Newsletter No. 84

2 No. 84 4th March 1996 CUHK Newsletter Department Update What FascinatesthePrime Architect of Our Architecture Department Prof.Tunney F. Lee The opera house on Po Toi Island The o ld an d the new come together for a performance for the gods. The Difference Five Years Make Five years ago, when the CUHK Newsletter spoke to Prof. Tunney F. Lee, head of the Architecture Department, the interview was conducted in his temporary office in the modest confines of the Chung Chi Chapel. Now in the pink Wong Foo Yuan Building less than a hundred metres away, you can watch your reflection in the tinted glass in softened lighting as the elevator smoothly whisks you up to the fifth floor. When you almost begin to fancy you can hear music in the background, the light blinks on the right button, and the doors open to a burst of white, sunny corridors flanked on one side by workshops with showcases of clever architectural contrivances and on the other by the carpeted expanse of offices. And from one of the latter, Prof. Lee——hi s slim and gracious self, clearly none the worse for wear despite the stupendous responsibilities he's had to shoulder — emerges smiling. Prof. Lee was entrusted with the task of setting up a new programme from scratch when he assumed duties at the University in September 1990. In the 1991-92 academic year, the Programme of Architectural Studies was inaugurated. As prime architect, so to speak, o f the programme and the department, how does he think they have fared in these three to four years? 'We're on course,' says Prof. Lee. 'Four years ago we were a seedling. Now we've almost become a full-fledged architecture school. The department has grown from zero to 200 students. The number of staff has also grown, and this is our second year in these new facilities i n the Wong Foo Yuan Building. Our initial curriculum framework covering different aspects of architecture, such as design, technology and history, has been implemented with slight variations. As for teaching, there have beenmany different ideas on how we should teach since we began the actual teaching itself. We are still experimenting to see how we can teach better.' New Research Focuses Oral Architecture History As the department is still relatively new, Prof. Lee is actively trying to incorporate research into its agenda. One of the more extensive ongoing projects is'OralArchitectural History of China: the Modem Era'. Undertaken by Mr. Frank Sun, Dr. Ho Puay Peng, and Dr. Jeffrey Cody, it studies a much neglected era of Chinese architectural history. Prof. Lee says, 'We are interviewing the few remaining members of the first generation of Chinese architects who studied abroad. Existing research on Chinese architectural history has mostly focused on either the very traditional or the very modem. We're now trying to recreate an era which has so far been little touched by getting the memoirs of a generation of Chinese architects who fall between the traditional and the modem periods. These people are all nonagenarians, so we have to work fast.' Bamboo Opera Houses Another project, 'Rituals, Opera, and Bamboo Structures', conducted by Prof. Lee, looks at the bamboo opera houses in Hong Kong. These are temporary structures set up during festivals such as Tin Hau (天后诞) and Hungry Ghosts (盂兰节 ). Most such structures originate from Taoist ceremonies performed to appease spirits or to seek divine intervention in natural disasters, and are built using the same technique and materials as bamboo scaffolds, with tin sheets covering the top and parts of the sides. The floor is made with planks and is built a few feet from the ground. The average opera house takes about three days to build; even the largest ones with a seating capacity of 2,000 take only about a week. Using as a basis work on Cantonese opera done by Dr. Chan Sau-yan— ethnomusicologist and lecturer in music, the project examines how space is determined by different symbolic relations as well as by structure. Prof. Lee explains, 'At these festivals, they also need to build a temporary housing for the gods unless there is a temple at the site. This is always built facing the entrance to the opera house to make sure the gods can see the opera. In fact the performance is really for the gods and not the human audience.' Due to the lack of space in Hong Kong, the festival sites chosen may seem less than sublime. At the Hungry Ghosts Festival in Sha Tin, for example, celebrations take place on a basketball court. Structures are also often adapted t o accommodate the limitations of the sites. At one festival held in Hill Road in theWestern District, the structures are erected along a narrow curve under a highway as it is the only open space large enough in that district. At another festival held on Po Toi Island where there is little flat land, the opera house is built in such a way that i t engulfs the temple where the gods are housed. For anyone who's seeing a bamboo opera house