Tonghui River Urban Laboratory


…insurgent public spaces challenge the conventional, codified notion of public and the making of space.” (Hou, Jeffrey. Insurgent Public Space: Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities. “Chapter 1, (Not) your everyday public space”. Routledge, 2010)

Forgotten spaces are forgotten only because their potential has not been realized. These spaces can be the foundations for insurgent public spaces, self-made urban spaces that range from reclaimed and re-appropriated sites, temporary events, and informal gathering places.

The strategy stems from identifying and appropriating such spaces as starting points for a larger system of urban growth. This begins with an analysis of top-down planning, via the question of how today’s urban planners approach the redevelopment of the site.

The project proposes a parallel set of strategies that work in conjunction; a participatory tactical urbanism that would enable us to approach insurgent spaces effectively.
The ingredients to a ground-up urbanism is broken into two streams: Criticism and Context. Criticism comes into contact with the local and more intimate site conditions, while Context is rooted in cultural norms and historical foundations.

The result of this parallel process is something the project imagines will result in a ‘new urbanscape’. This in turn segues into two distinct streams. In one stream, the development stabilizes, potentially becoming institutionalized and naturalized by the government; something ‘offi cial’. In the other stream, the project becomes abandoned, forgotten and obsolete; something ‘unofficial’. Together they create a balanced urbanism, both existing within the city as counterpoints to each other. As the ‘unofficial’ site approaches obsolescence, it gets re-identified as insurgent territory, which is then fed back into our parallel urban strategy.

*The project addresses programme not as a singular, unyielding thing, but as a limitless list of possibilities. The program assets are distilled into a set of four overarching hierarchies: Infrastructural, Developer Ambitions, Cultural Hotspots and Community Initiatives.

The Urban Planning Table illustrates the planning approach, a collection of infinite configurations and possibilities within the site through the appropriation of our programme matrix. The strings connect narratives together between assets to further illustrate the ideas behind the programming process.


What defined the language of representation of the project?

Even in the early stages of development, representation was really important to us. The project hinges on the idea of the human narrative, and we felt that traditional orthographic drawings lacked the ability to describe this type of narrative, in all its temporal boisterousness. Like many visions of the built environment, our project is a simulation of human life, and to describe how ordinary people experience this non-existent place, we’ve explored the hyper-real medium of comics and narrative posters.

What is your take on colour? What defined the lack of this within your images?

We were supportive of a curated use of colour, as seen in both the models and the guide book. On the opposite spectrum, we decided to let greyscale linework and shading do the storytelling in our large posters, allowing our audience to “fill in” the colours with their interpretations of the people and places represented.

Could you expand on your use of the GIF?

Time is an important dimension to this project. Our proposal occurs over decades, and to communicate the idea that the representations are not “final”, we wanted to show them in the process of creation. The three GIFs represent the three individual sites in their ‘before’ state and in a ‘progress’ state following the guidelines and design approaches of our proposal.

How important was the model in relation to the drawings? How did the two mediums reveal and explore different aspects of the project?

Models should describe what isn’t already on the drawings. Our models have two themes: time scale and urban process. The “Urban Table” is a visual simulation of an on-the-ground public feedback/workshop of meaningful sites. The fragmented city blow-up models utilize greyscale ‘exploded’ pieces of building and site changes to classify 5-year time scales.

What is your work process when constructing an image? How do you move from the analogue sketch to the digital drawing?

We believe in playing to the strengths of both analogue and digital techniques. This meant that each step requires alternating between hand and computer. Everything begins as a sketch, where we discuss content and narrative. Digital models are then used to plan and structure the posters with accurate proportion. The basic layout and structure are then manually drawn over while incorporating a finer level of detail as well as the introduction of “entourage” elements to accompany the narrative.   Finally, the computer takes over again to shade and give depth to each poster.

How important was the drawing as tool through which to develop and test the diverse situations of the project?

As a major urban intervention, the project had to straddle major infrastructural proposals and yet demonstrate their ability to support nuances of human activity. We enjoyed the feedback loop with our drawings, where we started with ideas that looked feasible and aesthetically pleasing as small sketch thumbnails. Then we delved further and started adding “firm” details, and through this process, we’d discover new stories to be told. We then took these new stories and interlaced them to fill up the large voids of our posters. The result is a series of narrative collages that explore all the issues and ideas we discussed and designed, whether it was infrastructural development or urban strategies, all of which stemmed from our interest of insurgent spaces.


Anne Ma is a Toronto based architect and illustrator with a background in architecture and computer animation. During her graduate studies at the Yale School of Architecture, she was involved as a teaching fellow in Undergraduate Design studio and Visualization and is enthusiastic about cross-disciplinary work between architecture and illustration. Following graduation in 2016, she returned to Toronto to work under Siamak Hariri. (website:

John Wan is an architect with the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore. Born and raised in sunny Singapore, he received his BSc Architecture from the Bartlett School of Architecture and his M.Arch from the Yale School of Architecture. He imagines a future where ornament, urban planning, and public-good projects intersect in a happy union.