【Meet Our Alumni】LAM Ka Wai 林嘉慧
Date & Time13.01.2021
Saving the Bishop Hill Balancing Tank – LAM Ka Wai’s prospective Master Thesis
挽救主教山配水庫 — 林嘉慧的前瞻性研究
The discovery of an underground balancing tank which was initially destined for demolition in Bishop Hill of Sham Shui Po has recently been the talk of the town. Members of the public were astounded by its unique outlook and historical significance upon its exposure. Within one day, history buffs and groups have dug up documents and shared the balancing tank’s information on social media. CUHK architecture graduate LAM Ka Wai, Shita (MArch 2018) discovered this site in 2017 while researching for her master thesis, and she eventually proposed a revitalisation plan with models, drawings and analysis for her thesis which have sparked much online interest recently. Her study has provided the much-needed materials for public discussion on conservation of this century-old site, and contributed to the halt of demolition work. To catch up with Shita, our faculty had an online chat with her to learn about her thoughts and feelings on her thesis project and recent events.
近日，深水埗主教山一座深埋地下的配水庫成為城中熱話，清拆工程開始後，市民大眾赫然發現其外觀特殊，歷史價值非比尋常。事件引起全城關注，民間積極參與討論，不足一日便發掘了大量有關配水庫的資料。香港中文大學建築學院 2018 年度建築碩士畢業生林嘉慧 (Shita Lam) 早在 2017 年底已發現該配水庫，並對它進行了詳細的研究，提出活化方案。她畢業設計作品中的大量模型、圖紙與分析，成為傳媒與網友廣泛引用的重點資訊，既推動了建築保育的熱潮，亦促使當局決定停止清拆，保留香港人共同的歷史遺產。日前林嘉慧抽空與大學時代的師友在網上談談她的近況，以及她深入研究配水庫時的想法與感受。
Z：Zhu Jingxiang (Associate Professor, School of Architecture, CUHK) 朱競翔 (香港中文大學建築學院副教授)
L：LAM Ka Wai 林嘉慧
Z: Glad to meet you again after your graduation! How would you describe what happened during these two weeks? How did you feel? 很高興再次與你見面！你會怎麼形容這一兩週的經歷或者心情？
L: On 28 December, a former colleague forwarded the news of Bishop Hill balancing tank’s discovery to me. A friend then informed the media of my thesis project and arranged an interview. It isn’t easy to describe the effect of the interview, but I kept receiving interview invitations in subsequent days. At present, I am assisting different organisations in conducting the cultural relics assessment for the balancing tank. The most important thing right now is to investigate and determine its best conservation strategy. As far as I know, some local groups also discover some other historical water supply facilities.
Z: What drew your attention to this site at that time? 你做研究時為何會發現這個地方？
L: I was researching on public space built for public housing then, as I hoped to provide a spiritual healing space for Hongkongers, especially the youngsters. There have been a lot of discussions on the development of public space in recent years, but in Hong Kong, even the space at our homes is a public space. It is hard to reflect and release negative emotions when you are so deprived of private space.
Then I noticed that there are many scattered urban hills in Kowloon, most of which are preserved for the water supply facilities. I chose Bishop Hill in the end because it’s the most tranquil site despite its hustle-and-bustle location in between Sham Shui Po and Yau Tsim Mong District. The Hill – densely planted with trees and free from pollution and noise – is actually an ideal place for any structure of spiritual space.
Z: How did you come up with the idea of utilising the open space on top of Bishop Hill? 你是怎麼想到利用主教山山頂上的空地？
L: The sky is almost invisible when you go uphill because of the thick canopy of trees, but it’s bright and open with a view unobstructed by surrounding buildings once you reach the top. There is just one large tree in the whole open space which feels very Zen.
Z: Then how did you come up with the idea to get the underground structure’s drawings from the government? 怎麼想到去政府部門拿配水庫的圖紙呢？
L: Once I confirmed that I would choose Bishop Hill as my thesis theme, I found that there’s a cavernous circular balancing tank underneath the hilltop from the map. To conduct a comprehensive investigation, I started to trace the tank. It took about two months to obtain the 1951 plan from the Water Supplies Department in January 2018. According to their reply, they are certain that the tank is a pre-war construction, but unsure of the exact construction year.
初步決定主教山為設計地點後，我從地圖上看到山頂的空地下有圓形的配水庫，為了完成完整的地域分析，便開始追查。在 2018 年 1 月，經過約兩個月的時間後，我從水務署那裡取得了 1951 年的圖則。由署方的回覆可知，配水庫只能肯定屬於戰前建築，確切年份則不詳。
Z: When you saw the 1951 plan, did you recognise the values of the balancing tank instantly? Or did it dawn on you gradually? 拿到圖紙，你當時是立刻意識到配水庫的價值，還是逐步才發現呢？
L: I was amazed once I opened the copy of the plan. It is a circular layout with arches as architectural elements. I realised at that moment that it would be my ideal design site. The circle has a significant meaning in the Buddhist mandala. It symbolises a sacred area free from intrusion and disturbance, which is also “the end” and “the beginning”. Tantric Buddhism also uses the circle as a site for meditation practice.
