Tidal Urban Architecture

Inducing Anthropogenic Ecology in Deep Bay

Joshua Wai Hon Lam
MArch thesis 2018

This thesis speculates on a tidal anthropo-ecology that is generated via an architecture-nature reciprocity. Instead of perpetuating the clichéd human-nature dichotomy, a porous ‘ecological’ architecture is inaugurated to induce a ‘natural’ ecology that in turn completes a tidal urban architecture.

Anthropocene marks the geological age of unprecedented man-made alteration to the earth’s surface. The resulting extent of artificial landscape exceeding that of ‘untouched’ natural ones urges us to deal with the consequences of anthropogenic effects.

Deep Bay, which separates Hong Kong and Shenzhen on the west side, has an intertidal ecology ‘contaminated’ by residual pollutants of Shenzhen’s recent urbanization, and also shaped by land reclamation and cultivation. Tidal dynamics and the PRD’s estuarine sedimentation dominate the bay’s shallow mudflat ecology. The Mai Po wetlands, an important habitat for migratory birds (together with the Inner Deep Bay Ramsar site), is the best natural reserve in Hong Kong. Yet paradoxically, Mai Po’s ecology feeds on man-made effects on the environment: fish and shrimp cultivation and the abundant particulate organic compounds from the PRD’s industrial and urban metabolism. In recent decades, Deep Bay’s accelerated sedimentation is threatening to dry up Hong Kong’s precious ecological reserve, necessitating intervention in the vicinity.

Manipulating Deep Bay’s rich intertidal sediment would channel nutrients that support organisms and crustaceans, eventually attract migratory birds, thereby enriching the bay’s entire tidal ecology. Strategically placed, porous architectural interventions are proposed to induce sedimentation at designated locations. This thesis envisions an anthropogenically induced habitat at the regional scale of Deep Bay that would supplement, regulate and eventually ameliorate the existing benthic and aviary ecosystems of Mai Po, and in turn contributing to the migratory bird and global ecology. Unprecedented modes of human habitation informed by this anthropo-ecology give rise to a new paradigm of tidal urbanism.

As an architectural threshold to this emerging tidal urbanism, a tidal gallery-cum-laboratory is established to measure the tidal force and ecology with both scientific objectivity and concrete experience. Tidal transience curates a lower gallery of ephemerality, whose spaces and shifting grounds register the tidal changes. Laboratory spaces gauge, and landscape interventions measure the growing sedimentation landscape induced by architecture, enabling visitors and dwellers to probe into than evolving habitable landscape. In time, when the natural mudflats thrive after decades, the tidal architecture decays and becomes obsolete. Nature makes architecture, and continues to remake it until the end of its life.

The notion of natura naturans, meaning nature as continuously remade, anchors contemporary urban ecology. Building on the anthropogenic origin of Deep Bay’s ecology, the thesis design demonstrates that architecture too can be understood as a state of “architectura architecturans” in our age of Anthropocene. Incomplete in itself; architecture is completed by nature.


HKIA Cross-Strait Architectural Design Symposium and Awards 2019 Student Category honourable mention



RIBA President’s Medal 2018: Part 2 Dissertation nomination

Nature within: Nature-culture composite of the built environment

Anthropocene, the geological age of unprecedented domination of man-made landscape, necessitates our reconsideration of the clichéd human-nature dichotomy in the realm of built environment. From inter-disciplinary research to intellectual insights, case studies to ecological landscape, the built artefact as a porous threshold is found to retain dynamic natural flows that enable ecology to thrive. The man-made can thus induce Nature in the Anthropocene. 


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