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drops ISSN 2175-6716


Common Ground intends to reconnect architects, both with each other and to the wider public and to expand the debate on how we jointly shape our shared built environment

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LAW, Christopher; PILE, Jonathan; HUI, Desmond; LAM, Sada; BRUCE, Patrick. Inter Cities / Intra Cities. Ghostwriting the future. Drops, São Paulo, year 13, n. 059.05, Vitruvius, aug. 2012 <>.

David Chipperfield has chosen his title, Common Ground, for its double meaning: shared ideas / shared territory. He hopes to reconnect architects, both to each other and to the wider public and to expand the debate on how we jointly shape our shared built environment. In Hong Kong this double meaning has added poignancy. The phrase ‘one country, two systems' is a maxim constantly under interrogation. To what extent does Hong Kong retain a different system, and how does this different system envisage the involvement of its citizens in shaping their future?

Can Hong Kong find new ways simultaneously to maintain the commercial momentum that has made it the success it is today whilst engaging its citizenry more fully, enabling diverse, culturally rich, more sustainable ways of living in years to come? Can it retain an independent identity whilst simultaneously becoming just one of a number of population ‘nodes' in the wider Pearl River Delta conurbation?

Two new large-scale development opportunities in the very centre of Hong Kong mean these questions have never been more pertinent. Together the proposed new West Kowloon Cultural District and the southeast Kowloon regeneration area constitute one of the largest redevelopment projects in the world. The Oval Partnership's Hong Kong exhibition at the Venice Biennale 2012 focuses on projects, both real and speculative, for one of these areas, South East Kowloon, the redevelopment of which became feasible following the departure of Kai Tak Airport in 1998, and has been the subject of heated debate ever since.

This is a major redevelopment, a reinvention of a large part of the city, and the Oval Partnership believe it is a fascinating place to postulate and observe how the new architectural culture of a consumerist, investment intensive, super-connected, high density but socio-politically only half-awakened city, might evolve. In formulating our position in these very particular circumstances the Oval Partnership draw as much on Kant's definition of Common Sense – sensus communis – as notions of Common Ground, thus: "…we compare our judgement not so much with the actual as rather with the merely possible judgements of others, and [thus] put ourselves in the position of everyone else..." (1).

As curators we became ghostwriters, threading stories from past, present and future through real and speculative propositions for the South East Kowloon development area, and beyond: cutting and pasting, juxtaposing and re-contextualising. We saw this as a way of conjuring memory and individual experience into an abstract master plan, as a way of furthering local debate and dialogue, and as a way of celebrating both its past and the unofficial, new ad hoc inhabitation of this rapidly changing area.

Successful cities are permissive, embracing a spirit of multiplicity and difference, of subversion and invention. Without the underground, the semi-legal and the anti-authoritarian, cities become sterile and predictable. Biologically dead.

We present both the official, large-scale new uses proposed for South East Kowloon, and the unofficial, unplanned, locally generated activities that occupy the cracks and crevices in between. These, with a little water, might flower into a rich meadow.


This article is the curatorial statement of the exhibition organized by Hong Kong Institute of Architects and Hong Kong Arts Development Council as collateral event at the 13th International Architecture Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia.

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement

about the authors

Christopher Law, Jonathan Pile, Desmond Hui, Sada Lam, Patrick Bruce are partners of the Oval Partnership, architecture office established in Hong Kong in 1992 by Christopher Law and Patrick Bruce with branches in China and the UK.



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original: english




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