In a population-dense city like Hong Kong, articulated strategic planning and a human-centred approach are crucial to impactful placemaking with its societal and cultural parallels to Singapore, these lessons from Hong Kong may be applicable to the way we plan our city as well. Mr Alan Cheung, Co-Founder and Managing Director of One Bite Design Studio, shares his experiences and takeaways in designing tactics to carry out sustainable and lovable placemaking projects with densified impact across social, environmental, and economic sectors.
Adapted from an edition of the People & Places Partnership webinar series presented by URA.
About One Bite Design Studio
Founded in Hong Kong in 2015 and established in Singapore since 2018, architecture-based One Bite Design Studio explores placemaking potential in dense urban settings with a whimsical twist. Embracing the team’s motto, ‘Interconnecting People and Making Places’, One Bite has achieved a variety of placemaking projects in Hong Kong through community engagement and cross-disciplinary strategies in the last few years.
Seeing Problems as Potential: Placemaking in an Asian Context
Our city’s compactness may limit the physical space we can work with, but it should not limit our potential for placemaking efforts. Instead of seeing degenerated rooftop spaces in public housing estates across the city as a problem, we can instead see them as a valuable opportunity to reimagine these estates for intergenerational interaction. Mr Alan Cheung covers some areas to consider when placemaking in dense urban contexts like Singapore.
Strategic Planning & Localised Implementation
When redefining the typology of an area, it is important to consider the local communities who will use the space, as well as understand their demographics and unique local stories that will ultimately shape placemaking efforts in the area. For example, community spaces in public housing estates should be designed with their aerial view in mind, as that would be the perspective seen by the many residents who live in the surrounding high-rise buildings.
In Hong Kong’s Siu Hei Court Playspace, the redesign of the communal outdoor space in the estate was a result of engagement with the youths and community. Place branding was enhanced through this placemaking effort, while remaining conscious of the view of the space from above. (Photo: One Bite Design Studio)
The scalability of placemaking is dependent on a group of people being committed to do it together. Education plays a central role to expanding placemaking efforts as knowledge transfer increases exponentially once you have ‘trained the trainer’, as they can then go on to further amplify the project’s scale. This is also a great opportunity to engage the community and involve more people in the process of placemaking.
We have to recognise that seeing changes takes time. However, we can make the small changes which manifest along the way more visible. To unlock more opportunities within the same space, we can make changes through distinct programming that offers different experiences to visitors at different times. This could be a yoga class or workshop for kids in the morning, followed by a drama or dance performance in the evening. Organic play by users of the space, such as how people interact with dynamic outdoor furniture, can also be a part of sustainable programming and play a part in making a place more vibrant.
#APARTOGETHER is a series of umbrella-topped public furniture which invites the public to engage with it, allowing for unique experiences to be forged within the space. (Photo: One Bite Design Studio)
Pop-up interventions capitalise on underutilised space during its downtime. With spaces valued at a premium in high density cities like Singapore, pop-up tactics allow available spaces to be returned to the public realm, as community hubs or other uses that can contribute to placemaking. In Hong Kong, where ground-floor space is often rented out to private companies for commercial use, the annual experiment Project House takes over vacant units, opening them up to public use, ranging from a community barber house to a children-run retail store. This allows for more efficient use of city space for placemaking efforts.
Using Technology to Rethink Public Spaces
The use of a new medium or technology can open up a world of possibilities. For instance, Cat-Streetopia designed by One Bite Design Studio makes use of the gamification tool to allow people to design their own streets by placing public furniture using Augmented Reality. The platform also gives people the opportunity to rethink the post-pandemic sustainability of our street life, encouraging community engagement in neighbourhood enhancement from planning to execution, ultimately achieving the goals of tactical urbanism.
Cat-Streetopia by One Bite Design Studio initiates a digital movement for people-led neighbourhood regeneration, making use of technology to aid in placemaking. (Photo: One Bite Design Studio)
Differences between Singapore and Hong Kong
Fundamentally, Singapore and Hong Kong are two different cities, with two different local contexts. While some lessons in placemaking may be transferable between the cities, one difference that Mr Alan Cheung points out is the societal behaviour towards activation of public space. For example, there seem to be more intergenerational interactions with public pop-ups in Singapore, whereas kids form the majority of the active users in Hong Kong.
Agility is an important ingredient in placemaking. Being transformative, catalytic and people-led will enable us as placemakers to see opportunities in the limitations of our space. Far from being a problem, Singapore’s high density can instead be full of potential.