San Francisco on Steroid Part II

3 Aug

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looking at marin county from marina green in san francisco

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looking at kowloon peninsula from a high-rise in quarry bay in hong kong island

I truly wonder if building lots of buildings is the only key to grow a city; and if growing a city is always necessary. San Francisco doesn’t seem that bad after all.

O.M.G, I Found A Professional Skatepark Right In My neighbourhood!

27 Jul

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Well, the title said it all. I am still shocked that I never noticed this skateboard park right by where I live. The reason is that the park is enclosed by tall walls and it is right behind a big warehouse-type building. And they never advertise about the park. I discovered it when I saw skateboarder “flying” in the sky when I was on my way to visit the old walled villages.

I have always found the “concrete bowls” in skateboard parks simply fascinating. The curving concrete forms all kinds shapes and voids like someone is scooping the wet concrete with an ice-cream scoop. This monolithic and perfectly smooth surface with the long metal trims has presented a very star-war-like futurisitc landscape. Too bad I didn’t get a chance to walk inside the bowls! But I enjoyed watching the skateboarders making all kinds of circles and jumps along the walls of the bowl. Architecturally, It is amazing how the bowls totally respond to the needs of the skateboarders, and vice versa. Not many arenas actually derive their forms from the “actions” they serve.

I know I have been very critical of Hong Kong. But this time I have to say I am pleased. I don’t live in the “postcard Hong Kong” and still there is a skatepark that the guys there actually told me they consider it the best one in Hong Kong, and their friends would take the bus here to use it. Interestingly, these guys actually opened a skateboard shop in the nearby building a few months after the park opened. It is called H.K.S.B.C. and it’s pretty cool.

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inside the H.K.S.B.C. store

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logo of the store

fanling skatepark, on lok mun st. playground, fanling,north district, hong kong – jul. 27, 2013

San Francisco on Steroid

20 Jul

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When I was living in San Fran, I could really feel I was living in a city of hills and valleys. I was quite amazed that people decided to build a city on these hills. The longer I thought about that, I started to realise that I grew up in the North District in Hong Kong which is an area of hills too. But somehow I never really noticed the hills, why is that?

Well, in San Fran, I actually “see” the hills every day, but in Hong Kong, the hills are blocked by the super tall buildings. These buildings form layers of walls and totally block the view to the hills. You can totally understand that what I mean from the photo above taken from my window. I live on the 18th floor already and still I don’t see much of the hills! I guess there should be a height limit set for the buildings and the buildings should be placed on a grid so people can have a view when they look in between the buildings.

sheung shui, hong kong – jun 30, 2013

A Very Creative and Green Urinal Room

17 May

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Today I came across the coolest private “pee-only” room I have ever seen. In this little room, this whole system is installed on the back wall. It was shocking to me that the “sink” sits right on top of the “metal urinal”. After you finish your business down in the urinal, when you wash your hands, the water from hand-washing would run directly down to the urinal underneath to “flush” it. Amazing! This is a good design that recycles greywater immediately. I learned something really smart today.

organic tofu desert place and factory at ho sheung heng, sheung shui, hong kong – may 17, 2013

Crime Against Design – Hong Kong Subway Map vs London Subway Map

3 May

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hong kong subway map

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london subway map

The London underground (subway) map has always been praised as a masterpiece of graphic design. I used it myself many times in London and it did successfully instruct me how to get to where I need to be. It is not only pretty and colourful in a good way, it has also amazingly simplified a very complicated London’s underground system into a clear map that can be understood by any person with a reasonable working brain size.

There are many little tricks that help make this map so easy to work with. First, the map only shows you how you can use the tubes (underground) to get to your destination, it really doesn’t tell you the actual distance or real direction your destination is. It makes sense since you are using the tubes and not driving or walking. Second, every line is laid out at flat or at a 45 degree angle, and always at a 45 degree angle with a smooth transition between any two intersecting lines. Strangely, it does help people read the map better. I guess the normal brains still don’t believe a train can do a 90 degree turn yet. Third, the map uses this simple dot to tell you where is a station that you can get off or change to a different line. And if there two dots at the same station connected with a line (like a dog bone) that means you have a do a little walking to change line.

What about the subway map in Hong Kong? Darwin claimed that evolution happened to animals. I guess it happened to “things” too. While London subway started in the mid 19th century and the Hong Kong started in late 20th century, people may assume the subway map in Hong Kong would have well evolved into perfection. It is indeed very unfair to make such an assumption. The Chinese were still smoking opium 100 years ago and the British dumped Hong Kong in 1997. The Hong Kong subway so called MTR was returned to the hands of the ex-opium smokers and no wonder the subway map now ends up looking disastrous.

