wing yun’s publications forthcoming / may 2013
“Going Horizontal” in D3 Dialogue:Blur,
D3, New York City
(an article summarizing and theorizing Wing Yun’s graduation project at TU Delft. Going Horizontal is a project combining urban theories with digital data mapping strategies. the project aims at looking for a compelling architectural expression of digital data. this graduation project was tutored by prof. nimish biloria, hyperbody, tu delft, and prof. machiel van dorst, environmental design, tu delft)
Going Horizontal From urban data to architecture form Wing Yun
This project was completed between 2009 and 2010 at Explore Lab, an experimental graduate studio in TU Delft. The project explores the tectonic, spatial, and urban meaning of computational data in architecture design. The project begins with a computational volumetric distribution over an ultra‐high‐dense piece of land in Hong Kong and ends with an architecture proposal with spatial features as a direct translation of computational data. Explore Lab in TU Delft allows cross‐disciplinary explorations. Students can freely choose tutors from different specializations in the Departments of Building Technology, Architecture and Urbanism. This project was completed under the guidance of Nimish Biloria, specializing in computation, and Machiel van Dorst, specializing in environmental and urban design. A background research on density in Hong Kong resulted in recognizing that “density” does not merely mean "total number of people divided by total area”. The cause of the unusual density in Hong Kong is rooted in its geographical, historical, political and economical background. Quantitatively, we can refer to Alain Bertaud’s studies done in 1997. Qualitatively, the colonial government bizarrely limited the land supply of Hong Kong by controlling land auctions and made Hong Kong a breeding bed for quick money from the property market. Consequently, a unique mode of “property‐driven” economy was born and ironically, the top‐of‐world ultra‐high density became the survival backbone of the city’s economy.
Dual meaning of the city center: center for the privileged and center for the poor We can observe that while the population growth rate of the central areas of Hong Kong is declining steadily, an increasing number of high‐FAR (floor area ratio) renewal projects are being implemented in these central areas. The programmatic compositions of these renewal projects are almost standardized: a mixture of hotels, shopping malls, office towers. These programs are serving the visitors going to the district, but not the immediate neighborhood. They are “out of context”. From the perspective of the government, the “city center” is a place for profit generation. The privileged class, or the class which bears the spending power, goes to the centers and spend the money and enjoy the high accessibility. Conceptually, the government regards the city center as the “center for the privileged”.
As one of many examples of local social science research, a short text by Professor Ernest Chui from the Department of Social Work of University of Hong Kong unveiled the fact that there is a hidden network of the extreme lower class living under the shadow of prosperity in the city center. The livelihood of this lower class depends on the concentration of “dirty jobs” brought about by the intensive consumption activities of the privileged class. These jobs range from dish‐washing to security guards, from fast‐food delivery to free‐lance mall cleaners. The low‐ skilled jobs provide a quick labor rotation and demands no working (and living‐in‐Hong Kong) experience. New immigrants (legal and illegal) with low education and skill levels are mostly dependent on these jobs for survival. As their low income can hardly pay for the extra commuting costs, they are highly immobile. They need to live in the center to take their dirty jobs. Conceptually, for the immobile lower class, they need this “center for the poor” to sustain their livelihood, their children’s education and their hope for a future. Therefore, there exists a dual meaning of the city center ‐ two distinct interpretations of the center by two different social classes ‐ in one geographical context. To build we need a “plot”, which means a piece of land at level +0m. To build from ground is almost an unquestioned act. Therefore, within a context of limited land, demolishing the old to give way to the new is absolutely justified, simply because it is the only available option.
We acknowledge the fact that the addition of new, and more urban volumes for economic activities is inevitable in a city like Hong Kong. But if we are capable of suggesting an alternative (and interesting) way to add new urban volumes, then to “build from the ground” can be questioned and the justification of demolishing the old can also be debated.
