School of Architecture, CUHK

Black Book 2018-19

Message from the Director

Ambidextrous [am-bi-dek-struh s] adjective
Able to use both hands equally well (Cambridge English Dictionary)

Every six years, our School of Architecture, like all the academic departments and schools at CUHK, is subject to an intensive academic audit by a Visiting Committee. Last spring, it was our turn again. Despite the considerable time and energy expended in preparation and presentations, it was a valuable exercise for us as a school – faculty, staff, students, alumni – to reflect deeply on what we are doing and why we are doing it.

When asked by the Visiting Committee the most important quality aspired for our students, it was challenging to come up with a satisfactory short answer. Design excellence? Critical thinking? Technical competence? Digital literacy? Social commitment? All of the above?

Ultimately, my response is for our architecture students to be ambidextrous. Not literally in the sense of being able to use both left and right hands equally well – though, think of the time saved to draw up your final presentations if you were! But, rather, being ambidextrous in engaging both left and right brain attributes – left brain being the centre for verbal, logical, analytical, numerical, rational, thinking; right brain for visual, intuitive, creative, spatial, perceptive, feeling.

There may be no other discipline and profession than architecture that demands both left and right brain capabilities in comparable measure. But, who since Leonardo da Vinci can claim to be equally brilliant in both? This may explain, in part, why architecture is so challenging and demanding to learn, to teach, to practice and (most likely never) to master.

Thus, as students, teachers and practitioners of architecture, we must strive to be ambidextrous; not to be satisfied with design as simply form-making, or singly parametric, or solely sustainable at the exclusion of other requirements. But, being well versed in both the creative/innovative and the pragmatic/technical demands of architecture and building.

It has been said that “design is where art and science break even.” Architecture succeeds where our left and right brains intersect; where research informs design; where critical thinking leads to creative insight; and where design excellence, social commitment and environmental stewardship are mutually achieved in architectural designs that will last.


Prof. Nelson Chen, FAIA FRIBA FHKIA
Professor of Practice in Architecture
Director, School of Architecture

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