On the 30 June, 2018, The University of Hong Kong invited Archigram to do a Symposium at the University of Hong Kong.
On the Sunday after the lecture, I was fortunate to catch up with David Greene in an evening walking around Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon side. It was the first time David visited Hong Kong so everything is new and exciting for him.
By the time we arrived in Kowloon side, we parked on the roof of Ocean Terminal. David looked around and said “It’s all reminds me of Blade Runner”. Hong Kong has always been seen as an exotic futuristic city with bland buildings. The architectural blend of façade lighting, advertisement and free movement of people gives the city a Hollywood like preconception of the future to anyone who visits this city.
As we made our way on to Canton road, David observed that everything was branded from the streetscape to the items people wear, to the phones people use, to the car that people drive. “It’s a city of branding isn’t it?” Everything is brand new, a young society where most individuals seek the newest and the latest trends.
By the time our table was ready, we gradually changed topic to the ideas behind a future city. According to David, infrastructure is one of the most important components of a modern city. It changes the behavior of a city because transportation allows people to connect more efficiently.
In a medieval village, people depended on agriculture or fishing and sometimes they travel to other villages to trade. With the horse, people can go further and further to connect and trade. In the Industrial Revolution where horses are replaced by mechanical contraptions that moves and hence, base on our knowledge of history, the city of the future evolves due to technology.
So where do we go from here? We all know that today, there are 7 billion people in this world and over 50% of the world’s population live in cities. The old American model of living in the suburbia and working in the city does not work anymore and especially here in Asia. Every city in Asia suffers from traffic congestion is a very serious way. The only way we can resolve this is to rethink the way the city works in the future.
I discuss with David the idea of developing satellite towns where the use is mixed. Where the office is in close proximity to where you are living. Multi-use public spaces where public realms can be used for different activities during the day. Maintaining a small carbon footprint and a variety of attractions to keep us all entertained.
In response, David speculated on the what if? As cities thrive on the infrastructure network, why can’t we do something about the traffic congestion. In the past decade, people are shopping on line rather than going to the high street. People are ordering small amounts of goods with higher frequency. As an impact, there are more and more delivery vans to cater for the demand. FedEx and UPS deliver more than 5.1 Billion packages every year and accounts for 20% of the cities congestion. Streets are not designed for this amount if traffic. Imagine I the future, we used drones as a delivery tool? The concept will require a new way of receiving parcels, maybe, buildings will need their own drone parcel receptor? Apart from drones, driverless vehicles maybe another way of reducing traffic on the road by eliminating emotion from driving creating a more efficient means of transportation.
David had another question; “Where does all your rubbish go?” waste is a huge problem and currently Hong Kong has a monumental waste problem. By 2020 the regions landfill sites will be full. As more people feel the lure of city living, the whole world is watching how Hong Kong deals with this waste epidemic. Hong Kong does offload some of our rubbish to China for recycling and currently Hong Kong is planning a waste incinerator on Lantau and looking into food processing plants to recycle waste from commercial kitchens.
Maybe we can learn from Japan? Japan is an incredibly clean and eco-friendly country that is super keen on recycling. Their system is super complex to a point you might call anal. Japan has a 42page guide book for recycling. Garbage is sorted out to burnable, non-burnable, paper, plastic, PET bottle, cans, Styrofoam, newspaper, cartons, unbroken glass, batteries and food waste. Maybe we can design a system that helps us sort all this out automatically
As the city is gets less and less efficient, it is only prudent to say that “It is a problem your generation need to solve” said David and it is no easy task. The future is what we design it to be. The solution requires a rethink on the way we live, work and play in a city and technology plays a big part in our design approach. How do we alleviate traffic congestion? How do we manage all the waste? Can intelligent assistants learn one’s interests and habit to a point where they can be more like our companion?
Technology breakthroughs will ultimately change the workings of the city hopefully for the good. However, the only way we can step forward into the future is to know more about the future and to know more about the future we need to simulate a possible future. Ultimately, we all need a LAB, a platform to research and develop possibilities of a better future before it is too late.
It was close to 11pm as I took David back to his hotel. We arrive in no time at all. “Hong Kong is a very efficient city” he said. Compared to other cities in Asia, Hong Kong is a very efficient city with an exceptional public transportation system. But as more and more people feel the lure of city living, how far can we go until the infrastructure can no longer work properly? It’s really about time to rethink.
I haven’t had a decent conversation with David for over 20 years and it was rest assuring that his views and ideas are still quite cutting edge after all these years. I leave you with a picture taken at Aqua to commemorate this interesting evening with David.
When someone asked me about David Greene and the influence he had on me and the way I design, I must take them back to the student canteen on Marylebone Road early October 1993. It was my first day at the University of Westminster where I studied for my Post Graduate Diploma for Architecture and I was running around the campus trying to find David. I bumped into Andris Berzins (who taught with David in the Post Graduate Diploma Course) he said if I wanted to meet David, he could invite him to have lunch with us at the student canteen. I never met David till then and the only pictures I’ve seen of him were from the 1960’s. In 1993, David had a beard and looked like Eric Clapton and after that, I spent 2 years of my life under his guidance that set the framework to how is see and practice architecture.
David never taught me how to design (because design is subjective) rather, he encouraged me to create a good narrative for the discourse I had in hand. In the first lecture I took with David, he told us “you cannot teach old dog new trick but there are a lot of old tricks I have to offer.” I also remembered on one occasion, the school had technical problems on a presentation and to kill time, David showed us an Archigram video to keep up entertained whist the problem got fixed. He only showed us around 5 minutes of it and we were totally mesmerized. I asked him later in that semester if we could see the entire video, but all he said was “I don’t like to be laughed at” which I think was his ironic response to mean he wasn’t there for our amusement.
During one of my studio discussions, David asked me to" Think about the possibilities for architecture - the 'both/and ' rather than the 'either/or' - not only with regard to speculation on architectural language and form, but also in terms of widening the site of conceptual interest that architectural project might occupy and the kind of drawings (propaganda) that could be a tool of speculation"
David Greene change the way I practice and perceived architecture and to this day, I look at each different design process with a way to honed into creativity beyond architectural language and form. By fully analyzing the site context, we can respond to it creatively to compose an architectural narrative that is meaningful and true its discourse.
In early 2015, I got back in touch with David thanks to Katharine Heron (Head of the Department of Architecture) and I thanked David for teaching me all that I knew. He replied in his ironic way that though all the years in academia, he never taught anybody anything, but a lot of good ideas were discussed. I was just one of many pupils of David Greene, we ended up taking a photo together at the Architectural Association to mark 20 years of knowing David “The Poet of Archigram”