How Do We Situate Ourselves Within Nature?

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How Do We Situate Ourselves Within Nature?

Lok-Kan Chau

Climate change requires action from everyone, but installing solar panels and harvesting rainwater are not enough to save our planet. The fundamental question goes beyond the technical: how do we situate ourselves within the Nature?


In contrast to industrialisation tradition where Nature is to be conquered, the oriental eco-ethical world view prefers in being with Nature. Here, Nature is considered as a transcendental flux above all creatures, to be respected and followed by Homo sapiens. This cosmic and cyclic view, almost animistic, is widely shared by ancient religions and philosophies in the East, to name a few, Buddhism in India, Moism and Taoism in China, Shintoism in Japan, and many more.
This graduation project therefore asks two questions. First, is this understanding of transcendentalism ever definable? And second, how could architecture expresses this transcendental world view?

Sited at the periphery of the urban, in front of a legally protected but currently threatened landscape reserve under a mountain of Lantau Island in Hong Kong, a low-carbon self-sustaining community is proposed. On the one hand, this activist commune challenges the recent planning injustice in Hong Kong. On the other hand, it inspires the public for an alternative possibility of living with nature. There they farm, they organize workshops, they house a library, they provide food and accommodation for hikers and villagers nearby.

Very often, decent houses in the suburb imply luxury in our profession. This project challenges by bringing in the notion of frugality and impermanence to architecture. Rammed earth walls, bamboo scaffoldings, thatching roofs, on-site stones, logs and other recycled materials are adopted for construction. Not only are they of low carbon footprint, but they also require repairing and reconstruction by the participation of the community on a regular basis, a homage to the birth, growth, decay and death of all beings.


In this project, the notion of pilgrimage is particularly relevant. Unlike a journey which can be pleasurable, pilgrimage requires commitment. The pilgrim is in search of truth and transcendence, and disciplines himself from sensual enjoyments. The materialistic and bodily poverty such as hunger, long-distance walking, the absence of comfort and lack of orientation certainty, stimulate a pilgrims’ sensitivity to the environment. In this project, the quality of pilgrimage is translated into spatial sequence, landscape formation, tectonic details and construction process: the clusters are disoriented yet directional; the ground is subtly tilted and never flat; attentions are being paid to approaches and thresholds; the labour required to repair and rebuild brings rooms for thought. Nature, therefore, is not to be consumed but to be co-existed with.


In and around the commune there is the mountain, the loneliness, the cow, the sunset, rice field, migrant birds, ponds, silvergrass, cotton tree, fireflies, bitter melons, sweet potatoes, rock streams, ruins, funerals, mud and soil. It’s a song of the Earth, an educational institution, a rite of passage back to the primitive, a horizontal building in a vertical city.


Who influences you graphically?

Jean-François Millet and Camille Corot for the perspectives and sections.


What is the effect and purpose of a monochromatic palette for line drawings?

The project is about frugality and essence. It is also about process: the birth, growth, decay and death of architecture as a homage to the impermanence of beings. The building is never finished, so the representation is methodologically incomplete. Somehow it is a paradox: on the one hand there is a very pale set of line drawings, conveying organizational logics of the proposal, on the other hand there are fully textured views and sections, to suggest spatial experience.

How could this thematic of the pilgrimage been more implement within the way the images are presented? (Sequence, book, etc)

Indeed I have an accordion book in my original exam portfolio. It shows the sequence of views. At the Bartlett we often present our portfolio in an A1 case, within it we pack presentation materials ranging from A0 to A6 in size. I find the physically printed accordion book more communicative than a digital book…

What is the reason and effect of portraying the proposal both at night and day? 

The night is often associated with death, something we cannot escape from. Death does not mean cease of life, but to be disembodied, to be molecular, to become part of the universe, to nurture the others. In the night drawings, the death of the cow echoes with the fallen tree and the building partly in ruin. All are part of the cycle of being we should embrace.

How are the images framed? What elements were key in the compositions of these?

That is a question my tutors kept asking me during the final days before submission: among the perspectives, the composition is weak. I guess it has to do with the way I worked throughout the semester: I designed the building with a 3D model together with plans and sections, back-and-forth. The perspectives came after the design is fixed – more like taking photographs of a digital model.




plan - may- portrait.3dm

new axon working.3dm

new axon working.3dm




Born and raised in Hong Kong, a southern city of China, the upper-grassroot kid managed to enroll at University of Hong Kong, where he became an exchange student at ENSA Paris-Malaquais. Just completed his postgraduate at University College London. 




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