. Oi Man Estate is one

are more advanced, they do not necessarily improve living

such estate. This typology is representative of a new building

conditions The government must juggle improving peopleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s

form that would come to characterise the Hong Kong skyline;

living conditions with accommodating a growing population.

almost twice as tall as the older Kowloon block it replaces,

The increasingly smaller room sizes are a global problem that

the floor area is considerably larger too. Interestingly, floor

all megacities are facing from Tokyo to London.


amoy gardens estate District


Kwun Tong

30-40, first 3 floors retail Apartments

Density Tier 4 tier : >50,000 people/km th

Completion 1981-87



8 per floor, 48m2 each

THE AMOY GARDENS INCIDENT The continuing demand for land has given rise to multiuse building types such as the mall acting as a podium to residential high-rise. The ultra-densification that was inherent in Hong Kong became its downfall in 2003 when it engendered the spread of SARS through Amoy Gardens Estate. The multiuse of space worked against developers as the whole site became quarantined.


pandemic paralysis RISK FACTORS Single service core that connects straight to the mall below. Incredibly dense and compact floor plan. Space is designated as either circulation or retail space, there is no lesiure space. Deep floor plan means a reliance on artificial lighting and ventilation systems. A failure of one of these systems makes the entire building vulnerable. Different floors accessed primarily by lifts (a perceived risk of infection by the public during the SARS epidemic) for ease of movement.


Amoy Gardens estate PANDEMIC PREVENTION An infected person enters a tower block and infects those within his or her apartment. The infection then spreads due to a faulty sewege pipe that is shared among all floors of the block. Due to the close proximity of nearby tower blocks, the wind speeds are particularly high and are able to carry the lingering virus droplets across to other tower blocks. The massive outbreak prompts the authorities to quarantine the initial block residents. The building is deemed a possible cause of the transmission and residents are moved to two holiday homes on the outskirts of Hong Kong to isolate them from the public. END RESULT The incident caused real concern worldwide about the epidemic. Schools were closed due to this one event. The area and its residents were stigmatized. Many of the initial infected block inhabitants suffered psychological problems afterwards.



urban form


highest density areas



lowest income areas



most overcrowded areas



focus areas




0m Mostly between 9 and 13 stories, the building heights of Sham Shui Po are fairly standard. The lack of variety between building heights makes it difficult for breezes to penetrate the urban fabric.


0m Mong Kok displays a variety of building heights from the old 6 storey residential blocks to the new 24 storey commercial centres.

sham shui po and mong kok SHAM SHUI PO


In Cantonese Sham Shui Po (深水埗) means ‘Deep Water Pier’.

Directly South of Sham Shui Po is Mong Kok (望角, ‘Prosperous

This characteristic of deep water made it an ideal harbour for

and Crowded Corner’) district. The two districts merge

large cargo ships and hence was one of the earliest places to

seamlessly from old residential apartments into commercial

develop as part of what is known as Hong Kong today. Many

retail, restaurants and markets. Streets are generally far more

of the residential units were built for industrial Mainland

crowded with shoppers travelling from all over Hong Kong

workers who worked in the factories and warehouses near

who come to peruse the specialist markets that have emerged

the harbour. Being one of the oldest areas and housing the

like nowhere else in the city (examples include Photocopy

poorest income homeowners, the area is in dire need of urban

Street, Goldfish Street, Flower Market Road and Ladies’

renewal. In 2006, the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS)

Street). The streets exhibit an eclectic mix of building typology

began its ‘revitalisation project’ in Sham Shui Po. The project

and use; huge malls dwarf the remaining old Kowloon blocks

aimed at the ‘beautification of public areas’ around three

that sit beside them.

