San Francisco on Steroid

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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

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A Very Creative and Green Urinal Room

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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

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

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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

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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

Buchanan and Eddy – The “Most Dangerous” Neighborhood in San Francisco

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This one day on my way to see the Saint Mary’s Cathedral, I walked into this supposingly low-income housing project at Buahanan and Eddy streets. The streets were clean and it was a sunny day. The “architecture” there was a little dry, solely residential, un-san francisco, but it seemed okay. However I was overwhelmed by the tons of surveillance cameras and warning signs in the neighborhood. It was as if something really bad had happened many times there before. There are many things I can write about these housing projects. But what I found very interesting was that signages and installations alone can psychologically affect how people feel about a space.

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corner of buchanan st. and eddy street, san francisco

Ruins of Luk Keng Village

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Very interesting to know that villagers are eager to pull down the ruins of their hundred-year-old homes to put up completely new three-story concrete villas. Some of the villagers had let the old houses decay on purpose years ago when they left, believing that the villages and/or their descendants would one day come back and rebuild them. Their plan works.

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luk kent village, fanling, hong kong – 4:05pm, mar 29, 2013

Sunset at Ocean Beach in San Fran – A City Defined by Its Stunning Outdoor Spaces

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Before the first time I moved to San Francisco, my friend told me: “Kam, things especially housing are very expensive there. But the weather is really nice and you get to do a lot of free outdoor stuff there. They have great outdoor space in San Fran.” Well, the old me paid way much more attention to buildings than outdoor space. To me, cities were defined by their buildings in the downtown – NYC and Empire State Building; Chicago and Sears Tower; Seattle and Space Needle. And of course, San Francisco was defined by the downtown’s skyline featuring the Transamerica Pyramid.

The more time I spend in SF, the more I feel that the city is all about its open spaces – the hills, the parks and the oceans. Downtown does not really pay a big part in the locals’ life at all. In everyday conservation, people like to tell you what they have done in the parks over the weekends and what nice walk or hike they have taken. I slowly have become one of them too. Taking the dog to the Buena Vista Park which is indeed a hill and chilling out at Dolores Park have become a daily ritual to me. In the city of seven hills, it is amazing how many different vistas you get from up and down the hills.

Indeed every city has outdoor space, but not many of them are able to preserve the rustic quality of these spaces. Take Ocean Beach as an example, there is no McDonald’s, giant parking lots, tourists’ center, surf shops, hotels or any other commercial components. A beach is pretty much what you get there. The natural beauty of the beach simply touches your heart and makes you come back for more. That is what makes most San Francisco’s outdoor spaces so successful

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view to pacific ocean, with people chilling out

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ocean beach, san francisco – 5:35pm, jan 25, 2013