Going horizontal in the vertical city A brief introduction to Hong Kong from Wikipedia: "According to Emporis, there are 7,650 skyscrapers in Hong Kong, which puts the city at the top of world rankings. It has more buildings higher than 35m (or 100m or 150m) than any other city. The high density and tall skyline of Hong Kong’s urban area is due to lack of available sprawl space, with the average distance from the harbor front to the steep hills of Hong Kong Island at 1.3km (0.81mi), much of it reclaimed land. This lack of space causes demand for dense, high‐rise offices and housing. Thirty‐six of the world’s 100 tallest residential buildings are in Hong Kong. More people in Hong Kong live or work above the 14th floor than anywhere else on Earth, making it the world’s most vertical city."1 The project, on the contrary, argues for a horizontal development would offer an alternative strategy to achieving balance between the survival of the existing neighborhood and the urge for aggressive economic growth of the vertical city. An experimental urban growth model of co‐ existence is the aim of this horizontal development (image 01).
Image 01: The prevailing vertical growth model and the experimental horizontal growth model
Image 02: Langham Place and its surroundings
Image 03: Melting the complex of Langham Place from 1:14 to 1:1 3
Melting architecture: a volumetric study Langham Place, a development with FAR 14 in the middle of Hong Kong’s downtown, is the building under study. Langham Place is an urban renewal project undertaken by the local government. Its 150,000 square meter floor area is built on land gained by demolishing old neighborhoods in the district. This project was realized in mid‐2000s (image 02). Provided that we need that 150,000 square meters of floor area as the new urban substances to be injected to the existing city for economic growth, what would be the result of placing the same new volume into the existing neighborhood in a sprawling horizontal, rather than vertical, manner? A computational model is adopted in answering this question. The total volume of Langham Place is used to determine how many new volumes to add to the existing city. Furthermore, the current programme mix of Langham Place is used to determine the programme mix of the new volumes to be added. A series of images captured from the computational volumetric distribution illustrate the complex as “melted” from 1:14 gigantic high‐rise to a 1:1 horizontal conglomeration of urban volumes. This gives an impression of the impact “melting the skyscraper” into the existing infrastructure (image 03). A specific computational definition was written with Grasshopper in Rhinoceros to control the distribution of the volumes by a set of parameters. Details of the computation will not be discussed in this article.
New volume allocation: the goal How should we allocate the urban volume of this horizontal complex? The goal of this horizontal allocation of urban volumes is to keep the two meanings of city center in balance. The allocation should, on the one hand, satisfy the needs for economic growth and, on the other hand, create possibilities to keep the existing neighborhood for the poor.
New volume allocation: the hypothesis The hypothesis for the new volume allocation is that the higher the diversity level of a particular spot in the city, the more immune this spot is against demolition. In a truly diverse situation, different interest groups would be involved and a higher potential for generating high economic benefits would be expected.
Image 04: Diagram of Jane Jacob’s urban diversity theory
Image 05: Evaluation process
Evaluation of diversity Jane Jacob’s theory of diversity of a city is used as a basis for the evaluation of diversity. By diagramming Jacob’s theory, tangible urban components which are related to an urban fabric’s diversification can be sorted out. These urban components create the checklists for evaluating a place’s diversity (image 04). Eleven observable elements can be identified from the diagram above. Five of them are related to the physical environment. They are the existence of short blocks, urban crossings, high residential density, aging buildings and new building. Six are related to round‐the‐clock and round‐the‐week usage of the streets. They are the usage of rush hours and lunch times, weekdays’ daytime, weekdays’ night time, holidays’ daytime, weekends’ night time and late nights. The immediate surroundings of Langham Place is evaluated by mapping the existence of the above‐mentioned eleven elements. The more elements an area possess, the higher the chance of urban diversity occurs. On the contrary, if an area is lacking most of the elements listed, this area is very likely lacking urban diversity and therefore very prone to forced urban renewal through demolition. In order to understand the site beyond the information available on maps, a photographic study is adopted. An area of 1km X 1.2km is divided into 60m X 60m grids for investigation (image 05). The process of evaluating the site went through 6 steps (image 05): 1.