MTR exits, lasted one year and cost HK$7 million. Phase 1 included:

For the purposes of the following study I have focused on Sham Shui Po while at the same time using Mong Kok to

- planting trees;

highlight particular characteristics inherent in the mix of new

- repaving coloured ground tiles;

and old development that is slowly becoming the norm in

- decorating the areas with 3 artistic sculptures

contemporary Hong Kong.

designed by renowned designer, Dr Kan Tai-keung - providing amenities and benches on the walkways. Phase 2 was similar and largely revolved around adding more sculptures. Albeit the HK$7 million is a relatively paltry sum, the project seems to completely bypass issues raised in the previous housing chapter about healthier living conditions and the need for more community involvement that were suggested by academic bodies and local think tanks. It seems remarkable that a proclaimed ‘housing’ society should miss the point so badly. Looking North on Sham Shui Po.


A se cti on



lines indicate how the districts have been divided into planning areas.




TRANSITIONAL CITY Hong Kong is a hub for international travel and business.


TRANSPORT CITY The city works because of its excellent public transport system and infrastructure.


Transport can also be part of the problem, congesting and polluting residential areas.



STAGNANT CITY Hong Kong limited useable land is beginning to feel the strain.


COMPARTMENTALISED CITY What is public is broken up and subdivided into ever smaller areas.



CLUSTERED CITY ...and the city is becoming denser and more crowded as migrants come for work and better living conditions.



Hong Kong disaggregated Hong Kong is a difficult place to define. For the purposes of understanding the urban geography and enabling a solution to its problems, I have categorised it into five characteristics that both describe Hong Kongâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s character and explain its predicament. 1

Transitional City


Transport City


Stagnant City


Clustered City


Compartmentalised City


Transitional City


TRANSITIONAL CITY Hong Kong has been connected to some of the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s most infamous outbreaks of infectious disease in modern history due to this trait. New infectious diseases typically emerge due to social, cultural or ecological development, all three of which define the transient city that is Hong Kong and have been discussed in previous chapters. In Sham Shui Po and Mong Kok, the risks surround the imports of fresh meat to the markets and the flux of tourists mingling with locals in the commercial retail that largely defines Mong Kok.


Transport City

22% copenhagen

32% stockholm 34% london

58% new york 48% hong kong

Proportion of public transport in various cities.

â&#x20AC;&#x153;I think we have the best transport here [Sham Shui Po]. I moved into the area just because of this.â&#x20AC;? - Aunt Kwok, retired and disabled 73 year old


TRANSPORT CITY Hong Kong has one of the best transport systems in the world. Sham Shui Po’s elderly and low-income population rely on good transportation and the area has many mini bus ranks, bus stops and MTR connections. The movement of its population is so intrinsic to Hong Kong’s success that housing comes under the jurisdiction of the Secretary for Transport and Housing. There are worries that the efficiency of the service has ramped up the city’s pace of life (LSE Cities). The lack of time in public space has even led the Environmental protection department to state pollution is not a problem because people spend so little time outside (EPD 2010). Pedestrian safety and accessibility seems a secondary concern to the car-orientated Transport Department (Tsoi 2013). In places like Mong Kok (see image) where roads are less pedestrian friendly, the public are robbed of the shared exterior space and encouraged to use the interior malls to move around.


% who avoided using public transportation during SARS

MASS TRANSIT RAIL (MTR) The MTR system affords much needed public transport access to densely packed population. However, the crowding in close vicinity of MTR exits is a cause for concern, especially during times of epidemics.










ROADS Nathan Road is one of the most polluted roads in Hong Kong and “obtained the five highest mean route-averaged concentrations of NO2, NOx, PN and BC. ” Most polluted roads were found to also have highest concentration of pedestrians (Civic Exchange 2010). Idling engines are a huge problem, note the junctions have been highlighted to show potential problem areas. This doesn’t include the host of minibus ranks and bus stops that are needed but are equally polluting.


likely intensity of pollution nodes at junctions


MTR Exits


MTR exits themselves funnel people which while efficient makes travel monotonous, drilling in efficiency. 0m

Minibus Ranks


Minibuses are an easily accessible and cheap mode of transport for the elderly. They are also a major culprit of exhaust fumes from idle engines. 0m



Stagnant City


Breezeways into the dense urban fabric.