Alright, let’s take a look and fairly examine what crime has been done against good design in Hong Kong, the number 1-asian-world-class city. The first image shown on this blog are parts of the real thing that you will see when you are standing in the MTR. Well, this map is a total chaos for a first timer. First when there are 2 dots placed right next to each other, do the dots actually refer to the same station? Or are there 2 real stations for the same destination but each for a different line physically placed next to each other? Actually there is only 1 station with multiple floors “most of the time” where there are 2 dots.

Second, while some lines go side by side, and some are only 4 mm apart. So what’s the deal? Well silly foreigners, the 4 mm actually refers to a harbour about 5000 feet wide. So don’t even think you can get off one station on one side of the 4 mm and walk to the other side. The old MTR map did have some kind of relationship regarding distance and relative locations of where the stations were. But after the MTR system evolved into a much bigger system, they can’t handle the new design of the map and the map just fell apart.

Third, what is the difference between a short skinny black line and long skinny dash black line? Since I have been there, I can tell you the line means you can walk from one station to another. But why one is dashed and one is not? I guess because the dash black line looks better than a un-dash black line when it is kind of long, so why not?

Fourth, why are some line are cut off? Well, they are cut off because there is not enough wall space, LOL. Where do they go? Well, you will find out when you get there. Don’t expect to find a complete map on the train. If you don’t know where it takes you, you probably don’t live there and shouldn’t go there. Just go where the shoppings are! Other than these chaoses, I am not going to give a critique regarding the aesthetic of the map, I bet you know it yourself.

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hong kong subway map

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london subway map

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old london subway map

all photos from http://www.google.com

How Would Christopher Wren Have Arranged for Margaret Thatcher’s Funeral?

17 Apr

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photo from http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2013/04/17/world/europe/20130418-THATCHER-7.html

In 1666, the old St Paul’s cathedral in London was severely damaged by the Great Fire. The king’s chief surveyor, Christopher Wren, took this opportunity to build the new St Paul’s which currently stands. Probably inspired by the domes of the Pantheon and the St Peter’s, Wren designed the new cathedral with this mega dome. To present the domed space in its full grandeur, the design of the floor patterns, the altar, the columns and all the niches around the circular space have been specially detailed to work with the dome. The result is that when a person is standing underneath domed space, he can actually feel it, see it and even hear the whisper of the dome.

Looking at this photograph of Margaret Thatcher’s Funeral at the St Paul’s taken underneath the dome, I started to wonder how would Wren have arranged the chairs for this very important ceremony. I am not a hundred percent sure, but my guess is he would have wanted the coffin be placed right underneath the center of the dome which is also the center of the circular floor pattern (the sun). The lines of chairs would have been arranged in a radial pattern, like ripples from the sun. In a way, paying tribute to Margaret Thatcher at her funeral was indirectly paying respect to the old British Empire. The dome has portrayed this empire once the center of the world and on which the sun never sets. Now that I have thought about the meaning of the dome’s center, it got me to think that this strategic and ceremonial spot may probably be reserved for someone even more important than a prime minister. The locations of everything is suddenly justified.

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photo from http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2013/04/17/world/europe/20130418-THATCHER-10.html

st paul’s cathedral, london – apr 17, 2013

Berkley’s Main Street, Block Party and Parade

15 Apr

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Last summer I went to this really cool main street parade in Berkley, a suburb of Detroit. They basically closed off the whole downtown portion of the main street for the Berkley Parade. Although it wasn’t my first time going to a main street festival, when I was watching how these old cars moving from one end to the other, I started to think about how amazing these main streets are for these gridded cities like Berkley.

Unlike cities with piazza or squares, most gridded cities in Michigan have no one single point of focus. Instead they have a long line of main street that joins things together. When compared with a public square, the disadvantage of a main street is that you cannot quite have a big event or festival easily because the main street accommodates both foot and car traffic. I kind of believe that that’s how Americans invented this thing called “block party”. A block party is basically a street getting closed off on its two opposite ends so no car traffic can go through. As a result you can occupy the whole street and use it as a linear piazza temporarily. This is actually very smart because the grid system of the American cities allows you to block off as long a street as you want, depending on your party’s size and need.

If a square or a circular piazza is prefect for a center-focused event like a circus or a music show, a main street would be more suited for a linear type of event that can incorporate the notions of time and movement like a music score. What’s better than a parade for that purpose? Using buildings on main street as a backdrop, parade proudly showcases the community’s achievement all the way from one end of the street to the other other end. Maybe that;s why parades have become so popular in Michigan at least.

I especially liked the Berkley Parade because I was with my best friend, but also I enjoyed seeing the few blocks of Berkley’s Main Street through the sun set. It was an amazing experience particularly at the end when people along the blocks gathered outside the Berkley Theatre for a little music time. The “line” becomes a “dot”.
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berkley parade along twelve mile road by robina ave., berkley, michigan – 7:10pm, aug 18, 2012

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