Z: Apart from preserving the balancing tank, what sort of revitalisation plan did you propose? 在保育之外，你當時提出了怎樣的改造建議？
L: The theme of my thesis project is heterotopia in the city, a spiritual journey which makes use of a heterogeneous space composed of water, nature and the balancing tank. The concept “heterogeneous space” originates from the philosopher Michel Foucault. Through creating a strong contrast with daily experience, individuals are stimulated to reflect on their own lives. This is actually the reason I choose the balancing tank, as it fulfils the criteria of a heterogeneous space. After all, my ultimate concern is not just about the building, but the holistic design of the process – reaching this retreat space from the city, and then returning to it afterwards. I do believe that architectural design does not just take infrastructure into consideration, but the entire spatial journey and the experience it brings to individuals. So, after studying different revitalisation plans, I eventually proposed a way of minimal interference to preserve the open hilltop area as a public space for local residents. I just have to construct a simple entrance above the balancing tank, and build four types of water meditation space by using the cavernous chamber.
我的畢業設計最終以城市中的異托邦 (Heterotopia) 為題，是一個利用水、自然和配水庫的異質空間為元素的心靈旅程。「異質空間」的概念來自於哲學家米歇爾 · 福柯，通過與日常生活經驗的強烈對比，激發人們對日常生活的反思。這也是我選擇配水庫作為最終地點的原因，因為它本身就符合了異質空間的條件。我最關注的不單是建築物本身，而是由城市進入靜修空間、再返回城市的過程，這是一個整體設計。建築設計往往並不只考慮建築物本身，而是要考慮到整個空間旅程在起承轉合中，帶給人們的整體經驗。我研究了眾多的改建設計方案後，最終提出以最少干預原有配水庫的方法，保留配水庫上的空地作為居民的公共空間。在山頂上，只需要建造簡潔的入口，利用配水庫內已被填實的空間，就可以營造四種以觀水為冥想對象的靜修場所。
Z: How did the Final Review go? 當時評圖時的反響是怎樣的？
L: Everyone’s response to my design was positive. The designer from OMA, guest critic Ms Inge Goudsmit told me that Hong Kong did not have much space of this kind, and she hoped that I could realise my ideals one day.
大家對設計的反應相當正面，OMA 的女設計師 Inge Goudsmit 寄語我，香港的確缺少這樣的空間，希望有一天我能夠在香港實踐理想。
Z: Did you have the chance to promote your proposal and its value to the public? What was their feedback? 之前有沒有機會向公眾介紹配水庫的保育價值？大家的反饋是什麼？
L: Many people expressed interest in the balancing tank at the Final Review and the subsequent exhibition. My friends of related disciplines did urge me to submit the findings to the Antiquities and Monuments Office, but it didn’t get done in the end.
Z: Do you know the lady who stopped the bulldozer? Is there anything you want to say to her? 你認識阻擋推土機的芳姐嗎？想對她說什麼？
L: She and the other local residents who stopped the bulldozers are the real heroes. Their bravery and their affection for Bishop Hill are truly moving. I want to get to know her, and thank her!
Z: What would be the best scenario regarding the future of the balancing tank? 你認為怎樣才是配水庫未來最好的發展？
L: As of now, there is no doubt that Bishop Hill balancing tank can be preserved. I personally hope that the local heritage conservation policy can be further improved, so that other related historical sites will be discovered and preserved too.
Z: Is there anything you think should be avoided regarding the future development of the balancing tank? 配水庫之後的活化發展，你認為有沒有什麼要避免的事情呢？
L: Conservation and revitalisation are different. The authorities should consider the public’s expectations and opinions and adopt a bottom-up planning approach to ensure that the final plan achieves a win-win situation.
Online discussion on conservation has pre-occupied many in the past couple of days. Personally, I would not want to convert the balancing tank into a commercial or privately-owned site. It should be open to the public for various activities. As for conservation, it is not necessary to propose new functions for a heritage site. What is more important is that we present its historical value. I think we should preserve the partially-demolished parts of the balancing tank as it is, as this has become part of its history and will serve as a potent reminder of the importance of conservation.
Z: In what way does this whole incident inspire you? 這一次社會事件有沒有給你什麼啟發呢？
L: Many locals are intelligent and resourceful, and can amass a vast wealth of information quickly. This is important for further research on the history of the balancing tank. But public sentiments come and go fast. I hope that our community members will keep caring about this issue and participate in its subsequent development in the future.
