MDes Talks: Learning Together

How we learn in the School of Design does not confine in our studio (our classroom and working space). The programme adopts an interactive mode of teaching and learning through typical class formats in design education, such as seminars, studio subjects, and workshops which often include site visits. The experience has been creatively stimulating.

Earlier in January, we had a week-long intensive workshop in collaboration with students from Parsons School of Design and Shenzhen University. Teams were formed with a mix of students from each university. An entire week was set aside to focus on exploring one topic – the situation of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong.

Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong may be a topic unique to Hong Kong, but it also relates to the conversation globally on strengthing diversity, equity and inclusion in a multi-cultural society.

MDes Talks: Learning Together
Photo Credit: Francisco Anzola/ Flickr

According to SCMP (link), there are over 360,000 domestic foreign helpers in Hong Kong, accounting for almost 9% of the city’s workforce which contribute to its socio-economic development, assured Matthew Cheung, Chief Secretary for Administration. However, their contribution is often undervalued, and their life is not integrated into the city like the rest of the population (The Helper Documentary).

Migrant workers play an important role in Hong Kong society and economy, but for years Hong Kong has adopted a laissez-faire attitude towards their needs. This workshop has given students the opportunity to acknowledge this issue and find out their concerns.

The workshop started on a Sunday morning! We soon went for site visits in Central and Victoria Park where we first met our fellow teammates and spent hours to observe a weekly phenomenon and gathering spots of the foreign domestic workers on a Sunday.

We saw thousands of foreign workers sitting on the road, gathered in groups, talking, laughing, eating, and sleeping. The air was filled with words spoken in an unfamiliar language and smell of local food on street corners. It was very interesting to observe how public space was claimed using anything from a circle of bags, cardboard pieces, shelters, and tents. The public ground was transformed into temporary venues for every possible social interaction, and somehow public space was being used more privately.

MDes Talks: Learning Together
Photo Credit: Michael Coghlan/ Flickr

Through this workshop, we gained some clarity and awareness about the world of the migrant domestic workers, for example, the micro-economies and social issues in this community, as well as regional politics associated between Hong Kong and the neighbouring Asian countries.

As designers, we were asked to prepare scenarios of what could be done for betterment and present them at the end of the week.

During the week, we had multiple lectures and tutorials by professors from both universities. They were insightful and have been amazing source of information and guidance. A chance to work with students from various backgrounds and culture has helped me to understand issues from different perspectives.

As a team, we observed that foreign domestic helpers are very talented and self-sufficient because of their embodied knowledge and skills. Out of a variety of possibilities, one was focused on the local knowledge of foreign domestic helpers. We proposed skill-sharing workshops that will be run by and for the workers where they can share knowledge about cooking and other aspects of home economics, languages, music, dance, textile art etc. Some of these workshops can be open to Hong Kong residents and other immigrant groups with the support and resources from NGOs, universities, religious institutions, activist organisations and unions. Everyone can join in these workshops, learn from each other, and contribute to the welfare of these groups to make their lives better. The objective was to remove social barriers between groups, enhance the quality of life, increase the visibility of foreign domestic helpers in the society outside their households, and give meaning in helpers’ life and community.

The week-long collaboration was intensive and came in many flavours with series of brainstorming exercises, group working sessions, tutorials, library visits, and group critiques. It is in itself also a skill share, and the experience is fulfilling.

MDes Talks: Learning Together
MDes Talks: Learning Together
Photo Credit: PolyU Design

At the end of the week, we needed to choose only one theme to present our ideas for the final presentation. So much went in at the start of the project and gradually converged all our information and different approaches into one direction really taught us how to think, see, and propose a design intervention in an efficient and holistic manner. The process has trained us into making judgement quicker and better.

Posted by Saijal Sharma - Born in Jaipur, India, graduated in Bachelor of architecture (BArch) and currently pursuing my master's study, Urban Environments Design (MDes). As an architecture student I have grown to love design, learnt to experiment with my space. Space has helped to build my own perception to things and lifestyle. My decision to move to Hong Kong came from the wanting to explore and gain exposure. Hong Kong is a wonderful city and this blog will play a part to document my life here.  
MDes Talks is a series of Student Blogs contributed by students in different specialisms under the Master of Design Scheme. It is set out to share students’ first-hand experience in the d-school pedagogy, their projects, takeaways, and student life in general.