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Whitefella Australian learning how to be gwai lo (鬼佬) in Hong Kong

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Scaffolding the Hong Kong way...

Is this a thing of beauty?
I know I tend to blog a lot about bamboo (竹), but then it is very dear to my heart. And I've been thinking a lot about this iconic 'Hong Kong' approach to scaffolding. I'd originally thought this would be the case across the whole of China, but it's not, as a simple trip across the border to Shenzhen will prove, with all the metal scaffolding that's you see there.
It's easy to fall in love with the simple beauty of such a fundamentally functional form of construction, which is why it was so wrong to see this metal scaffolding over in Central (photo left). It's lines are too straight, too precise, too square. It lurks, blockishly, on it's square metal feet, looking like it may be there to stay. It doesn't soar, it doesn't silhouette itself against the sky, in a strange ethereal blend of nature and culture, like its bamboo cousin.
A model of a Cantonese Opera theatre
It so happens that M. and I visited an exhibition in our local neighbourhood, in the Hong Kong Discovery Centre, a little and lesser known museum in Kowloon Park, which was hosting a display about the art, or perhaps craft, of Hong Kong bamboo scaffolding. Apparently there is a long and illustrious history of this form of construction, with scaffolding being a sideline, alongside other bamboo construction projects, such as the iconic temporary theatres for Cantonese Opera. These structures are apparently all built under the eagle eye of a Master Builder, who doesn't use any plan, just working from their long sense of practical experience of designing bamboo structures, presumably through a sort-of apprenticeship model. One of the more interesting aspect of this exhibition was all the scale models (which I love!) of  different theatre buildings, showing how they are each adjusted to particular sites, with unique topographies, and according to the size needed for each theatre production. Naturally, in Hong Kong, where there is a lot of very steep land, it is particularly useful to be able to fit a building onto steep plots of land, such as a piece of rocky coastland (as illustrated in one of the models). What has always fascinated me about the bamboo structures is that they don't worry about having a flat base for each bamboo pole, where it rests on the ground, because the stability of the structure is related to the ways that it is all tied together into one stable unit. I'm sure the lightness of bamboo helps also, in making it less critical to have really solid foundations.
So having been enlightened a little about some of the history and culture of bamboo building in Hong Kong at this exhibition (there was more, but I'll spare you the details), I was fascinated to see a variety of bamboo structures being built in Hong Kong park for the Tri-ciprocal Cities exhibition. With my new understanding in mind, I was able to see how the structures had been tailored specifically to those sites, and as you can see in the photos, even the particular plants that were on the site. So instead of being a liability, the natural environment became incorporated into the structure, becoming a sort of indoor garden. Like I said, they're beautiful! I thought the exhibitions were interesting, and I learnt some things I didn't know about the Hong Kong and Taipei architecture scenes, but really I spent much of my time admiring the bamboo structures.
It all makes me curious about whether you could use such structures for temporary housing? Could you build a large structure of bamboo, with a very lightweight but waterproof wrap on the outside, and another perhaps reflective lining on the inner surface, with some low cost insulation in between, perhaps loosefill straw? I mean, you might have to watch the fire risk aspect, but it seems like you could make a large, but quite well insulated structure relatively fast, with this sort of bamboo know-how. These are the things I muse over, as I wander (行吓) around Hong Kong!

1 comment:

  1. I love the idea of you living in a bamboo scaffolding house! Wish that the scaffolding in melbourne was more aesthetic