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.
What questions does the project raise and which does it answer?
The project raises the question on “why should we constrain ourselves to traditional norms if it restricts and cause unhappiness in our modern day society”. It tackles the Chinese traditional practice of storing the ashes in columbariums which is proven to be a daunting tasks in high density societies like Hong Kong or Singapore.
How would you define public space within the context of Hong Kong?
There is a general lack of open public space in Hong Kong due to the increase in density and where many of these spaces are catered towards the private rather than the public. With the lack of open spaces, it would impact the well being of the city and thereafter the people. Henceforth, the proposed project provides a space where the general public co exists with the process of the sky burial ceremony. In hopes of bridging the gaps between the need of public space and the negative stigma that death brings bad luck.
How and to what extent is this privatised or publicly owned? What are the repercussions on the type and quality of these spaces?
The entire development would be a government owned facility. In a sense, this is a rather idealised version of how the state could interject into the capitalistic forces in Hong Kong to provide a basic public good for its society. Why should we capitalise on how we dispose of the death when it is the basic natural cycle of the human life. The resultant of this would be the shift towards how we could properly handle thr disposal of corpses rather than towards how to make as much monetary profit as possible from the people.
With prices and waiting times set to increase in the next few years, how important will alternative solutions as yours be in the redesigning of death?
At the current, many countries are experimenting with different forms of burials rather than storing ashes in columbariums. If prices continue to rise, it would leave the common people with no chance of owning a space in the columbariums. Therefore, these alternative solutions would be important to tackle this issue. However, how do we curate the whole process has to be designed carefully as it would re-shape the future practice in dealing with death. And how one deals with death itself is highly intertwined with the culture of the society.
How did you approach the design of this new space within the urban fabric of the city? What were the main parameters you chose to work with?
The old Kai Tak airport was the only runway of Hong Kong (officially closed in 1998), there is a sense of nostalgia for the Hong Kongers who have lived through that period. The site is special because was the main entry point to the world. In that sense, it was the gateway for Hong Kong.
What tools did you use in the development of the project?
Photoshop, Rhino, Lumion, C4D, AfterEffects
What informed the choice of mediums through which the project is revealed?
I was 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 role does the video play in communicating and sharing the speculation compared to the drawings?
The animation portrays the journey of the grieving and allows the individual to experience the whole process.
I felt that the animation would be a better medium to show the ceremonial qualities, sense of space as well as the emotions of the individuals.
What is for you the strength of the image as a means to expand an architectural concept from our realm beyond to the social and political systems?
All paper architecture is crucial in shaping the way we perceive the social and political climate of our society. It is utterly vital to be able to think critically about a certain issue and to carefully design the approach in order to give depth and foundation towards the concept. This must be achieved before an image can be successful to proliferate the idea. With an impactful image, it would spur new ideas beyond architecture. And hopefully, my project would achieve that level of influence.
What is for you the architect's most important tool?
The architects most important tool is his/her hunger for knowledge as well as the constant need to question our established practice and built environment. How can we keep pushing ourselves to a better future for the world.
However, we should also not think too highly of ourselves. We are not god.
Yu Heng graduated with a Masters in Architecture at the National University of Singapore. He did multitude of internships in Singapore as well as abroad.
He is a photographer / visual artist as well as a junior architect based in Tokyo.