Message from the Director
My warmest congratulations to all the graduates of the Master of Architecture professional degree programme of the Class of 2016. This is a significant year in the history of our School of Architecture at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, which was launched in October 1991 and soon followed by the inaugural graduating class in June 1997. So, yours is the 20th class of M.Arch. graduates of CUHK. By the end of this year, we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of our School.
For our graduating students, we celebrate your academic achievements as represented by your final year thesis projects, including the annual Grad Show public exhibition and this publication, both of which have been entirely conceived, organized, edited and funded by yourselves – a truly ambitious undertaking. No doubt there must have been some sleep-deprived nights and anxiety-filled moments throughout the past few years of your architectural education.
But, now, the hard part begins! As you enter the profession to serve the needs of society, you will no longer be students designing for yourselves, but professionals designing for others. In fact, that should be understood as a natural transition. For, if you design for only yourself, you may consider yourself an artist. When you design for others, you are becoming an architect.
As I have noted previously, there is no more exceptional time and place to practice architecture and urban design than now in Hong Kong, China and Asia, where our 21st century cities are changing and growing with unprecedented speed and scale. To highlight this point, in China for the three-year period from 2011 to 2013, a staggering 6.6 gigatons of cement was produced for use in concrete for building construction. (Note: a gigaton is one billion tons.) By comparison, in the US, only 4.5 gigatons of cement were produced – for the entire 20th century from 1901 to 2000!
At the end of the day, it is quality of design that matters, not just quantity of construction. Amidst this unprecedented construction, how does the world elevate millions out of poverty without destroying the environment? Here in Hong Kong, we face our own serious economic and social issues that require urgent attention. Can we really claim to be a world class city when 1 million out of our 7 million residents live below the poverty line? And, when housing is so unaffordable that the price-to-income ratio (viz., ratio of median house price to median family annual income) is 19.2 – four or five times higher than in the US (3.7), Japan (3.9), Canada (4.2), UK (4.6) or Singapore (5.0), to list only a few examples?
As our society becomes increasingly polarized by economic imbalances, social injustices and broken politics, what is the role of architecture? To refer to Simone Weil’s definition of art – architecture, too, can be seen as “the symbol of the two noblest human efforts – to construct and to refrain from destruction.”
My hope and expectation for all of you is to enter the profession with humility and a commitment to learn even more while being informed by the core competency and critical thinking gained during your education at CUHK, so that you will eventually design buildings and cities with respect for the environment and for human needs. As future architects, try to become the change agents that help shape a better world for the future we all want to see, by working with passion and purpose, integrity and sensitivity, courage and conviction. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Finally, there will be at least three things you need to be successful as an architect: talent, discipline and luck. From my perspective, many of our graduates have already demonstrated a great amount of talent and discipline to succeed in our challenging and rigorous architectural programme. So, all that remains for me is to wish you the best of luck, and may God bless you all.
Prof. Nelson Chen, FAIA FRIBA FHKIA
Professor of Practice in Architecture
Director, School of Architecture
The Chinese University of Hong Kong