A grid system with grid size of 60m X 60m was imposed onto the site (point 5 of image 05).
Site photos are arrayed on the 60m X 60m grid as the basis for evaluation (point 1 and 6 of image 05).
An evaluation system derived from the diagram of Jane Jacob’s urban theory is used to evaluate the number of lacking components for diversity (point 2 and 7 of image 05).
Different lackings are translated into color codes for easy identification. In this example, the top‐left area shows no lack, suggesting that it is an already high diversity area (point 3 of image 05).
Evaluation was done pixel by pixel for the whole 1km X 1.2km area in order to formulate the color‐coded map for the entire area (point 4 of image 05).
The formulation of the color‐coded map for the entire area (point 8 of image 05).
The color codes are translated into individual maps of “lackings”. These maps are ready to be read by Grasshopper in Rhinoceros for the computation of volumetric allocation.
Image 06: Maps of lacking
Image 07: The push and pull parameters
Image 08: 1. Site area = 530000 sqm, site network area = 154000 sqm / 2. Tall building immune areas are taken out from this urban skyline height map 7
In the maps of lackings, the darker color suggests a higher concentration of a particular lack. In the combined map of lacking, the darker the color the more problematic an area is. These areas demand a healthier social diversity. The indication of the dark areas of the combined map of lacking following Jane Jacob’s theory coincides with the government’s plan to redevelop through large‐scale demolition. On the combined map of lacking, dark area 1 refers to the forthcoming Fa Yuen Street re‐development; dark area 2 is the forthcoming Shanghai Street re‐development; dark area 3 is the forthcoming massing re‐development of Tai Kok Tsui; and dark area 4 is a big piece of reclaimed land undergoing massive construction of residential projects. These coincidences demonstrate a correlation between the lack of diversity and the government’s decision on large‐scale demolition (image 06).
Computation of volume allocation The programmatic volumes obtained by the imaginary melting of Langham Place were dispersed to compensate for the existing lacking of the site. For the urbanism of co‐existence, instead of looking for where the best location is for our architecture, we look for what our new urban volume can do to fit what the existing city lacks.
The idea formulates the basic structure of the computation process. The new urban volumes of various programs would be added to the existing city according to the lacks revealed in the previous evaluation (image 07). Physical constrains from the context were also considered. City networks (roads, streets, bridges and etc) are excluded from the volumetric allocation area. New volumes would also not be added to sites with buildings taller than 8 storeys in order to maintain a homogeneous growth throughout the city (image 08). A Grasshopper definition was written to distribute the new urban volumes (the melted volumes of Langham Place) in to the existing city (image 09). The process was done in Rhinoceros. The Grasshopper definition reads the maps of lacking and the physical constrains in the city. A screen capture illustrates the process (image 10 and 11).
Image 09: The input of information for the volumetric distribution
Image 10: 1. Values from the maps of lacking with weighed scales / 2. Maps of lacking in datascape format / 3. The melted volume on the desirable area / 4. New urban volumes loaded with information, e.g. the needs of the site, specific program heights and so on
Image 11: Screen captures illustrate some moments of the iterations of the computation. Various weights were assigned to different lacks of the city in order to create variation of volumes for selection.
Image 12: Program ratio of the 1:1 imaginative complex is based on that of the existing Langham Place
The programmatic ratio of the newly added volumes follows for the most part that of the existing gigantic Langham Place complex. This ratio was the result of the local government’s urban planning intention. A new programmatic layer of cultural activities is added to benefit the general public (image 12).
The result: a 3‐dimensional volumetric urban planning The 4 different programmes (offices, hotels, shopping and cultural) are allocated according to the “needs” of the existing city. The total volume is equal to Langham Place, the gigantic commercial complex in the site. They are located on top of short buildings in the city. A render illustrates such an imaginative urban situation (image 13 and 14).
