PolyU Design Advanced Colloquia on Liminal Urbanism: The Emergence of New Urban States

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s School of Design is pleased to announce the next theme of the School of Design’s Advanced Colloquia Series, entitled the “Liminal Urbanisms; the emergence of New Urban States”, on Friday the 27th of November 2015. The Advanced Colloquia Series seeks to raise and address significant and critical issues with the intent to foster engagement, debate, discussion and to identify emerging fields of cross disciplinary research that affect multifarious design professions and interests. 

The Advanced Colloquia is a public event. All are welcome, no prior registration required.

Liminal Urbanism: The Emergence of New Urban States

Discourse surrounding the development and evolution of urban environments often postulates the city as a relatively discrete, stable entity. An increasingly problematized position, given the emergence of diffuse, heterotopic, unevenly developed and agglomerated urban conditions. The conventional spatio-centric and planimetric logics and their historic developmental models are increasingly unable to deal with forces acting from afar, from disconnected geographies or from alterations to the supply chain distribution systems that constitute that cities position in a globalised infrastructural reticule. In many respects, the limits of conventional discourse and accepted terminologies still adhere to legacies and conceptual understandings associated with the modernist paradigm, in which planned and emergent phenomena are seen as individually separate and distinct entities. Theorists, such as De Landa [2006], have argued that key spatial or city metrics of ‘extensivity’ should be replaced by degrees of ‘intensivity’ that are inherently diachronic and variable. Others, such as Brenner [2014], have proposed “urban hyperobjects” or metabolic rubrics to reassess the conceptual frameworks for urban developments in ways that can encompass urban dynamics.

Conversely ‘liminal urbanism’ posits a spatio-temporal understanding of the city that can only be apprehended at a specific instance, a singular moment in time, in highly specific locales, and as a part of a relational and relative heuristic. In these instances liminal urbanization may manifest the remote acting on specific loci, or, influence the intangible and invisible dynamics of cities. Manifested as ‘cracks’ in the city [de Certeau, 1984], the newly constituted liminal thresholds establish opportunities where new spatial orders may emerge. Furthermore, it is possible to argue that the notion of ‘liminality’ - derived from the Latin concept of ‘limen’ meaning threshold and etymologically linked to notions of the sublime, subliminal, limit, limina, liminoid with its associated implications of transition and transitional states of development - provides a useful counterpart to the more technocratic conceptualisations of urban complexity. Liminality, as referenced here has been reconceptualised by anthropologist Victor Turner [1967], amongst others, as a specific state or ‘liminal condition’ describing highly specific forms of transition, transformation and change. Turner defines a ‘liminal condition’ to be when a subject negotiates between two identities, positions, situations, or states of being. Encompassing the ambiguity of emergent conditions and their embodied phenomena, the anthropological appropriation of a liminal condition is the rite-de-passage in a symbolic process of acquiring or acting out new identities.

At a collective level - considered in the context of the transformative city-state, urban transformation practices and their resultant socio-spatial conditions - processes of ‘liminality’ take affect when previous orders and ‘stable states’ are erased without new urban systems in place. Liminality in this context is a process which occurs on multiple registers; diachronic, multi-scalar and cross disciplinary in scope. Simultaneously it may, on the one hand, outline the in-between and the marginalized whilst, on the other, simultaneously casting light on the emergent and the informal, social transformation and migratory phenomena, seasonal and financial transformations, to name a few. As a socio-spatial conceptual thematic ‘liminality’, as an inherent spatio-temporal condition and as a series of emerging urban orders, underpins questions centred on urbanism at large - and on transformative modalities of city-states.

Embedded within a social and participatory theme, the first of the Liminal Urbanism Advanced Colloquia Series aims to initiate discussions mirroring, amongst others, discussion and questions around the following:

  1. The role of city states and states of urban development as spatio-temporal phenomena in their developmental evolution.
  2. The nexus between planned and emergent urban conditions, as challenges to forms of planning, design and social flexibility.
  3. The necessity of spatio-temporal / socio-spatial / other participatory considerations in the understanding of urban hybridity.
  4. The remote, the out of scale, and the extra-territorial and their effects on specific locales linking the tactical and the strategic.
  5. The developmental and transformative implications of urban transition and their transitional states within emergent, newly formed, existing territories.
  6. The intangible and invisible dynamics associate with Liminal Urbanism and their modularity’s and manifestations as forms of embodiment.