STAGNANT CITY Poor air quality is what can lead to Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) (S. S. Y. Lau 2006). The spaces most susceptible include areas with only a few small open spaces leading to poor air circulation and stagnation that leads to the build up of both pollutants and contaminants. The adjacent plan details how the prevailing Easterly winds find difficulty in penetrating the dense urban fabric of Sham Shui Po and Mong Kok. Those streets perpendicular to the winds are most likely to be areas of stagnation. At an urban level it is difficult to discuss indoor air quality although in Lauâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s post-SARS report he suggests that a combined assessment of both the indoor and outdoor air qualities is mutually beneficial.

The low and unvaried building heights, narrow streets and dense housing blocks all help to contribute to the urban microclimate that is a key effect of urban canyons.


Unauthorised building works such as shop signs and awnings are typical obstructions that inhibit urban air paths. 10m

0m Makeshift informal market stalls selling clothing and other retail goods are a common occurrance in many of the less traffic heavy streets. While they add to the local economy, they take up valuable vehicle-free space. During epidemics the whole street becomes a risk as bypassing the markets is impossible.

Shopowners who want to gain access to potential customers perusing the stalls must connect themselves by blocking the pavement between them and the market. 10m



Building facades cluttered with UBWs and narrow streets block air movement.

If it is not cars blocking pedestrian routes then it is market stalls. The former is a pollution risk, the latter a risk during epidemics.


Clustered City

The accumulation of detritus and additions to living conditions over time have become a characteristic of old Kowloon communities. 140

The highest priced apartments are typically collected on the higher storeys because they have access to views and are further away from the polluted streets (LSE cities).

CLUSTERED CITY Originally this section was labelled â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Compact Cityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; but there is a more nuanced definition that better describes a clustering effect where uneven densification occurs around certain key amenities. I have already covered how Hong Kong residents are forced to accept their smaller cramped conditions (S. S. Y. Lau 2006, Taylor 2011) but the competition among them for the best spaces in the city is apparent. For example, markets are clustered around MTR exits, commuters rush to the next train or rush for the bus. The MTR system and the high-rise near major roads which seeks to alleviate the issues of density and overcrowding actually contributes to a clustering of crowds and density. As discussed previously, Xin suggests redistributing development to the periphery of the city to reduce the strain on infrastructure.

For some Hong Kong locals they must not just adjust their lifestyles to live but sacrifice them. Cage homes are the worst consequences of high density living. The work and amenities available in a megacity such as Hong Kong are what many of the poorest are willing to sacrifice their living standards for. 141

All exhibit some aspect of a clustering effect; whether that be the clustering of buildings (market stalls) or vehicles and people (minibus and bus ranks, MTR stations)


% who avoid going outside during SARS

% who avoid crowded places during SARS

These transport hubs and commercial stalls that are crucial to the functioning of Sham Shui Po are also the highest risk areas for the spread of fear and infectious diseases like SARS.

standardised mortality ratio of premature deaths 104



densest areas


92 80

least dense areas


3 health & density

The clear relationship between density and health.

20% hong kongâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s total land use

Within this 20% the density varies remarkably from <1,000 people/km2 to >50,000 people/km2.


Compartmentalised City




COMPARTMENTALISED CITY Hong Kong’s public space is being appropriated and what remains of it is heavily regulated. In his chapter ‘Legibility and simplification’ in ‘Seeing Like a State’, the political anthropologist James Scott (1998) describes how the very act of making sense of a chaotic, unregulated form of the state has a reciprocal effect on the form itself. To put this in the context of Hong Kong, the government is under heavy pressure to be able to regulate a population in flux and an ever expanding and densifying cityscape. By seeking to regulate the environment, the Hong Kong government is trying to micromanage at all scales of daily life. Travelling through Hong Kong one is bombarded visually and acoustically. Announcements in the MTR constantly tell you how and where to walk, traffic lights make an incredibly shrill sound to make it unmistakable when is safe (and lawful) to cross the street, physical barriers prevent you from crossing at certain places and notices reassure you that the handrail you are holding is hygienic. This is a city that is does not trust its population so how can its population learn to trust it?