Z: What changes do you think professional or educational institutions should make? 在這次事件後，你認為專業或是教育機構可以作出怎樣的改變呢？
L: I think we need to convey this message: It is not just very old buildings, and those that were built on or above the ground, that have historical value.
Z: Are there any knowledge gap related to the balancing tank which you would like to fill? 對於配水庫，你還有沒有一些尚在思考的問題？
L: Firstly, some facilities on Bishop Hill are constructed by the local residents, which should be preserved. We shall have to deal with the functional issue of these facilities. Secondly, is the loading capacity of the original infrastructure enough? How shall we increase the loading capacity of the balancing tank, without altering its outlook and structure? Thirdly, what was the reason for combining granites and bricks during the construction of this balancing tank? Would there be any problem if only bricks were used? Fourthly, how was this entire concrete ceiling built? How was the formwork for such a large-scale structure done? The last question is: compared to the water purification infrastructure built around the same period in Taiwan, was there any particular reason that reinforcing steel bars were not used (instead, arches were built to share the load)?
Z: How did your past learning or research experience shape your interest in infrastructure and revitalising historical relics? 你是怎麼對基礎設施與活化歷史遺存產生興趣的？跟你以往的學習或研究有關嗎？
L: History was my favourite subject when I was in high school. It sparked my perception and understanding of the world and cultivated my critical thinking. It was not until I had the chance to travel abroad that I discovered that architecture could be the medium that conveys history. You can sense, and experience, history directly through an architectural piece. That is more powerful than any other kinds of records.
Z: You took quite many philosophy courses during your undergraduate study. And then you also took a master programme in philosophy. How did these benefit you? 你讀本科時修讀了很多哲學課，其後更完成了哲學碩士課程，有什麼得益呢？
L: I became interested in philosophy when I was in secondary school. At the end of my second undergraduate year in architectural studies, I applied to transfer to the Department of Philosophy. The professors there carefully reviewed my case and advised me to complete the architectural programme to secure a professional degree first. They told me I could always take a master programme in philosophy after graduation. I still remember I got the admission offer of Department of Philosophy right after the last Review of my last undergraduate course. What a wonderful fate.
Z: I heard that you completed the Shikoku Pilgrimage in Japan. How was the experience? How did it relate to your professional study? 聽說你在日本完成了四國遍路巡禮，那是怎樣的經驗？
L: The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a journey of Buddhist practice. Participants have to travel for 1230 kilometres involving 88 temples on the island of Shikoku of Japan. At that time, I adopted the most primitive travelling method – on foot – and walked for 45 days. This journey initiated my interest in Buddhism, and I recognised the importance of meditation in purifying our minds. Hongkongers, with their busy lives, are seriously lacking self-reflection time; and they always mistake others’ perception of them as their own identity.
After graduating from the Department of Philosophy at CUHK, I was doubtful if I should further my Master of Architecture study. But the Shikoku Pilgrimage allowed me a lot of time to reflect. When I went on the journey, it was during the rainy season. I always had to walk in the rain for the whole day. Whenever I encountered a wooden pavilion where I could take a rest, I would be immensely grateful. The value of an architectural piece lies not in a luxurious design, but in how it responds to the human needs – so that even the simplest wooden pavilion can feel sublime. After this Shikoku Pilgrimage, I made up my mind to return to CUHK School of Architecture to complete the Master programme. If I can make changes to the world, small as they may be, it will be enough. At the time being, I am studying another Master programme related to Buddhism in HKU. All these originated from the Shikoku Pilgrimage.
Z: Would you be interested in furthering research on Hong Kong’s historical infrastructure? 你還會繼續做香港歷史基礎設施的延伸研究麼？
L: I am interested in investigating spiritual space. Right now, I will complete my Master of Buddhist Studies first.
Z: What is your future career plan? Will you get into the academic field? 你個人對未來事業有什麼想法？會不會想繼續做研究？
L: I did have the idea to apply for a PhD. But I am still thinking about what field to study. When you touch on a new subject, you learn to observe the world with a fresh perspective. In fact, many disciplines are interrelated. Just look at the balancing tank case, if you have to study its history, you have to learn about its different aspects, including architecture, archaeology, waterworks, etc. But philosophy is the foundation of all these knowledge systems.
Z: Did you have anything to say to the current and future architecture students? 你有沒有什麼話想對現在和未來的建築系學生說呢？
L: Thesis research is of great significance to a student. It is not just an assignment, but a stage when we can explore ourselves to a great extent. Try to face yourself and believe in yourself. I will be very happy to share my experience when I get my current urgent tasks on hand done.