Forum on Hygiene and Control

Urban space, healthcare, history and the current pandemic


6 June 2020,

10:30am – 1:00 pm

HKIA Premises

Edited by: Ian Tan, Charmaine Hui


Weijen Wang  王維仁 (WW)

Editorial Director

Professor, HKU Architecture

Thomas Chung  鍾宏亮 (TC)

Chief Editor

Associate Professor, CUHK Architecture


Corrin Chan  陳翠兒 (CC)

Vice President, HKIA

Director, AOS Architecture

Joel Chan  陳祖聲 (JC)

President, HKIUD / Director, P&T

Edward Ng  吳恩融 (EN)

Professor, CUHK Architecture

Tony Ip  葉頌文 (TI)

Director, Tony Ip Green Architects

Sylvia Lam  林余家慧 (SL)

Director of Architectural Services,

Architectural Services Department

Bernard Lim  林雲峯 (BL)

Principal, AD+RG

Ronson Lui  雷卓浩 (RL)

Director, Wong Tung & Partners Limited

Paul Mui  梅鉅川 (PM)

Director, Bread Studio

Eunice Seng  成美芬 (ES)

Associate Professor, HKU Architecture

Jin-yeu Tsou  鄒經宇 (JT)

Professor, City U Architecture

Tao Zhu  朱濤 (TZ)

Associate Professor, HKU Architecture

The disruption caused by Covid-19 has, among other things, led to both architectural professionals and the public asking what role architecture and the planning of urban space should play in curbing pandemics. This forum featured a discussion between architectural professionals and scholars on the design of a healthy city and also the Good City. Interweaving with the theme of hygiene, we also examined different control measures used by authorities and individuals to maintain a clean, safe and normal environment and also to build a city with diversity, vitality and identity.



Hygiene and control are two seemingly irrelevant things depending on how we look at it. We all wear masks today and that is clear what hygiene is at a personal level. Hygiene is also related to the notion of healthy city which had been a core issue for modern urban planning, and of public concern in recent years. This issue could also relate to government funding for hospital designs and healthcare projects in the last decade specifically. At all levels hygiene is concerned not only about upgrading health care facilities, but also about the control of social interaction from perspectives of safety, interweaving with issues from technical measures to civic rights; public health and urban ventilation; urban access and separation; well-being and safety of building services; sample testing and data access; social distance and human interaction, as well as social and political control. Hygiene and control concerns all of us from every aspect of architecture and urban daily life: healthy buildings, healthcare projects, urban habitation and movement, as well as our urban and public spaces. WW

Some questions we may wish to ask: What is the role of architecture in designing a hygienic and healthy city? What type of controls would and should a healthy city need for it to achieve adequate cleanliness, security and a sense of viable normality? What design challenges do pandemics pose for hospital and healthcare facilities as well as public urban spaces? How will architecture, urban design and planning respond to the emerging spatial practices and new normals of the post-pandemic world? TC

Decentralisation and distancing

The traditional planning model of a modern city stipulates having a central business district (CBD) for maximum commercial efficiency. CBDs typically require people to commute using public transport – a mode of operating that has demonstrated its deficiencies during a period marked by social unrest and the pandemic. All the latest technologies and new work models adopted during this period have prompted us to rethink whether CBDs are the right development mode for the future. Instead of people needing to commute long distances, could an alternative decentralised model combining commercial and residential uses in different parts of the city be a better approach for improving our city’s liveability and resilience? JC

A related issue is public transport to and from work or for other purposes. Recently, I noticed some people are starting to avoid public transport for health reasons. Cycling has been proven to be a successful means of transport in other cities in the world, yet the current design of our city does not allow us to do that extensively. I think this is another aspect we can advocate for the government to consider further – the importance and feasibility of alternative modes of transport such as bicycles. JC

I agree with Joel. Decentralisation is one way to tackle this problem. As Covid-19 spreads by contact, we have been forced to rethink how we interact with each other while maintaining a safe distance. We see more people working from home. In public, we may require more space between people to reduce possible contact. These experiences will have an impact on land-use allocations, possibly pointing to bigger open spaces. We probably need to plan for sub-centres outside CBDs, but we could also consider building “reverse sub-centres”. One example of such a reverse centre is Central Park in New York, built around a natural centre rather than an urban one. Such schemes could allow pockets of spaces with good ventilation and a high-quality environment where we can interact safely. We might want to think about what type of planning for decentralised areas could support work, play and social activities without anyone needing to leave their own district. RL

Since the SARS pandemic of 2003, we have become more aware of the need for social distancing – not only for people, but also for buildings. I designed the Hong Kong Community College in Hung Hom Bay about ten years ago. For this project, we deliberately expanded the building’s form, allowing it to spread out and create ventilated spaces. Two large sky gardens allow natural air to flow through the building. They also provide the open space needed to house 3,000 students on a small site. With more airflow through buildings, the city is better ventilated. While developers, clients and even the government may be more concerned with GFA control and ensuring sufficient development bulk, architects, urban designers and planners should strive to design for a healthy city. Perhaps we should have systems that promote the incorporation of environment and nature into building projects, for example through the Building Department’s Review of Bonus GFA Concession Scheme. That would not only allow developers to gain more floor area but would also create more public or green space. Singapore, I understand, has such incentives and requirements, so we see more public spaces and greenery on roofs there. BL

