Apartments that transform, buildings that help you grieve and spaces which serve to mediate society’s differences. The Chinese University’s graduating class of 2016 share their vision for the built environment, offering a refreshing glimpse into the problems facing our society today. Oh and don’t forget the cats.

Looking like boxes wrapped in an opaque cling film stacked one atop each other, the model could have been mistaken for NASA’s idea of a high density space station. Instead, it is Daniel Fung King Him’s proposal to solve the shortage of space in Hong Kong. Titled “Expandable”, the design takes the humble Hong Kong flat and proposes an expandable frame on the exterior which could create additional spaces as required, such as when friends visit and you suddenly find yourself in need of a games room, all from your 20th floor apartment.

architecture exhibition
Photo provided by interviewee.

Fung’s design is part of this year’s CUHK Graduation Show, showcasing the thesis projects of students from the School of Architecture. Unbounded by clients, budgets and building codes, students respond to problems facing society today by proposing how architecture could address these issues. A culmination of a year’s hard work, the thesis represents the swansong to a student’s architectural education. More importantly, it is a reflection of the young architect’s view on society; an example of how architecture without a monetary agenda could be a force of change.

Faced with the issue of open space in Hong Kong, Shirley Leung Shuk Wa asks why we can’t adapt the non-space underneath infrastructures for cultural programmes. Choosing a site near the Kwun Tong Bypass, her project calls for the city to “Reclaim the Residual”  by introducing a series of programmes underneath the expressway, connected through a series sky bridges. The project takes the Hong Kong spirit of spatial adaptation and supersizes it into a formalistic display at hyper speed, demonstrating how space could be carved out of anywhere with a bit of imagination and without the meddling concerns of various government departments.

architecture exhibition
Photo provided by contributor.

At a different scale, Eunice Tsui Sze Man proposes a more micro-approach to spatial adaptation. Inspired by the structural frames of umbrellas, her design for a canopy over the streets of Central seeks to define public spaces, literally and figuratively protecting the right of people using these spaces. It is perhaps difficult not to draw a connection with the Occupy Movement upon seeing the umbrella used as a grassroots sheltering and protective device, a connotation it picked up during the few months of demonstration.

While some projects deal with Hong Kong at an urban scale, others look towards the more intimate side of architecture. Brian Koo’s design for a harbour for sea burials in Kennedy Town aims to create a poetic sequence of spaces, from the moment mourners step onto the harbour to their journey onto the boat with the departed. The design uses architecture to help people deal with the grief of passing, perhaps transforming cremation into a more socially acceptable practise in a city steeped with tradition.

cuhk architecture exhibition
Photo provided by contributor.

In one of the most extraordinary topics of the Graduation Show, Melody Chan Wing Hang proposes an architecture for cats. Starting off on the basis that very often, we do not consider the cat’s environment before bringing one home, “Re-Defining Urban Cat Encounter” proposes a cat friendly urban environment, complete with circular staircases and stacked levels from which cats could climb and hide. Some might be puzzled to see a design for cats at a degree show for architecture, but that’s the charm of the architectural thesis; who’s to say what is and isn’t acceptable?

And that perhaps is the true value in architecture education. As the young architects embark on the next stage in their career – where the rush of reality in the form of cost, regulations and clients await – it is important to remember the optimism of architecture’s ability to influence society demonstrated in the many projects at the Exhibition.

This article was written based on Phase I of the Exhibition which was held at Midtown POP in Causeway Bay from 3 June 2016 to 9 June 2016. Phase II of the Exhibition continues at the Exhibition Zones, 1/F, AIT Building, School of Architecture, CUHK from 13 June 2016 to 10 July 2016. More details at the CUHK website.

Kenneth is an architect currently practising in Hong Kong. He co-founded JOKE architects with Joey Yim in 2010 as a platform for architectural observation, research and design. Coming from an academic background based heavily on the history, theory and criticism of architecture, his interests lie heavily within the realms of architecture beyond building.