“While Hong Kong is dense and some layering is necessary, these aerial networks keep us away from our own streets, and our own sense of community.”


- HK Magazine, ‘Pedestrian Planning: No Clear Path’


Some walkways are used as a way to alleviate crowding near mass transit hubs (1) or to aid safe pedestrian crossing (2) although there is a current increasing trend for walkways to be used by large commercial buildings to bypass the streets altogether. In their book “Cities Without Ground”, Adam Frampton, Jonathan Solomon and Clara Wong (2012) have mapped the increasing disconnection between social space and ground and the illogical, irrational masterplanning that arises from unplanned top down and bottom up urbanism. The journalist Anna Minton (2012) takes a far more critical view of the commercialisation of public space in “Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First-Century City”. In it she argues that some public spaces should be completely free of retail. With Hong Kong’s progression to further commercialisation, this seems like an unlikely future. Mong Kok is an example of a once residential district that is slowly taking away the street space from pedestrians. While in Sham Shui Po the shops are still on the ground floor plane and the block sizes are smaller, newer commercial developments take up larger plot sizes. They actively try to draw consumers in with no exterior protection from the elements unless one chooses to use the walkways that draw you straight into the shopping lanes. Hong Kong’s public space is increasingly becoming a series of connected malls. 146




A new urban design model 149

A feasibility Study for an Establishment of Air Ventilation Assessment System (AVAS) by the Department of Architecture, Chinese University of Hong Kong uses the analogy of a sponge when describing how the urban fabric should filter and circulate air (CUHK 2005).


hong kong REDESIGNED Having previously conceptually explored the hands-on urbanism, the following design for a new urban model is based on a top down approach that can tackle the issue of air pollution at all scales. The model also seeks to regain public space for local residents.


The following are general principles of good air flow practice. Airflow is one of the most complex environmental qualities to design and analyse which is why rules of thumb are often a good place to begin.


Prevailing winds are largely Easterly and enter the Sham Shui Po and Mong Kok areas from a relatively open area of ground. As can be seen by the above diagram, prevailing wind have no easy access through these high densiry urban neighbourhoods.


breezeways 01. parallel breezeways Breezeways parallel to the prevailing winds are essential to channel air and help it penetrate the dense urban fabric.

02. perpendicular streets Streets perpendicular to the prevailing wind should be avoided. They create stagnant zones that are very difficult to aerate.

03. acute breezeways Acute breezeways are streets angled 0 to 30 degrees to the prevailing wind. This allows the wind to be channeled through but just as importantly the street facades will be able to tap into this fresh air. For this reason it is perhaps preferable to a parallel street.


perforation 04. vertical perforation With Hong Kongâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fondness for highrise towers, this is often the most suitable intervention. It is, however, difficult to retrofit by cutting through existing buildings.

05. horizontal perforation A positive way of again infiltrating streets perpendicular to breezeways. It may be easier to retrofit Kowloon blocks by knocking through non structural walling.

06. perforated block Once air is channeled into the urban fabric through breezeways the air must perforate the full building volume.


building heights 07. height difference A variety in building heights help to disrupt the air that would otherwise flow over the area and channel it downwards and through potentially stagnant areas.

08. height and prevailing winds Building heights should gradually increase away from the prevailing wind direction. The minimal height difference on a street will channel air downwards.

