Social Design: Projects, ongoing research and research papers


Miaoxia Community Kitchen


This participatory design project in Miao Xia village is aimed at the redesign of public and collective amenities in the village to help develop cooperative social enterprises. Based on sustainable development principles seeking to balance social economic and environmental factors, the project is positioned to enable local people. The project employs the spatial and product design expertise of School of Design (SD) (interior, architecture, furniture and environmental design) as possible hardware within the action research framework of Department of Applied Social Sciences (APSS) that provides the necessary software and social services to underpin community and participatory design initiatives in such sustainable developments. The project can also be understood as a form of socially responsible and community driven design that allows SD to engage in an alternative mode of community centred practice driven research.

Peter Hasdell was the principle investigator with co-investigators Dr Ku Hok Bun (APSS) and Mr Brian Lee (SD), and primary researcher Mr Kuo Jze Yi. Secondary supporting collaborations with the Sichuan Agricultural University, Sun Yat Sen University and the Shangli Social Work Station during 2015 were essential. The project was funded by the Keswick Foundation (HK) and the School of Design through department research funding.

Collaboration Framework:

The project is a cross-disciplinary collaboration between APSS conducted under the auspices of the Shangli Social Work Station; and spatial and product design research in SD. The project utilised two research methodologies; Action Research and Participatory Design. Action Research providing the necessary community engagement, social organisation and social enterprise skills facilitating the development of design processes and outcomes through Participatory Design.

Public consultation with the villagers helped establish their needs and develop their enterprises, while Participatory Design addressed identified design issues with stakeholders and was used to co-develop design solutions in a cyclical process. This framework allows for significant knowledge generation and transfer between APSS and SD as well as between local communities and academic communities. The synergy of the collaboration established a more balanced research project framework that has so far proven to be mutually beneficial, by allowing the design process to be embedded in a social context. Contributing to the development of alternative modes of practice based research (social design and practice based research) and expertise in the School of Design.

Participatory Design Process:

Working with the action research framework, the Participatory Design process for the community kitchen involved a series of design cycles with the villagers, designers and social workers. This process was repeated several times for different stages of design as a way to negotiate complex issues that included: brief development; cooperative agreements; negotiations on shared responsibility and mutual benefits; site choice; leasehold negotiations; and design development and implementation. Collective decisions in one part were used to evaluate and develop further the design in the next stage. At later stages, local skilled participants were engaged for appropriate technical and material solutions. Specific approaches adopted include using models as basis for collective understanding, simplified design languages, and commonly understood means to communicate to non-design professional participants, as well employing social media.

Steps taken include: evaluations of potentials and brief development; social enterprise initiation; development of cooperative agreements; negotiations on shared responsibility and mutual benefit; site and leasehold negotiations; design intent and participatory process development; local skill engagement; development of appropriate technological solutions; management of different construction stages, volunteer participation and budget. Over eight participatory design cycles with typically 15-25 stakeholders engaged in each cycle. Over 60 participants were active over 10 months.

MIAO Xia Village – Multi-functional Community Kitchen (PDF)

Ongoing Research

Border Ecologies, Hong Kong’s Mainland Frontier

Hong Kong’s border with Shenzhen is dissolving. By 2047, the border will likely not exist. Integration with the Mainland will remove distinctions created by the ‘One Country Two Systems’ policy. The uncertainty surrounding what will happen has created anxiety relating to law, identity, freedom of speech, and voting rights. Caught in this debate is the Frontier Closed Area, a buffer zone created by the British in 1951 and an inaccessible landscape of eco-systems including tidal estuaries, fish farms, primary forests, historic villages and abandoned military posts. In contrast, Shenzhen, poster-child of China’s economic reform era, has exploded into a metropolis of 15 million plus.

The book explores this unique border ecology that evolved as Hong Kong and the Mainland transformed. Design strategies inserted within this eco-system promote alternate forms of development. Through unpeeling the layers of this territory, a complex set of relationships that operate between macro-policies and micro-conditions on the ground is revealed. The example widens the discourse on borders to raise critical issues that impact the contemporary city.

Hasdell, P., and Bolchover, J., (2016), Border Ecologies, Hong Kong’s Mainland Frontier, Basel: Birkhauser.

Research Papers