To Agonize: The Free Market Manifesto
What if the city center lies back onto the market instead of any financial business hubs? What if the market could self-brand itself into a tourist and citizen hotspot?

By expanding and redesigning Shek Kip Mei Market, this project challenges the idea of a decentralized marketing space where noactual management is needed to maintain order from vendors. The design first solves previous issue on fragmentation, ventilation and hygiene; then uses a range of techniques including the reshuffled node-foci (inspired by Richard Senett’s Buildings and Dwellings), hierarchical landmarking, more and pause spaces, non-place redefined and sunken centers to help shape a local community.

This design explores the longevity of soft city by proposing a poetic and chaotic landmark that is defined by the people, but not the building. An open democratic urbanism that allows citizens to live with conviviality and safety whilst maximizing spatial definition and social interactions. “Agonism” should not be avoided in a community; a community will only become better when people start to discuss and argue, so compromising and understanding each other will build on trust and bonds. A truly “free market” is defined by the people, not the economy.

The project was developed at the University of Hong Kong.

KOOZ What prompted the project?

BBW Our city is in an urgent need of convivial empowerment. When the status quo seismically limits our imagination to a freeful future, many are so pessimistic that they lose motivation to continue their livelihood. As much as this increases the effect on the aging community, higher migration rate and lower birth rate; the city could look prosperous as it is, but dead inside. Neoliberalism and capital will not bring hope to a community but despair, the awakening of a community requires the bond between people with trust, love and actions. What is better than having a new landmark to reactivate a community, so that new defined spaces are shared and dominated by the people and not by the towers of reflected glass?

One of the communities that need more of our attention is Shek Kip Mei. Unlike its neighbouring batches of Tang Lou in Sham Shui Po (which will usually draw most attention during discussion on community design, gentrification, urban poverty and slum etc.) or Kowloon Tong (a zone encompassing top local billionaires and prestigious institutions), Shek Kip Mei (SKM) often was camouflaged without much concern to its situating issues. It is up until the rebranding of the SKM Factory Estate into JCCAC (as known as Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre, funded by Hong Kong Jockey Club and established in 2005) where local creatives and artists were invited to the community, has it starting to bring in more community events and activities to serve those surrounding tenants. However, the space of JCCAC is often criticized by poor bureaucratic management, enclosed infrastructure and their lack of consistent engagement with the elderlies and children. Because of the limited space, opportunities and fundings for artists to extend their projects within the community, Shek Kip Mei is still facing an aging community without proper care.

KOOZ What questions does the project raise and which does it address?

BBW My project aims to revitalize Shek Kip Mei into a more inviting and welcoming space for locals or even tourists to explore. Looking up on aerial, the planning of Shek Kip Mei is less restricted by the grid fabric of Sham Shui Po - its special landscape surrounded by Garden Hill and Bishop hill has given its irregular arrangement on plan. So instead of proposing a new masterplanning that is highly structured with too many restrictions, boundaries and definitions of space, why not do it the opposite way?

One of the major questions we’d like to address is the possibility of revival architectural autonomy, or even further to “landscape autonomy”. When we precisely look at the differences and similarities of Bernard Tschumi and Rem Koolhaas’ Parc de la Villette proposal, they both shared autonomous elements within the space, however they differ in language. With majorly red follies dispersed linear across the landscape, Tschumi built with vibrant spectacles to provide orientations and limitations; while Koolhaas’ proposal provided a more holistic and algorithmic driven spectacle (i.e dystopian elements layered together as a self-explanatory infrastructure), both of the design challenges the limit of architectural autonomy. Disregarding their success or so, “autonomous” designs often limit users by their invisible restrictions through cognitive recognition of uncrossed boundaries, just as Aldo van Eyck encourages playgrounds settled next to vehicular roads to teach children to be aware of ground level traffics and requires their parents to have higher attention to their kids safety.

Our project is looking towards this paradigm of free-shaped landscape, by layers of “invisible design” listed down below.

KOOZ How does the project explore and re-interpret Richard Senett's "Buildings and Dwellings"?

BBW Senett’s book is such an inspiration for me as its eye-opening narrative to a new way of thinking about the differences between the builders and the dwellers (so to speak the architect and the tenants). One of the most significant failures of mismatch is the Pruitt-Igoe project where the expectations from the designer (not to say its Minoru Yamasaki’s fault, but more as a failure from the whole local and federal government) and the users from old ghettos and slums. By understanding more of past’s failure, Senett proposes the idea of the “Five Open Forms” where he talks about five crucial points when planning a community centre (or any open public spaces); including “Agora and Pnyx, to be aware of the creation of synchronic and sequential spaces”, “Monumental and Mundane Markers”, “Porous, creating urban membrane like “borders” for different social class, culture and age groups interaction but not closed boundaries”, “The art of type-form, unfinished structures for tenants customizations that fits their needs” and finally “Seed-planning, to design a Cite like a Ville, or so to design not through master-planning but in a mixture of tiny pieces that cordially creates an open system”.