09. the washing machine effect An idea taken from the Chinese University of Hong Kongâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s feasibility study was the idea called the washing machine effect. At junctions, a particularly hazardous polluted area due to the large amounts of traffic and idling engines. Placing two tall building blocks, one significantly taller than the other, on opposite sides of the junction will cause air paths to curve down and then back up again thereby removing the stagnating polluted air.


building widths 10. widened street A greater width of street increases wind speeds through. The street width to building height ratio is important but widening streets is an impractical task in a pre-existing neighbourhood.

11. set-back street Slightly more practical is a staggered set-back from the street. Buildings can make full use of their plot size and their street presence.


interventions 12. vegetation While foiliage can cause unnecessary blockage to air paths, trees and other plants can improve the air quality and offer natural shading which is an improvement on the more claustrophobic overhangs offered by traditional Kowloon blocks.

13. wind towers and stack chimneys I have already explored the use of wind towers and stack chimneys in the facade study. Some of the particularly deep urban canyons may need additional help from air being siphoned into the streets. In some ways the relatively low building heights that are inherent in Sham Shui Po and areas of Mong Kok may be an advantage as wind towers have an ubobstructed path for the prevailing winds.



Phase 1: Expansion of Breezeways The first step is to carry out a ‘Spot Field Measurement






microclimate’s airflow in several areas (Similar to Ren’s 2009 study of certain Kowloon areas). Streets that would most benefit increased airflow are set back a total of 3m on either side so as to encourage airflow. Ideally the eastern streets should be angled parallel to allow the fresh air easy access into the interior of the high density areas. Interior streets should be angled between 0 and 30 degrees for facades to be allowed access to the clean air.



Phase 1.2: New Breezeway Policy


As has been studied, the Buildings Department find it almost impossible to control UBWs in older neighbourhoods. What may be viable, however, is to target particularly troublesome areas. Concentrating on enforcing laws against illegal horizontal signage (see image) specifically along the breezeways will ensure that air can penetrate into the heart of Sham Shui Po.





PEDESTRIAN PATHS. It may seem like a small and insignificant addition, but non-physical barriers such as a line on the pavement may help social distancing in times of epidemics. It worked for cars, why not for people? Pedestrians are naturally guided by barriers on the streets and in this case they are not as invasive as the metal posts that usually line the pavement. It is an intervention that relies on the power of suggestion, not the power of force.


COMPARTMENTALISATION OF INFORMAL MARKETS By accepting the informal stalls that arise on minor roads, the Building Department can formalise them, bringing them more in line with rules and regulations that indoor markets must abide by.

Minor roads provide in-built supports for market stall metal frames. This should help organise the market form and reduce the likelihood of spillover onto





congestion, air paths are also left between the markets and buildings.


0m 165

Phase 1.3: Pedestrianisation of Breezeways

Districts judge themselves on the cleanliness compared to other districts (Taylor 2011). New interventions in Sham Shui Po must be deliberately in contrast with the remaining area. This is for two reasons. Firstly, it is an unfeasible task for the authorities to depollute the whole district and secondly, by accentuating the process of urban renewal, residents must notice how much better the interventions are compared to their old environment. These areas are subject to the strongest air paths and therefore can afford to be planted with trees which, although slow down airflow, contribute to filtering air pollution, provide natural shading and improve public space. Existing public space.

The main pedestrian areas are now also the areas with the best air circulation in the district

Paths are segregated from transport routes (and reduce transport routes in built up areas, creating heavier polluted main roads but these roads will be dealt with later, putting all the problems into one manageable area).

Pathways connect to existing public space making it easier to access for those residents furthest away.

“Hong Kong’s standards for provision of open space have not been updated for 40 years and are among the lowest in the world.” - ‘Hot, Stacked and Crowded’, a report by Civic Exchange.

