DEATH OF THE CITY
Lim Yu Heng
National University of Singapore
In near future of the Hong Kong archipelago. Death remains a prevalent issue shrouding the citizens. Be it the sons, daughters or relatives. It has become tremendously expensive to lay the
dead to rest in these dense urbanisations around the globe. Columbariums are filling up past the point where the average wait times are around 4-5 years. A temporary solution resulted in thousands of ashes being stored in plastic boxes within coffin stores intermediary. Ash hotels remain a blooming illegal business where residents have rented out their homes to store ashes for people. The government had tried to push for more Columbariums to keep up with the skyrocket demand but these proposals have been met with strong resistance by the citizens citing reasons of traffic blockages, inauspicious siting and large crowds during Qing Ming festivals. Despite the strong resistant culture and a culture of resistance, the new Hong Kong government have decided to take action to tackle the severity of this issue. Planned within the urban development of the old Kai Tak runway, a new park filled with lush greeneries will be opened to the public in order to increase the ratio of public open spaces. Integrated with a resomation centre, the deceased would be cremated in water with chemical and high temperatures in which the ashes would then be attached to eco-sky lanterns to be released towards the sky.
Lim to start could you give us a brief introduction as to who you are, where have you studied, what stage are you in your architectural career?
I am Yu Heng, I have graduated with a Masters in Architecture at the National University of Singapore.
I used to do photography and visual art but right now I am starting out as a junior architect in Tezuka Architects, Tokyo.
Why did you decide to study architecture?
At an early age, I was always fascinated with creating things and generating ideas. I slowly found my way into architecture that was able to allow me to explore new ideas.
Are there any architects in particular who inspire you? If so have any in particular had an influence in the creation of this particular project?
There are many architects that inspire me, particularly my boss. However, for my thesis project, I was fascinated with the metabolism ideals within Kenzo Tange's Tokyo bay master plan as well as the treatment towards solemnity in Moshe Shafdie's Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum.
What was your inspiration behind your very unique brief for the project?
I was always very fascinated with asian cities where people are always packed together like sardines and trying to get by living in such dense areas. These dense cities are like living machines where humans organically form interconnected systems in order to carry out their daily lives. And along with the density sprout new issues about space scarcity and economics. Especially in the context of Hong Kong where dying is even more costly than living. It raises the question of how should we find a mitigation between preserving culture and reality.
The project explores Columbarium's in Hong Kong to respond to a growing social and political issue in Hong Kong, to what end do you feel architecture has a responsibility to assist and respond to political issues?
Not all architecture is political but as long as it is planned to serve the general public, it has the responsibility to be designed for the betterment of the current situation. Good architecture is not just about creating surreal forms and aesthetics but about how to create meaningful spaces and to form new networks atop the existing.
As part of the submission you also produced a video to explain the thesis concept, what do you feel the video offers as opposed to drawings and do you see this as a valuable tool for students to use?
Our submission requirements in NUS was only to produce 12 A1 boards and a model. However, I felt that having just posters and model would not be sufficient to showcase the whole process of my thesis. As I was attempting to re-shape the process of modern day death rituals, the animation was an important tool for me to showcase the procedures clearly. In addition, the intented moods and atmosphere of the space could be captured and represented as well. Animation video is definitely one of the important tools that students could use, I would recommend to go beyond the submission requirements if the portrayal of your project requires so.
Your work has a very unique aesthetic, how do you produce your imagery?
Thank you for the kind comments. I used a series of programs to create the imagery. Softwares like Rhino, Lumion, C4D, Adobe suites. I was also heavily inspired by film depicting future societies throughout the design process. Films such as Isle of dogs, Ghost in the shell, Final Fantasy VII and Spirited away. Even though these films were created long ago, it is still relevant in the building of our cities.
What do you feel you have learnt by undertaking this project? And is there anything you would change about it if you could?
By undertaking this project, it has helped me think more critically about the issues shrouding current day societies. As thesis in NUS is a year long project, we had to research more in-depth into the topic of our choice. This has allowed us to go beyond the surface of any issues and to come up with a brief and solution to the issue. It was a challenging task but a fruitful one. If there was anything I could change about the education was that I wish I could have started thesis in my earlier years. The amount of freedom and experimentation in design was definitely the highlight of my education.
If you could offer one piece of advice to those architecture students reading this interview what would it be?
Don't be afraid to explore, even if you failed to get on track, the struggle is part of the process in order to find the right path. And I quote Aristotle, "It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light."