From urbanism to architecture A 200 meter portion (image 15) of the 3‐dimensional urban plan is chosen to test what a horizontal building in a high‐dense vertical city might achieve. The pixels resulted from the computation are the spatial modules of the architecture‐to‐be. Bottom planes of the pixels are connected to form the floors of the architecture while the top planes of the pixels are connected to form the ceilings (image 16). The result of the connection is a series of artificial landscapes. These landscapes are programmed according to the inclinations of the slopes. Five different pieces of landscapes are therefore generated to host the functions of culture, office, hotel, shopping and green (image 17). Each of the programmatic landscapes is connected with the others at multiple points. A continuous public path can be drawn throughout the entire complex. The green landscape can be accessed from different levels of the existing city (image 18). An isometric drawing showing the office landscape for 400 workers illustrates the spatial logic following the connection rules. Gathering spaces are put in the junction points to promote inter‐ departmental interactions (image 19).
Building without a flat foundation Hundreds of planes generated from the parametric volumetric allocation were connected to form an entity of fluid space: a walkable mixed‐use horizontal structure. To avoid creating an over‐powering mega‐structure over the existing delicate urban fabric, the footprints of the existing blocks were extruded and materialized as building facades to synchronize the horizontal building with the delicate rhythm of the city (image 20 and 21).
Image 13: Ariel view of the 3‐D urban plan with programmatic ratio following the Langham Place
Image 14: plan view of 3‐D urban plan with programmatic ratio following the Langham Place
Image 15: A 200‐meter portion of the 3‐D urban plan is chosen for architectural development
Image 16: The rules for architectural development
Image 17: 1/ shopping area, yellow indicates shops while the grey are the sales counters 2/ cultural gallery on top of existing wet market 3/ communal cultural center 4/ cultural workshop with direct access to the existing neighborhood 5/ cultural theater leading to the artists’ residence 6/ artists’ residents and galleries 7/ hotel rooms with volumes sculpted by the green landscape on top, different color represents different room sizes 8/ hotel’s function rooms 9/ caves in the green landscape bring people, light and wind into and out from other programmatic landscapes
Image 18: The undulating programmatic landscapes fit into the voids of the existing city
Image 19: 1/ rest rooms 2/ open working space 3/ management rooms 4/ causal meeting areas 5/ foyer to meeting rooms 6/ meeting rooms 7/ semi open presentation theater 8/ reception areas 9/ back of house and server facilities 10/ company library 11/ management rooms 12/ document archives 13/ open working space 14/ canteens
Image 20: 1/ Parallel opening vent system was applied so as to maintain the box‐like visual effect of the volumes. This gave rhythm to the 200 meter horizontal structure. The in‐and‐out shifting of the vents also granted a human scale to the gigantic building. 2/ The computer‐generated heights gave the building dynamic volumetric shifts. The “roof” simply “melted” to different levels and became accessible by sloping walkways. 3/ At certain points the dramatic height difference of the existing neighborhood induced steep connections between two blocks. These connections suggested different spatial usages. Here we could find a theater situated at this steep connection. 4/ The direct walkable access from the ground plane to the green top is folded into a continuous spiral path. It is a good challenge for urban “hikers’. 5/ A number of cave‐like folds could be found on the roof top. They brought in light and air to the interiors, and allowed people to access the open air. 6/ Air gardens as packets of green could be found as results of the push‐and‐pulls of heights by the computation. There were private, public and semi‐public gardens.
Image 21: The bare model: a 200 meter long structure was materialized from the earlier urban volumetric studies. The four indoor programs (hotel, office, culture and shopping) were connected through the undulations of the structure. At the same time, the outdoor green areas were running side‐by‐side with the indoor programs as the constant shifting of heights created unique accesses to the “green roof”.