“The presence of open public spaces was a major talking point for focus group participants... [the spaces] provide open space and clean air right at the heart ... of Hong Kong.” - ‘Living at Density: Voices of Hong Kong Residents’ by LSE Cities. 166


Philippe Catherine







range of interventions, ranging from planting that is specifically good at absorbing certain air pollutants to mechanical systems that almost act as follies. Their catalogue of different interventions in Taichung, Taiwan is especially relevant as Taiwan and Hong Kong share a similar climate.





follies of



an the

residents aware of the pollution and purification that is happening in their neighbourhood. Structures like these would have been a much better investment by the HKHS rather than the purely aesthetic sculptures that 168

were placed instead.

RECALIBRATING EXISTING PEDESTRIAN INFRASTRUCTURE Visual stimulation. Perhaps materials should be

A scientific perspective would tell us to increase

more malleable to airflow to make it even clearer

social distancing but the social aesthetic perspective

to residents that their neighbourhoods are being

tells us that society needs to be seen as functioning

well ventilated?

normally for it to function at all. For this reason, social distancing schemes have been incorporated

Private areas in public spaces.

into landscaping schemes. Plant beds segregate the different lanes giving pedestrians a choice of path. All are linear as people still value efficient, non-time-consuming circulation. During times of epidemic where social distancing is key, a choice of paths makes it easier for people to avoid others.

Angled landscaping and the break of large spaces discourages the potential for informal market stalls to congregate and congest these thoroughfares.


Already Hong Kongâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s vernacular calls for materials that are suited to being cleaned. In a hot humid climate, materials such as wood splinter and bulk to easily and are replaced with synthetic plastics and ceramic panelling.

Machine washable - cleanable architecture


THE ILLUSION OF CHOICE Hong Kong residents value convenience. Disrupt their fast pace by slowing it down and ‘create a relaxing atmosphere’ would be most architects’ initial response but people would then worry about being out-competed by others. The only available solution is to give the illusion of choice.

The MTR exits have been widened to not only improve accessibility but also as an attempt to give commuters a feeling of more freedom in their journey rather than simply a single, direct route to and from work. True, simply making MTR exits will not achieve this, but a synthesis of planning and design across the whole pedestrianisation scheme could promote a less stressful daily commute.

paradox - Hong Kong residents want to shave off time so that they have more of their own time but this will invariably increase the pace of life which is what they worry will happen.


Phase 2: Height Differences New migrants in the 1950s required a building ordinance that increased the allowable building heights (LSE Cities 2011). There is no reason this cannot be done again. I am ware that to the West of the site the ratio of street width to building height becomes worrying in relation to the urban canyon effect. Ideally streets would become wider the further West across the site one travels. However, as I will later discuss, there are alternatives to this relatively impractical intervention.

Street width to building height is a significant ratio. It is easier to adjust building height enough to make a difference than set back streets.

To ensure unobstructed airpaths, the Building Department should focus on removing roof communities on the East side.

Washing machine structures at major road junctions with the highest congestion levels.


The variety of heights in Sham Shui Po and Mong Kok have actually been flagged as a good example of a diverse building height difference. However, in terms of channelling air into the deepest parts of these neighbourhoods, a concerted collective effort is required.


The indirect implications of height differences across Sham Shui Po is the redistribution of density away from the city centre to the western periphery. Although this moves the population away from the transport and amenities that are so important to them, the pedestrianised breezeways developed in phase 1 should connect these new communities directly to the MTR stations and main commercial hub that is Nathan Road. As mentioned earlier, the redistribution of density to the urban periphery is a development that the economist Xin advocates to improve living conditions.


As the building height increases it may be

This building height has been lowered rather

necessary to perforate the buildings with sky

than increased so as to allow wind to further


penetrate the urban fabric.


Phase 3: Perforation of Urban Form To be able to get air into the stagnant streets that are angled perpendicular to the prevailing wind, the dense Kowloon blocks must be perforated. 1

Better wind flow does not necessarily

mean dedensifying. Here the added height to this building helps recirculate air into the alley between the two buildings. 2

A stack chimney can help extract air in

particularly confined environments like the alley. 3

Some distance needs to be established

between buildings. The best way is to demolish the smallest buildings that have built in the leftover space between blocks. These populations can be moved into Phase 2â&#x20AC;&#x2122;s new apartments. 4

a set-back on the facades on breezeways

can encourage air to perforate further into the stagnant air zones. Older Kowloon apartments often have balcony segments which could be quite easily demolished to provide this set-back.