These five ideologies have all been adapted to the designed environment, such as that the simultaneous juxtaposition of Synchronous and Sequential spaces are manifested between the open market activities below, and the open discussion forum and its upper residential complex. The urban fabric is porous and membranes like that, although are often separated by road traffic, invites users to access its space with interactions across all orientations. Much like a ville with Senett’s theory of the “Street Smart” (meaning that those who are used to a district or zone will always gain access to instinctive knowledge or immediate sense of danger), the shop arrangement although is randomly (or freely according to each vendor’s will) positioned, the street’s topography is paved and designed to limit their boundaries and forms; so as long as the visitors are used to the pavement arrangement, they could slowly obtain “street smarts” languages within the space that differs their travel time and routine with the amateur visitors. But it is not only Senett’s book that I’ve been highly referencing throughout my work. Another paper that emphasizes “human infrastructure” by Simone AbdouMaliq is also crucial to my theory. There it mentioned, “State administrations and civil institutions have lacked the political and economic power to assign the diversity of activities taking place within the city (buying, selling, residing, etc.) to bounded spaces of deployment, codes of articulation, or the purview of designated actors. […] cities survive largely through a conjunction of heterogeneous activities brought to bear on and elaborated through flexibly configured landscapes.” and also, “A specific economy of perception and collaborative practice is constituted through the capacity of individual actors to circulate across and become familiar with a broad range of spatial, residential, economic, and transactional positions. […] The potential thickness of social fields becomes the thickness of definitions and classifications engineered by various administrations of legibility and centers of decision making.” These are some key quotes forming my narrative to the proposal of recentering a city landmark back to the people, and to the local market.


KOOZ How does the architecture respond to the ambitions of establishing an "open democratic system"?

BBW In order to fulfill spatial autonomy in an open democratic system, the design decodes anarchic space through several layer for “place-making”, which are: existing (to preserve part of the current layer fabric), facilitating (agencies for essential uses), neutralizing and agonizing (spaces that stops or invites social interactions in booth positive and negative ways). Here are more explanation below:

Defined by Ackbar Abbas, “Deja Disparu” renders the feeling that what is new and unique about the situation is always already gone, and we are left holding a handful of clichés, or a cluster of memo-ries of what has never been. It is as if the speed of a current event is producing a radical desynchronization. Empowering the state of “hyphenation” at a political level, conserving building type-forms will help hold on to memories of the past. Especially to the elderlys who’s been living in the community for over half a decade or longer, a building identity protects their insecurity from being rejected by the city. Restoring one’s comfort zone is nearly impossible if things are demolished at once. The existing wet market framework, and the upper public rental housing is kept. While jogging pavings, or extended balconies are added in the space, most of the building shape and function preserves similar features from the past, with a few “upgrades” and solutions for the past issues.

Although the space is (almost) totally free of control, which indicates that vendors are allowed to own any space as they are licensed in the market. Facilities are additional elements to support their as well the customers’ needs. Supply and services such as the drop-off area and storage unit allows vendors to temporarily save their products safely: and that recycling units and food disposal machines also provide a selection of methods to control refuse and waste. This layer of fabric supports the Goods & Service narrative by adding in placemaking elements (including branded identities, signages and entrance broadcasting or pavin tactiles) in order to upgrade the market’s bargaining power, serving as the district local business centre.

This layer serves as a neutralizing agency within “agonistic” spaces. A set of barricades (or borders) are placed momentarily on site. By adding in design such as the sloped ramp hill and the arcade cor-ridors, “borders” essentially prevent vendors and stalls from over-extending. The borders are porous, “they function like cell membranes, with a dynamic tension between porosity and resistance). One could easily imagine sitting down these slopes, or drawing up the Lennon wall, playing around the shadow of the arcade; whilst vendors could take advantage of the spaces by positioning themselves nearby as mini focal points.

A question originally raised by Chantal Mouffee, agonistic spaces suggests that public spaces are never “smooth” (there is no linear nor specific categorization) and that social hegemony is “blundered” (or compromised/ prevailed in Mouffee’s words) i.e No one will be able to claim a public space and declare him/herself a winner/owner.

This also denies an antagonistic political thinking, meaning that the decision making between conflicts are no longer bounded by a true or false (or choose 2 from 1). The people within agonistic spaces (public spaces) will create conflicts and fights, however will also establish a balance because of this. Most of the market spaces are purposefully designed to embrace these scenarios, accompanied by the aforementioned programmes.

Our project is looking towards this paradigm of free-shaped landscape, by layers of “invisible design”.

KOOZ How does the community benefit from the intervention on both the short and long term?

BBW I think as long as the community can keep up with its conviviality and energy, the space will forever be celebrated. One would know that wet markets and grocery stores are essential to our daily life, the intervention is expecting a constant flux of visitors daily as part of their everyday life routine. But it is definitely important not to overlook the importance of weekly or special activities and events within the space to keep up with its impact to the outsiders and its attention to the community. So making this intervention as a festival must-go, or outdoor concert or competition events will surely add a layer of bonus to it.

KOOZ What is the power of the architectural imagination?

BBW Community design is not just a trend but is vital to a better future, regardless of the regime, the changes and indifferences. This could be a starting point to reconsider the impact of the market in our daily lives and the importance of preserving much public space for more social interactions of the related communities.


Bryan Bvyn Wong is the founder of Z5SSP, a multidisciplinary studio focused on fashion, film and architectural production. He is graduating from the University of Hong Kong BA (Landscape Studies) this year and is currently funded by HKU on a research project related to Modernologio, Fashion Urbanism and City Image of Sham Shui Po.

26 Nov 2021
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