Photo by Mahan Shirazi 


The Present Future research project for 2016-2017 will begin a new phase of work begun in the two previous projects on Hong Kong. This new project will undertake an intensive case study of an extraordinary new housing project, Shui Chuen O, recently completed by the Hong Kong Housing Authority. With a projected population of 29,000 people, the project reveals the enormous potentials and pitfalls in the planning and building of what amounts to a small town in a single project and in a period of under five years. Having been offered complete access to the architects, the construction documents, and the buildings themselves, Present Future will focus an extended exploration of the type of city that such projects call into existence. Given its extraordinary scale, its modular construction, its unique landscape situation, and the fact that this project is public housing produced in the flagship city of global capital, Shui Chuen O permits Present Future to focus on the architectural effects of the urbanism emerging from today’s world economy.


Program Brief: Next City


In the very near future, urbanism will have to confront dramatic ecological challenges that will give rise to unprecedented forms of political, economic and cultural action. In accounting for these challenges, it is already clear that upcoming generations will occupy cities in a very different way than we do today. These new forms of occupation will cut deeply into our accustomed ways of urban life. In response, we must anticipate a Next City that uses less energy and produces little carbon, a Next City that can be rapidly built (we need to move right away), and a Next City that responds to contemporary politics, contemporary technological advances and contemporary economies of scale. We must also anticipate a Next City that has a robust transportation system, offers privileged access to vital natural environments and produces a vibrant set of individual and collective subject positions. While no existing urban development exactly matches the needs of tomorrow, we will seek out signs and symptoms of the Next City in an urban present of Hong Kong that anticipates and responds to the most pressing issues of the day.

The New Town research agenda will be designed to root out the underlying order of a nascent contemporary urbanism from a set of circumstantial yet provocative urban conditions. Existing urban forms will serve less as models and more as symptoms of the urban potentials we seek. Beneath the often grotesque compromises of the global urban scene, the potential order of a contemporary urbanism can be perceived, however dimly, as a present future. Through design we will attempt to reveal that nascent urban order peeking through the brute realities of the built environment. In an effort to rethink the nature of the architect's social contract, we will pursue the design for new publics who are capable of confronting our unprecedented and most difficult challenges. If we have learned anything from the neoliberal city, it has been the shortsighted limitation of focusing all new urban construction on private edification. From our fifty year experience of constructing and inhabiting a sub/urban Megalopolis, we know that collective agency is impossible without accompanying concrete manifestations of that agency; in other words, public life requires representative built spaces and forms in order to both function and endure. Furthermore, these built forms of public life must be up to date and thus capable of responding to the unique problems that we presently face. The more unique our public problems are, the more unique the spaces and forms of our public response must be.

These unique public forms cannot simply be inherited from our past. After fifty years of urban construction dedicated almost entirely to our private well-being, we find ourselves living off of the public forms inherited from our ancestors (or, much worse, living off of no concrete public forms at all). These inherited forms, however, are simply not up to contemporary challenges. Instead of departing from the outmoded social logic of our ancestors, we must depart from the highly individuated state of the existing, neoliberal city in which we now live. Acknowledging our exclusive reliance on the blocks and streets found of our historic urban cores, we must depart from our urban present — the New Town— which is characterized, not by public life, but by the privileged status or agency of the individual. While being ever mindful of the individual or private well-being to which our contemporary cities are devoted, we must build up public forms that reflect more relevant modes of collective existence that are capable of speaking to the complex and pressing problems of the day. To this end, the Present Future research team will produce a School of Architecture symposium in the spring of 2016 as well as a book-length study on its analysis of the Hong Kong New Town.