International Design Workshop 2017, «Cities & Natures — Thinking Beyond»

Meldung vom 19.07.2017 in der Kategorie Workshops

Nature around and in urban centres has become an added value for life quality. Today, the term «habitat» from an anthropological perspective has evolved into something that cosmopolitan dwellers strive for: a protected biotope of urban life with comfortable access to exciting experiences in nature. A contradictory idea of what nature is. On one hand it is wild and unspoilt, and on the other hand it is controlled, accessible and efficient to maintain.To satisfy these expectations city planners started to design nature. To design path systems, public furniture, garbage bins, even to import flora and fauna from unusual places. «Sustainability» and «ecology» became buzzwords as concepts that reflect lifestyle habits and consumerist behaviour.

But is nature in and around cities not part of a natural environment subjected to social influences? And are cities not both, a social and an environmental construct? Even so, in recent times, urban and design studies have frequently ignored the essential qualities of nature as a physical and material element of cities, where nature is shaped and controlled by and in the city, as well as by its citizens[1].

Cities—as an ecological, social, economic and political system—and our daily lives are both undeniably shaped by environmental issues and urban concerns.  As a result, in most of the developed countries nature is no longer the same as it used to be in settlement times. Nature is an integral part of our cities; it is controlled and has to correspond to the various requirements of urban life and planning.

«Cities and Natures — Thinking Beyond» is both a research and a teaching project that investigates the relationship between cities and their surrounding nature from a designer’s perspective. Focusing on the unlike cities of Zurich and Hong Kong—as far as their historical, geographical, environmental or cultural realities are concerned—the project explores the way in which cities and citizens perceive, define and use nature with the objective to identify potentials and challenges, and to come up with speculative concepts. The perception, the representation, and the way in which we deal with nature and cities in terms of their «natural» or «artificial» qualities, will be analysed from different approaches of thinking, forecasting and working in design.

[1] Benton-Short Lisa, Short John Rennie, Cities and Nature, Critical Introductions to Urbanism and the City, Routledge Publishers, 2008

Concept and realisation:
Professor Michael Krohn and Karin Zindel

Invited Lecturers:
Dr. Yanki Lee, Michael Leung, Albert Tsang, Sara Wong

Collaboration and support:
Nuria Krämer and her team from the Connecting Space Hong Kong,


The Master of Arts in Design at the Zurich University of the Arts hosts an International Design Workshop every year with all Master students. The aim of the workshop is to offer our students the possibility to participate in an interdisciplinary and intensive programme, away from their  Master project and usual environment, to explore a particular topic with professionals from different backgrounds, and to learn new strategies as well as methods related to design, arts and science. The experience and knowledge gained should inspire them to come up with distinctive approaches for their own design project, and open up novel perspectives.

Workshop 1  —
The City, the Nature and the Space in Between: Re-introducing the Potentials of the Urban Fringe

Hong Kong as a metropolis is known to be a city of super density. However, despite the intensive urban environment, 3 quarters of land in Hong Kong are countryside. Here, the country parks cover a total area of 44,300 hectares, which comprise of distinctive landscape characters including scenic hills, woodlands, reservoirs and coastline. It is commonly considered as the nature in Hong Kong.

The nature, in today’s perception, is usually described as the land beyond the city fabric, where human intervention is less active. For an extremely dense city like Hong Kong, new city developments aggressively push the perimeter of the built environment, while the nature shrink in response to urban expansion. In some situations, the natural systems would subtly grow back to take over the built environment. This spatial negotiation between the man-made and the natural system constantly occurs within this transitional zone, known as the urban fringe. Some might think that it is an area with unidentified spatial characters and commonly underused. However, from another perspective, this less managed environment at the urban fringe, where diverse and vibrant vegetation as well as wildlife can be found also provides opportunities for imagination and inspiration.

The study of the relationship between human activity and the natural environment that took place in the urban fringe area is crucial to inspire innovative solutions to environmental, social and cultural issues and more.

— What is the edge of our city, and what is the edge of the nature?
— How can this frontier zone, which lies between the two systems, inspire us, as a designer?

The workshop intends to allow the participants to discuss and rethink the definition of city­–and–nature edge. It encourages participants to explore, observe, inspect, reflect and respond. Then, with any creative medium and innovative methods, to connect our citizens back to the nature.

According to the progress of the workshop, collected site research materials and the documentations of the project development will be displayed in the Action Lab, which will be set up temporarily in the Oil Street Art Centre for public review. The Action Lab will serve as a co-working base for public engagement, sharing of experience, ideas generation, and development of the projects.

