MDes Talks: Tuning into the Void: Understanding City from a Different Perspective

Designing a city from the inside is different from city planning. Designing at a human-scale will intervene and impact people and their everyday life directly.

And, there seems to be no better place than in Hong Kong to study the design of interiors. The city is known for its high property price and rents – for both residential and commercial space – as a result, people in Hong Kong are forced to use space more creatively.

This brings us to the first seminar in our programme “The City from Inside”.

The seminar broadly covers how we experience the city as we move from one place to another. Therefore, a city can be seen and understood from various perspectives – like time, place, state of being, noise, smell, the flow of people, traffic, data, and so on – individually or collectively. We can almost study and learn the characteristics of a city from every scale, taking multiple perspectives. However, for a 4-week seminar subject, it is only practical to narrow down the scope and use concepts and techniques most relevant to analyse the urban interior in the case study of Hong Kong Underground.

The case study is aligned to the government’s interest to develop underground space in Hong Kong. The Civil Engineering and Development Department and the Planning Department have conducted a “Pilot Study on Underground Space Development in Selected Strategic Urban Areas”. The selected strategic urban areas are Tsim Sha Tsui West, Causeway Bay & Happy Valley, Admiralty/ Wanchai. The objectives to develop underground space are: to enhance the living environment, to relieve above-ground congestion for better pedestrian connectivity and to create space for community use.

MDes Talks: Tuning into the Void: Understanding City from a Different Perspective
MTR (Mass Transit Railway)
Photo Credit: Bailey Cheng/ Flickr

Understanding Complex Interiors

Interiors can be approached from the notion of control and comfort. This dimension involves technologies for crowd-modelling monitoring management (strategic, tactical and operational movement of people). A deeper understanding refers to the invisible spaces in interiors that consist of the psychological dimensions and essential parameters to define interiors.

MDes Talks: Tuning into the Void: Understanding City from a Different Perspective
MTR Station, Central
Photo Credit: Dmitriy Stepanov/ Flickr

Interiors designed to meet human psychology include theme parks and artificial environments in which people go and lose the sense of pressure. Consider Disneyland and Coney Island: the interior becomes a spectacle, and you or the visitors become a spectator. The design for retail, shopping experience and the desire to shape consumer behaviours all emphasise and play out this relationship.

MDes Talks: Tuning into the Void: Understanding City from a Different Perspective
Pacific Place, Admiralty
Photo Credit: Willy Feng/ Flickr

The factor of temporality also plays a role in spatial design. The concept of “culture of change – choice – connection – co-existence” illustrate typologies change over time. One example is “drag spaces”. It describes the conditions when one place can be used for multiple purposes.

Visage one, a barbershop by day and a jazz club by night is an example of drag spaces.

When space is being used by people from all walks of life, we can see its functionality changes. For example, tunnels and pavements are meant for pedestrians to cross a busy road safely, but a particular one may be often used by skateboarders for playing, graffiti artists for creative expression, or musicians for busking. The type of users and how they see the space (as performative or social) can define the space’s characteristics and give it a different meaning.

MDes Talks: Tuning into the Void: Understanding City from a Different PerspectiveStreet performers (who are also spectators) in Mongkok’s Sai Yeung Choi Street during the hours adopting the pedestrian schemes.
Photo Credit: doctorho/ Flickr

The concept of “exteriorised interior” is another way to see the relationship between the built structure and its environments. More emphasis is given to the invisible architecture – not only to connect the interior to its surround environments, i.e. nature, but also to make the architecture disappeared so that nature can be revealed at its best.

Asia Society Hong Kong

The seminar has trained us to look beyond the visible and tangible and tuning into the void. The void is not emptiness but invisible spaces, psychological needs, social aspects, hidden geometry and surfaces, the connection between interior and exterior.

MDes Talks: Tuning into the Void: Understanding City from a Different Perspective
A food stall in Central
Photo Credit: 
bricoleurbanism/ Flickr

We also learnt the significance of a small space – the size of space does not undermine but rather amplify its impact and meanings to users. To develop a successful design takes a deeper and critical approach to understand the interior and exterior environments.

Image credits. List image: Bailey Cheng/ Flickr. Header image: Saijal Sharma. Content images: as specified.

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.