Peter Hasdell, Associate Professor, School of Design, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Confirmed Participants

  • Prof. M. Christine Boyer, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor, School of Architecture, Princeton University
  • Prof. Andong Lu, Professor, School of Architecture and Urban Planning, Nanjing University
  • Prof. Gordon Mathews, Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Dr. Gerhard Bruyns, Assistant Professor, School of Design, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

About the Convener

Peter Hasdell is Associate Professor at the School of Design. He is an architect, urbanist, artist and academic. He has lived, taught and practiced in Australia, UK, Sweden, Netherlands, Canada, Japan and China. He has been based in HK since 2007 where he is a co-director of the architectural practice D+A h.q. Ltd. focusing on architecture and urban (master-planning) projects in China and SE Asia. His professional practice has included strategic planning on a national scale, urban planning and consultancies for various cities in Europe and China, several projects in China, as well as cultural and public art projects. He has also made and exhibited a variety of interactive art projects and interactive installations.

About the Participants

Prof. M. Christine Boyer
is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor, at the School of Architecture, Princeton University. She is the author of Le Corbusier: homme de lettres (Princeton Architectural Press, 2011), CyberCities: Visual Perception in the Age of Electronic Communication (Princeton Architectural Press, 1996), The City of Collective Memory: Its Historical Imagery and Architectural Entertainments (MIT Press, 1994), Manhattan Manners: Architecture and Style 1850–1890 (Rizzoli, 1985) and Dreaming the Rational City: the myth of city planning 1890–1945 (MIT Press, 1983). She is currently preparing for publication a book entitled Not Quite Architecture: writings around Alison and Peter Smithson. Her most recent essays have dwelled on the reconstruction of New Orleans, extended the debate on ‘smart cities’, questioned besieged landscapes under ‘heritage terrorism’ as well as critiquing the role of public space in contemporary urbanisation.

Prof. M. Christine Boyer received her PhD. and Masters in City Planning from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She also holds a Master’s of Science in Computer and Information Science from the University of Pennsylvania, The Moore School of Electrical Engineering. She continues in her research and teaching to combine these two interests: urbanism and computational theories. 

Prof. Andong Lu is currently Professor of Architecture at the University of Nanjing, China. His research interests include narrative organization of space, cinematic aided research, garden studies, and contemporary Chinese urbanism. He has taught postgraduate courses at University of Cambridge and Nanjing University. Previously Prof Lu held a a Guest Professorship at the Dessau Institute of Architecture, Anhalt University of Applied Sciences, Germany.

He has published a range of subjects related to the city, cinema and garden in peer-reviewed journals and books, which include; the Journal of Architecture (UK), Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes (UK), arq: Architectural Research Quarterly (UK), The Architect (China) and World Architecture (China). He has guest-edited the Cinematic Architecture (special issue of The Architect (China), profile no.136) and co-edited with François Penz the Urban Cinematics (Intellect Books, 2011). His latest co-editorial work (010 Publishers) focuses on aspects of global urbanization and its impact on the Chinese and other global regions.

Prof. Gordon Mathews is Professor and Chair at the Department of Anthropology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. He has written What Makes Life Worth Living: How Japanese and Americans Make Sense of Their Worlds (1996), Global Culture/Individual Identity: Searching for Home in the Cultural Supermarket (2001), Hong Kong, China: Learning to Belong to a Nation (with Eric Ma and Tai-lok Lui, 2008), and Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong (2011), upon which his talk for this workshop will be based.  He has also edited a number of books, including, most recently, Globalization from Below: The World's Other Economy (with Gustavo Lins Ribeiro and Carlos Alba Vega, 2012).  He is now completing a book on African traders and other foreigners in Guangzhou. 

Dr. Gerhard Bruyns is Assistant Professor at the School of Design. He is a South African born architect and urbanist, who was trained in South Africa and received his PhD at TU Delft where he worked in an advanced research unit focused on combining critical theory, and philosophy and design in architecture and urbanism. He has lectured at a number of universities globally, and acted as a jury member in South Africa, Asia, South America, the US and Europe. His most recent publication and editorial work addresses urbanization in Africa. Bruyns' present professional design and practice work is done in association is with CP, Arquitectura, Urbanismo, Investigacion.