Sara Wong, Hong Kong-based visual artist and landscape architect, she’s also one of the founding members of the Art Gallery Para Site.

Workshop 2 —
The Hong Kong Botanical Commons: Ecological Communities Reclaiming Public Space

In Hong Kong, a city populated with over seven million people with a sunset lost to towering buildings, it can be difficult to imagine such a city becoming reacquainted with nature again. Fortunately, a short roller coaster minibus ride can take you to the countryside, coastal villages and to ports with boats going to outlying islands. But for those who live and are rooted in the urban environment, where can encounters with nature happen on a daily basis?

In the past few years I have spent less time on the rooftop and have become more focused on urban farming and guerrilla gardening on the ground level. I believe that such efforts in public and urban spaces repairs communities and bring biodiversity back into the city. This workshop brings us to such spaces: security gardeners who turn building entrances into small but thriving gardens; people growing medicinal herbs on small mountains next to elevated highways; mobile gardens on metal carts brought out during the day; planters that are elevated and attached to metal street signs; a 39-year fabric market hidden and surrounded by trees; a convenience shop grounded by a large tree; Chinese banyan trees growing in the crevices of a 1960’s building rooftop; grandma gardeners who share knowledge when they buy their daily groceries; and Mango King, a homeless guerrilla farmer who practices permaculture on an unused 6,000-square foot (560-square metre) public space in Kowloon.

The coexistence of nature in Hong Kong’s urban environment is also supported by neighbourhood concern groups, community spaces, environmental activists and even bird feeders, such as a lady dressed only in black who unboxes a nutritious dinner for urban birds at precisely 5pm every day, and the middle-aged man who carries a ladder and feeds around 70 cats at 7pm every night.

How do such practices and environments relate back to a creative, multidisciplinary and explorative workshop? Such green heterotopias and sensitivity towards nature offer new encounters and knowledge exchange in a hostile neo-liberal capitalist era. In increasingly controlled and regulated public spaces, what approaches exist in Hong Kong, and can be developed further, using design as a tool, to inspire new opportunities for open and shared green spaces – our ecological commons?

Michael Leung is designer, urban farmer and visiting lecturer. His work ranges from conceptual objects for the dead to urban agriculture projects such as The HK FARMers’ Almanac (2014-2015) and HK Salt. Leung is a visiting lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University and at the Intercommon Institute, where he teaches socially engaged art (MA) and social design, respectively., Instagram: studio_leung

Workshop 3 —
Co-design Politics of Nature in Hong Kong: To Bring Nature Back to our Cities

It was a real tour de force of how western civilization understand nature. Because of the religious influence, nature was viewed as evil in the Middle Ages, and then the criteria of judging shifted from morality to aesthetics. At the time right before renaissance, unproductive land was seen as ugly, and domesticated land, was seen as beautiful. It was till romanticism that most beautiful nature was that without human intervention. Nature nowadays has a new shift towards a mix of pragmatism and surviving ethics—environmentalism related to climate change. The fact is that human have never seen nature as it IS. Nature, no matter of its meanings, or even its physical presence, are always culturally or politically produced.

Compared to many European cities, Hong Kong is a very young city where earliest massive human infrastructures were only implemented less than 100 years ago. Since then, the elements of the city invaded the nature in a rapid mode. As a super-dense city, Hong Kong is also a city of possibilities where different things happen in co-existed situations. While urban elements appear in the middle of the nature, the elements of the natures are fighting back subtlety in different scales of usages (Emerson, 1836):

1.     Commodity for our basic needs
2.     Beauty for our desire for delight
3.     Language for our communication with one another
4.     Discipline for our understanding of the world

Based on these propositions, we invite ZHdK students to investigate their own polities of nature from Zurich to Hong Kong and from personal encounters to three specific questions/steps/levels that Latour (2004:2) provoked to all of us about nature and our urban lives:

1.     How to modify public life to take nature into account?
2.     How to adapt our systems of production to nature’s demand?
3.     How to preserve nature from human degradation through a sustainable politics?

Participants will experience 3 steps and 4 visits with the goal to co-design tools/situations/systems for new politics of natures in cities.

Dr. Yanki Lee, social designer and design researcher, since 2017, she founded Enable Foundation, a non-profit social design agency in Hong Kong focused on design research for social inclusion and innovation. /

Albert Tsang Siu Yin, design researcher and educator with focus on social design, particularly concentrating on participation through design, co-design, as well as action research as a way of gaining knowledge.

Aktualisiert am: 11. September 2017