from the outside for the first time, it may come across as fragile, ready to collapse like toothpicks at the slightest breath of wind. So are they actually sturdy? Prof. Lee says, 'Oh yes. They have to comply with all the building ordinances, that is, they have to be structurally adequate for fire and wind. Hungry Ghosts, for example, takes place right in the typhoon season. Tin instead of straw is now used for covering because straw goes up quickly in flames and there have been big fires in the past. But most of these hazards are attended to now. Another good thing about these opera houses is they are perfectly recyclable.' Housing in Hong Kong If gods have to be housed under flyovers, what picture does i t paint for us mortals living in Hong Kong? Several of the department's current projects, such as the one by Mr. Brian Sullivan and Dr. Chen Ke entitled 'Inhabiting Public Housing in Hong Kong: Design Guidelines Based on the Analysis of Activities and Lifestyles i n Existing Flats', examine precisely this problem. So what characterizes housing in Hong Kong? 'Density,' Prof. Lee says without a thought, 'and also people's living habits and the climate have given rise t o certain architectural forms. But as density in Hong Kong is higher than anywhere else in the world by a large margin, it is the most dominant issue that Hong Kong buildings have to deal with. It also implicates many other problems such as safety, access, traffic, and water and electricity supply. These have all had a hand in shaping buildings.' Prof. Lee points out that for example, residential architecture is configured in certain ways to accommodate local laws which require that adequate light and air be let into kitchens and toilets. That is partly why open kitchens are not as popular here as in many western countries. However this is also a reaction to Chinese cooking. Just imagine sautéing crabs in garlic and black bean sauce right in your living room. The lingering smell and grease would probably stifle you and your family's appetite for homecooking for the next five years. Where Future Hopes Lie With 1997 only a year away, does Prof. Lee think the return of Hong Kong's sovereignty t o China w i ll affect his department in any way? 'I don't expect so. The biggest question of 1997 is China, but we've always considered ourselves part of this region and have had many connections with architecture schools and societies in China. Our aim is to continue to develop within our own framework.' The 1995-96 academic year saw the launch of the Master of Architecture programme. This two-year postgraduate programme adds a professional dimension to the broad educational foundation laid by the three-year undergraduate programme. The third batch of 42 undergraduate architecture students will also graduate this year. And perhaps from them buildings of the future will rise that delight both mortals and their gods. Piera Chen Servic e t oth eCommunit y an d Internationa l Organization s * Prof. Liu Pak-wai, Pro-Vice-Chancel lor, has been appointed as a member of the Council of Lingnan College from 25th November 1995 to 14th November 1998. * Prof. P. C. Leung, professor of orthopaedics and traumatology and head of New Asia College, has been appointed as: 1) invited adviser to the Editorial Board (2nd) of the Chinese Journal of Reparative and Reconstructive Surgery from December 1995; 2) visiting professor of Yunnan Medical University from April 1995; and 3) visiting professor of Shanghai Medical University from November 1995. Prof. Leung has also been reappointed by the United Christian Hospital as honorary consultant of orthopaedics and traumatology for 1996. * Prof. Wesley E. Fabb, professor of family medicine, served as a Visiting Expert of the 1996 Health Manpower Development Plan of the Ministry of Health in Singapore from 25th to 27th January 1996. * Prof. David T. W. Yew, professor in the Department of Anatomy, has been elected a Fellow of the Institute of Biology, UK. * Prof. Gary W. K. Wong, associate professor in the Department of Paediatrics, has been invited to serve as Professional Adviser t o the Community Rehabilitation Network(CRN) of the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation for two years from 1995. * Prof. Albert Lee, associate professor in the Department of Community and Family Medicine, has been appointed as: 1) a Council member of the Hong Kong College of General Practitioners(HKCGP) from 1996; 2 ) chairman of HKCGP Research Committee for 1996; 3) examiner of the Conjoint Fellowship Examination of Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and HKCGP (since 1994), and a member o f the Board o f Examination and coordinator for the modified essay segment. He has also served as a visiting consultant in family medicine of the Hong Kong Institute of Family Medicine since 1994. (All information in this section is provided by the Information and Public Relations Office. 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