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AIA Hong Kong: Dubai City of Dreams –
A Short Critical History of an Urban Heterotopia

The word “heterotopia” comes from two root words — “hetero” meaning “other” and “topos” meaning place. Philosopher Michael Foucault described spaces that have meanings in addition to its immediate existence as “heterotopia.” The concept refers to the more familiar notion of utopia, which refers to community or society that possesses desirable qualities.

Traditional Dubai architecture offer an understanding of how buildings can be designed in response to the environment and the way of living. Bedouin tent used by the nomad is lightweight and easy to carry. Palm trunks are used as structural support and the main entrance is oriented to avoid prevailing wind. Another typology, the barjeel, features a wind catcher to capture prevailing wind from different angles to creating microclimate.

The nature of Dubai as a heterotopia is reflected in its demographics. According to census, the population of Dubai is disproportionally male and expatriates, which can be explained by the workers who come to the region. Absent history and indigenous culture, Dubai became a sharing society that multi-culturalism is possible.

It is the idea of a place of experimentation, not afraid to invent new language. In the sprawling development, water is thus introduced, and at times taking over, to the desert. Water, so long as it is present, does not matter in its quantity or form. Canals or lagoons are common. In the housing development Jumeirah Islands, clusters of villas are built on small islands in artificial lake. The tallest tower Burj Khalifa, with 163 habitatable floors, has 35,000 people at any time. Infrastructure takes on peculiar dimension in Dubai. Subway stations may be located in the middle of desert. In this unique built environment, Dubai embodies the qualities of a heterotopia of illusion, in which the real space is both physical and mental.

Contributor: Vikki Lew, AIA

AIA Hong Kong – October President’s Message

Dear AIA Members & Friends:

We are reminded by recent events of how interconnected and reliant on each other we all are while living and working in
the compressed urban habitats of Asia.

At the joint AIA Hong Kong / AIA International Region Asian Cities Symposium held on September 22 in Hong
Kong, we enjoyed a wide ranging discourse about what makes our Asian cities livable, resilient, sustainable, culturally connected to our local history, and economically vibrant.
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AIA Hong Kong Chapter
Office Grand Opening Party

AIA Hong Kong, the largest international chapter of the American Institute of Architects, celebrated a milestone on Thursday, 21 August, with the grand opening of its first permanent office since Nelson Chen, FAIA, founded the Chapter in 1997 – the same year that the formerly British colony became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR).

Located in the newly renovated and repurposed PMQ Complex straddling Central District’s Hollywood Road and Staunton Street, AIA Hong Kong hosted more than 150 Chapter members, corporate affiliates and guests on an expansive terrace that was once a communal kitchen and dining area for young constables and their families.  The terraced, 0.6 hectare PMQ site was previously home to Central School (a.k.a. Victoria College and later Queen’s College) – Hong Kong’s first Government public school to provide secondary Western education – before the PMQ was established, and informative guided walking tours of the school’s foundations and other architectural remnants were provided prior to the opening celebration.

Providing housing for Hong Kong’s married police officers for the latter half of the 20th century until 2000 when the facility was vacated, Government surveys and investigations of this historic site subsequently revealed noteworthy architecture attributed to the “modern movement,” archaeologically significant granite retaining walls and steps, and more than 2,000 relics ranging from fragments of encaustic ceramic tiles with formed patterns to historic stone foundations from the former Central School.  After the existing structures were designated as Grade 3 Historic Buildings by the Government Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) in 2010, the entire site was earmarked for adaptive reuse by the Government Architectural Services Department (ASD) and it became the new hub for Hong Kong’s creative and design industries in early 2014.

AIA Hong Kong is proud to be situated on a site of architectural and archaeological significance, and to serve as a founding tenant within a successful adaptive reuse project that is consistent with today’s international best practices.

As one of AIA Hong Kong’s best attended events, the Chapter wishes to extend their gratitude to everyone who braved the hot and humid August evening to help us celebrate, and to Chapter Corporate Affiliates Orientop, Betrue and Thicas who generously sponsored the grand opening party. Thanks are also due to William Lim, FAIA, Christian Low, AIA, and J Lee Rofkind, AIA, who spearheaded the effort to secure space for the Chapter in this popular development, in addition to Andrew King, Assoc. AIA, Brian Bessenaire, Assoc. AIA, Kenneth Hau, AIA and J Lee Rofkind, AIA, who were responsible for the design of the premises.

Special thanks are also due to Chapter Executive Secretaries Catherine Wong and Vivian Chan for their continuing hard work and dedication, and, finally, to one of the Chapter’s founding fathers, Grover Dear, FAIA, who made a widely anticipated appearance at this milestone event despite recent personal challenges.

Reflecting upon how the Chapter has grown over the past 17 years — and where it is going – AIA Hong Kong also wishes to thank the many Past Presidents who have carved out space in their own humble offices to serve the Chapter’s administrative needs from 1997 until now.

Finally, we have a permanent home!