1. 2. 3.




In some particularly dense high-rise areas in Mong Kok, it may not be possible to properly perforate or set-back the buildings from the street. In these cases it may be preferable to use wind towers to extract fresh air and pump it into the street level while stack chimneys extract polluted air and expel it above street level.

Stack chimneys may also be an intervention that could be set above particularly harmful junctions where idle engines are the main polluting culprit. 178


Phase 4: Set-back on Major Roads

Major roads through the district that are perpendicular to the prevailing winds i.e. areas with the highest vehicle activity and with poor air circulation, must have their buildings set back from the road. As the buildings nearest the main roads are typically commercial and therefore taller than a normal residential block, they are key contributors to the urban canyon effect. To be able to take the additional traffic that has been displaced by the pedestrianisation of breezeways, it may be that eventually these major roads are expanded.




spatial quality


Trees provide natural sun shading while also filtering pollutants.

Barriers removed to allow unim access.

pedestrianised breezeways Kong Kong residents spend very little time on the street when commuting so the main pedestrian routes have been set along the breezeways to ensure they are exposed to the freshest air for the longest amount of time.


Horizontal signage removed to allow the prevailing wind to flow through.

MTR exits are expanded to decrease the speed of the daily commute.


A choice of path is important when a pedestrian wants to make a choice about joining a crowded or quiet path through the streets. During an epidemic a choice of paths also increases social distancing.


stack chimneys expel street pollution in the most stagnant zones of Mong Kok. 186

In zones that are particularly polluted such as minibus ranks or road junctions, stack chimneys could be placed to extract exhaust fumes.


feasibility study with relevant parties mentioned

a holistic framework

Building heights gradually increase to deflect air into stagnant zones.

Set-backs on major roads, the highest polluters, allows proper circulation. 188

Breezeways parallel to the prevailing wind cut through the dense urban form.



conclusion The study has explored the Hong Kong populacesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; Post-SARS

what stops communities from being more involved in their

perspective on urban health and sought to convene a possible

environment. Already I have explored how much residents

urban model to address real and perceived risks equally.

understand risk in their environment and studied how they

This exploration was an opportunity to disaggregate Hong

have either adapted their habitation or adapted themselves.

Kong into its component problems far enough to firstly identify solutions and secondly to understand how components

Hong Kong is so characterised by its complexity that this


study has only been able to scrape the surface. To deal with this complexity the urban design model has taken an

Three aspects that have emerged and deserve even further

holistic approach to include policies. Additionally, it will be

scrutiny are airflow, the community and its involvement in its

beneficial to see how this new urban model could involve

surroundings and the effect of the city on the first two aspects.

more community participation.

Including Gissenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s wider aesthetic view of pollution (and also

To conclude, air is such an omnipresent feature of all cities that

furthering this idea to an aesthetic view of SARS), rather

to effect it in any way requires a collaborative effort between

than a purely scientific view, has allowed me to keep airflow

diverse governmental and societal bodies.

principles basic enough to be able to weave them into a larger urban design model and general enough to discuss their social impact. By considering how air plays a part in depolluting Sham Shui Po, more specific environmental analysis can now be undertaken to assess the interventions that would be most pertinent to this district. It became progressively clear that various bodies concerned with








community involvement and property rights to develop their neighbourhoods. It is also clear that there must be some resistance to this idea as it appears few of these plans have been instigated. A further study should seek to understand


appendix design brief



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Severe Acute Respiratory City: Background research  

The study explores the health and social concerns of pollution and impure air on the Hong Kong populace.

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