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Just Escape: free grounds for justice

Part 2 Project 2010
Chun Wai Law
Chinese University of Hong Kong, China
The development of a modern capitalists’ society in which the authentic social life has been shaped with the representation constructed by the ruling class. “All that was once directly lived has become mere representation,” said Guy Debord.
In the development of this modern society, especially in Hong Kong, most of the spaces and infrastructure are manipulated by the corporate giants who, through holding the reins of mainstay economic sectors that lack competition, effectively control or influences both in market and land, that all people in Hong Kong need. This capitalist’s spectacle is the inverted image of society in which relationship between commodities have supplanted relationship between people.
People living in such society, inevitably, is heavily conditioned by the monopolizing spaces, market, media, advertisements and even the education system. This is in fact a totalitarian control of the public discourse, resulting in the contamination of behavior, tastes, and significantly, desire. People have no escape from this monopolized spectacle.
Without spaces designated as public, the claims of social movements can be easily overlooked. And this is obviously true in Hong Kong. Of the rise of “pseudo-public” space – those private properties like malls, festival market places, even now the cultural centres, concert halls and arenas that are government owned are all class-based exclusions.
This thesis, therefore has an underlying social agenda which intends to question and alter society views of social hierarchy. It is intended to demonstrate architecture should be empowered to speak up for people; and it is sensitive to both the promise and perils to a shifting from the “social” to the “spatial” in matters of Justice, that people may be fighting or neglecting for a long time – especially indigenous peoples and people of color.


Chun Wai Law

Tutor Statement

Justin’s thesis project is an ambitious critical engagement with the issue of public space in Hong Kong; it raises an urgent need to review the nature of public space and public life in many Chinese cities. The architectural idea of “free grounds”, deriving from the twin lineage of the ancient agora and the contemporary high-rise, re-orders the public realm in Hong Kong in spatial terms, suggesting a future which is both bold and practical.

The public as a political and aesthetic domain, in addition to being a functional domain (movement and commerce), has been severely challenged by two important developments that shape Chinese cities. The first is the Chinese traditional spatial practice of creating interior spaces, usually through encircling protective walls, which formulates the city as a collection of isolated private realms of varying sizes and importance. Nineteenth-century Beijing is a revealing example of this kind of traditional cities, and it has many different manifestations in different locations and climatic conditions throughout China. The second challenge comes from the monopoly of the functional public realm by commerce. By refusing to provide “free spaces” for public, the “real estate developers” disguise their commercial spaces as “public spaces”, imposing a layer of explicit and subliminal induction to selling and buying. Many normal activities are not allowed and subtly controlled in these commercial spaces.

The area of Tsim Sha Tsui, a world-renowned area for shopping in all forms, exemplifies such encroachment of the public realm. Here, Justin studies the distribution of wealth, the control of the land, and the remaining possibilities for the area. Through imaginative inversion of types and spaces, Justin creates five different grounds with free and equal access, within which commerce takes place but does not impose its conditions. The raw energy of the architecture offers both subversive and constructive opportunities; it presents itself both as real spaces for a new public life in Hong Kong, and as an exciting intellectual provocation.

Li Shiqiao


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