AIA Hong Kong members who attended one of the PMQ Walking Tours prior to the Grand Opening Party also received 1.0 LU toward their annual mandatory AIA Continuing Education requirements.

Please note the Chapter’s new address below — and please stop in for a visit when you’re in the neighborhood!

AIA Hong Kong

S602 | Block A | PMQ

35 Aberdeen Street

Central | Hong Kong SAR

Contributor: Thomas Schmidt, AIA

AIA Hong Kong – September President’s Message

Dear AIA Members and Friends:

I especially look forward to this mid-autumn time of year as the temperature in our part of the world moderates and we transition past the long, hot summer. This time of Lantern Festivals and moon-cakes is full of fond memories about our past and a shared spirit of excitement about what the future may bring.

Our Chapter recently had the pleasure of experiencing that warm feeling at the Grand Opening Celebration held August 21st at our new Office and Gallery space in the PMQ Creative Art Hub. It was a thrill to see so many long time friends and colleagues while reminiscing about the success of our organization over the past 17 years and its bright future ahead.

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Smartgeometry 2014 Urban Compaction
Hong Kong


Date: July 18-19, 2014

Venue: CUHK, Yasumoto International Academy Park Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong


Date: July 14-17, 2014

Venue: School of Architecture, CUHK, AIT Building, Shatin, New Territories Hong Kong

For further information, please click here

2014 Honors & Awards “Call for Entries”

Dear Members:

Once again it is time for our annual AIA Hong Kong Honors & Awards Program.

We encourage all members to submit their work for this prestigious event, which has become increasingly well known to other professionals and the public in the International Region.

Please note that the deadline for submission is August 22, 2014 and, for any enquiries, please contact

                              Call For Entries                                         2014 JURORS                 

Save the Date for our 2014 Honors & Awards Exhibition and Celebration on November 14, 2014.

William Lim’s Search for the No Colours

Stepping into William Lim’s studio in Wong Chuk Hang is like entering an alternate universe. As the heavy metal door opens, I’m immediately greeted with a white neon sign mounted on transparent acrylic that reads “Hong Kong Is Our Museum” and to my left a taxidermy hen is placed precariously on the floor. Turning the corner, a man of slight frame with black-rim glasses dressed in a crisp white shirt greets me. Lim shows me around his studio, a treasure trove filled with works by local artists Lee Kit, Nadim Abbas, Tang Kwok-hin, and South Ho. After a quick lap of the space, we settle on a sofa to chat about how his collection came about, his recently released book The No Colors and how he feels Hong Kong art has changed over the years. READ More >

Oi! Tour

AIA Hong Kong members experienced a slice of old Hong Kong with a twist of contemporary art on the evening of Friday, 27 June, during a private guided tour of “Oi!” – the adaptively reused Government Supplies Department located at 12 Oil Street in North Point.  The tour was led by Professor Wallace Chang, Associate Professor at the School of Architecture, CUHK, and a Visiting Scholar at the Harvard-Yenching Institute, Harvard University.

Once the home of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club and the Government Supplies Department, the existing complex dates back to 1908 and is considered a rare example of the Arts and Crafts style in Hong Kong.  The buildings within the complex were initially classified as Grade 2 historic structures by the Antiquities Advisory Board in 1995, with official confirmation of their status following in 2009.   Situated on a 0.2 HA site at the intersection of Oil Street and Electric Road, the cluster of century-old red brick and stucco clad buildings consists of a main block and two ancillary buildings surrounding a small landscaped oasis of public open space dotted with mature trees.  Formerly the site of the Oil Street Artists Village prior to its renovation by the Architectural Services Department (ASD), the complex opened to the public in May 2013 as an adaptively reused, flexible contemporary art space named “Oi!”

Operated by the Art Promotion Office (APO) of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), the complex now hosts a variety of indoor and outdoor art exhibits and aims to both provide a platform for emerging artists and to encourage community participation.  The temporary exhibits on display during the tour — collectively entitled “Reflection!” — featured the popular outdoor installation “Bâtiment – Oi!” by Argentine artist Leandro Erlich, which consists of a replica of a building façade installed horizontally at grade, reflected by a set of 45 degree mirrors.  The resulting apparition of a vertical building facade enabled members of the public lying on the ground to execute gravity-defying poses on the virtual façade for passers-by.  This striking outdoor installation was complemented by multi-sensory indoor exhibits housed within the ground floor of the historic structures created by Meta4 Design Forum, documentary photographer Tse Pak-chai, and Hong Kong-based artist Kingsley Ng. These thought-provoking interior exhibits revolved around urban transformation in Hong Kong and “reflections” of our urban landscape.

Mr. Chang also described many of the issues associated with  retaining and adaptively re-using historic buildings, in general, as well as the approval processes and budgetary hurdles that had to be overcome to effect the transformation of this former government space into a much needed community amenity and welcome addition to the Hong Kong art scene.

AIA members attending this tour earned 1.5 Learning Units (LUs) toward their annual AIA mandatory Continuing Education requirements.

Contributor: Tom Schmidt, AIA