Architecture is about spatial organization ranging from interiors of buildings to regional planning. At the heart of architecture is human occupation. The art and science of an architectural response is to make appropriate use of space and to assure the spatial strategies are towards the betterment of human occupation.
Founded in 1991, the Department of Architecture was upgraded to the School of Architecture in 2009, with a firm commitment to developing its students’ core competency and critical thinking in order to achieve design creativity and leadership that enable lasting contributions to the built environment and its community. ‘Our students are not simply trained to join the architectural profession, but educated for the future profession—with the ability to cope with inevitable changes by continuing to learn and eventually to lead,’ said Prof. Nelson Chen, Director of the School.
The core of the programme consists of six design studios structured in a sequential manner, in addition to courses in the humanities, technology, design computation and professional practice. Professor Chen added, ‘This combination provides students with the basics in preparation for their practicums in architectural firms. Studio courses are aligned with required courses to enable students to start from fundamental concepts and advance progressively to more complex issues in architectural design, culminating in a final studio that integrates previous knowledge and themes into a comprehensive capstone architectural design project.’
Helen Kwok is a graduate of the School of Architecture. She has learnt how to analyse, understand and improve the design of the built environment. ‘The first two years of my studies were like a glimpse into the discipline. In the third and fourth years, I was inspired to develop my own design idea and create my own architectural models. More importantly, I became confident enough to present my concepts to reviewers and working professionals.’
The multi-faceted pedagogical approach of the School has equipped Helen with the essentials of architecture. She learnt the history and theories of architecture from lectures and her self-paced study in the Architecture Library which is open 24/7. The wood-making workshops also gave her an idea of structure and construction. ‘The programme has benefited us tremendously with its ample learning resources—from digital fabricating in the computer laboratory, conducting site visits to acquiring urban design concepts, to desk-critiquing our design projects in the studio.’
She was deeply impressed by the design studio experience. ‘The instructors always reminded us of the importance of active participation in the entire studio learning. After all, architecture is a dialogue. An architect is also a communicator who initiates a dialogue on urban design and listens to society’s responses.’ In addition to examining precedents, Helen also engaged in processes which evolved from her own spatial experience, toward an understanding of the relationship between the spatial use and cultural context. ‘I appreciated the valuable comments from some of the guest critics. I’ve also acquired design computation skills through the use of digital 3D modelling, rendering and animation, which are very practical for architects.’
Helen enjoyed the rapport in the multicultural learning community. Some non-locals were from Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan and mainland China. She found the cross-cultural dialogues with them meaningful as their life attitudes inspired her to reflect on her own values. ‘I also appreciated the cultural sensitivity of the locals, as they were able to put their unique observations and sentiments into their designs. They sometimes addressed social issues or envisioned the future through their works.’
The School has a number of exchange programmes and joint studios with leading overseas institutions. Helen said, ‘Many classmates participated in summer travel programmes offered by the School. Travel expenses are partially offset with travel scholarship funds.’ Professor Chen continued, ‘In 2014, for example, we had a joint urban design studio with Harvard, my alma mater. The top 5-10% of our students are on a par with any from the top schools worldwide—Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Bartlett School at University College London. Colin Fournier, a visiting professor from the Bartlett, said the best students at CUHK are as good as any he had taught in the UK. Our students are devoted, hardworking and committed to social agendas.’
Professor Chen said, ‘We welcome prospective students with an innate curiosity about the world around them, especially in terms of observing and describing its physical and material aspects. They should enjoy analysing, inventing and the making of tangible, three-dimensional elements from idea to realization. They should welcome independent creative thinking, aspire to exploring and experimenting different approaches to design, while learning to present and share their ideas with others.’
The majority of CUHK’s architectural graduates continue to work in architecture or related professions after completing their master’s degrees in architecture. According to the figures provided by the School, well over 80% stay within architecture, surveying or construction. Just below 10% continue further studies such as MPhil or PhD, mostly in architecture, landscape or urbanism.
‘There is no more exceptional time and place to study and practice architecture and urban design than now in Hong Kong, situated at the heart of the region in China and Asia where 21st century cities are changing and growing with unprecedented speed and scale. Our graduates will be challenged to become both visionary and grounded in order to design buildings and cities both beautifully and responsibly while striving to shape a better world for their generation,’ Professor Chen concluded.
Published: Summer 2017
Last Updated: Summer 2018