The horizontal architecture bears the characteristics listed below. 1. Variation of ceiling heights. The initial computational input of setting different heights for different programs can still be seen. In general the shopping areas are with higher ceilings, while offices have the lowest. 2. Confrontation of different programs. The initial conceptual input of layering the 4 different programs as cultural / shopping at the bottom and hotel on top is slightly shifted by the computation because of the variations of needs. This creates an interesting confrontation of different programs on a certain height level. This feature becomes the key in the architectural development. 3. Building shape follows the existing skyline. The heights of the entire site’s buildings are initially abstracted by patching a surface in Grasshopper. It remains an affective factor in the architectural form, creating a possibility of parasitic intervention with existing buildings. 4. Proximity with the existing. The initial parametric constraints of walking time within 2 minutes between the newly added volumes and the existing volumes (e.g. new office to existing office, new cultural to old neighborhood, new hotel to old shopping, new shopping to old shopping) dictates where to locate these parasitic interventions.
Resultant Interiors The interior spaces resulting from this process is a direct translation of the urban data. The height is a reflection of the particular need of the city underneath the building (image 22, 23 and 24).
From point to field The form of the newly‐added urban volume demonstrates the way in which data extracted from the existing city can be translated into tectonic attributes. There is no overall “top‐down” formal intention in the design process.
Image 22: Interior of the horizontal building as direct translation of urban data
Image 23: Interior of office landscape
Image 24: Interior of cultural landscape 17
The unique condition of the urban planning leads to a unique architectural potential. A horizontal building having its 6 sides in contact with the existing city creates a new architectural typology. It goes from a point, which refers to a tower to a field, which refers to a condition. Instead of being a tower having a point touching the existing city, the horizontal building can perform as a field of interactions: interactions between the new and the old, the users and the visitors, and the poor and the privileged (image 25). The project maximizes the potential given by this unique “site”, an open architecture with multiple access to the existing city (both on the ground plane and on tower levels) is created. The development of this architecture is an experimentation of how far a building can open itself to the city. It is a democratic horizon to avoid social exclusion. Architecturally, the project blurs the boundary between the content and context (image 26 and 27). Academically, the unique arrangement of Explore Lab at TU Delft allows students to have a cross‐disciplinary exploration in their graduation project. No agenda is set by the school or the tutors. Methodologies are developed through the research and design process. This project exemplifies a possible direct spatial generation from urban. The “truth” in the data is translated into usable spaces with specific functions. Conceptually, since the data from the research would directly impact the spatial quality, the project blurs the boundary between data and space, and research and design.
Image 25: Potential benefits for a horizontal building
Image 26: a section through the horizontal building reveals its multi‐directional connections with the existing urban fabric.
Image 27: sectional model of the horizontal building
Image 28: The horizontal building can grow into an urban hill which gives hong kong a rare large piece of public green. The aerial view illustrates how the new urban volumes take up the 3‐dimensional voids of the existing city.
Jacobs, Jane: The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961. Wu, Rufina and Canham, Stefan: Portraits from Above – Hong Kong’s Informal Rooftop Communities, 2009
IMAGE CREDITS All images (except image 27) are created by Wing Yun. Image 24 was taken by Jiayu Tjong.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This project was done under the guidance of Prof. Nimish Biloria and Prof. Machiel van Dorst in TU Delft. Jiayu Tjong, Tinyiu Fung, Harikrishnan Sasidharan, Junjie Yan, Alfred Ho and Fun Luk had helped in the production work of the project. Jiayu Tjong had given valuable advices on language and helped in proof‐reading the article. Wing Yun is a native of Hong Kong and is currently working at the Rotterdam‐based architectural office of MVRDV. He received his bachelor degrees of sociology and architectural studies (first class honors) from The Chinese University of Hong Kong and his master degree of architecture from Technical University of Delft, the Netherlands. He is the recipient of numerous academic awards in Hong Kong including the Scholastic Award from American Institute of Architects (Hong Kong Chapter) and the Sir Edward Youde Memorial Fellowship for Overseas Studies. At the office of MVRDV, Yun is involved in various large‐scale projects including the China Comic and Animation Museum in Hangzhou, China.