Building regulations

When we talk about planning regulations for hygiene in buildings, we mean the minimum standards that building owners and professionals must comply with. They are quite different from the strategies used in emergency situations such as those arising from social distancing. These kinds of hygiene and building requirements should be minimum standards, applied to all buildings old and new, and to all people regardless of their income, social status or living conditions. TI

For me, Covid-19 is a major wake-up call. Hong Kong has always prioritised its economy in decision-making. After this critical experience, however, we can now choose to make a collective effort towards developing a hygienic city. During the pandemic, I saw the community rally to help their own districts. After SARS in 2003, there was a movement called “Building a Healthy City” in which district boards such as Sai Kung and Wan Chai actively participated. There were also initiatives to re-examine our building regulations, though those didn’t lead to comprehensive change. Covid-19 has reactivated the same concerns. Building professionals see this as an opportunity for constructive change. But our value system needs to be reset to put the environment and people first, not the economy. CC

I agree that we need to rethink our values in our re-planning, but a collective effort by different professions will also be essential. Cross-disciplinary efforts from different building professionals are needed to look after the design, the management and the upkeep of buildings and their facilities. Sometimes, no matter how ideal the hardware we provide, or how well we devise the systems, problems can arise with operational aspects, especially in mass housing for low-income families. It may not be purely down to issues of design; those could be social problems in disguise. Perhaps we need to address the hygiene problems arising in such circumstances in a broader way. SL

We have many old buildings with poor hygienic conditions. While we often discuss the planning needed for virgin sites such as the Lantau Tomorrow Development or New Territories developments, how about that required for old districts with buildings constructed more than forty or fifty years ago – locations with both individual and multi-ownership buildings? We must deal with this urban reality. What kind of cross-departmental mechanisms could be put in place across the Planning, Buildings, and Lands Departments to improve our existing city? TI

Back in 2003, my colleagues and I conducted studies on SARS. Perhaps this can help us to think about the differences and similarities between what happened then and what is happening now with Covid-19 in relation to buildings and the urban environment. During SARS, the government defined three levels of action: first, understanding how patients became infected; second, ensuring patients in hospitals did not cross-infect medical personnel; and third, stopping large-scale community outbreaks. I think many HKIA members, including architects, planners and academics, contributed to understanding and tackling the SARS outbreak. I produced an agenda paper on air ventilation control with Anthony Ng and Professor Wong Tsz Wai. Due to the outbreak happening at Amoy Gardens, we received support from and struck a strategic partnership with the Housing Department. That was a time when we thought about the process rather than the product. Multi-disciplinary efforts in SARS-related research included designs for an infectious disease ward and drainpipes used in public housing. JT

Pandemic technologies

Since super-computing was used for social-network tracing during SARS, many studies have investigated how data science can help predict the ways people behave in cities. The concept nowadays is more about collective health in the city rather than only dealing with buildings. Medical personnel have teamed up with data-science experts to study the use of spaces and public facilities as movement checkpoints. This is how we discovered the relationship between social distancing and drops in infection rates. During pandemics, we need to demonstrate to society that we have plans supported by data. For this, we use different tools, processes and collaborations between medical personnel and those from other disciplines. Such kinds of modelling are now being done in different countries. JT

The technologies we have used during Covid-19 have changed the way we work, learn and live. Before the pandemic, video conferencing was not popular due to many people seeing it as unstable and unreliable. Nowadays, some prefer it to having face-to-face meetings due to the comfort and efficiency of being able to work from home. But technologies can also have unintended consequences. They simultaneously connect and separate people. For example, when students have video schooling at home, their socio-economic circumstances become apparent. So such technology can reinforce social hierarchies and labelling, in the process introducing another form of control into our everyday life at the same time as we are busy battling the virus. Citizens are also subconsciously getting used to the surveillance and data collection taking place now that health scanning has become the norm at building entrances. Not many people question what information is being recorded and where it is sent to or stored. Some countries also give their citizens health labels that dictate where they can go. Under such public-health-control regimes, we may feel more comfortable about compromising our freedom of movement.  PM

A huge amount of data is available in cities because of the concentration of population and information technological infrastructure. But who owns this data and who can use or abuse it? Pandemics create emergency situations that allow governments to impose extraordinary regulations on people. As the French philosopher Michel Foucault showed, during the “Great Confinement”, a period in the medieval era after leprosy was brought in from the East, the government’s first reaction is often to lock up the “undesirable” – the poor, homeless, jobless, underprivileged and mad – so as to put them out of sight. At a later stage, the humanist intervention advocated dividing such people into separate groups defined by “scientific” knowledge, leading to the emergence of madhouses, asylums, and hospitals. When pandemics became rampant, however, everyone was locked up to prevent the spread of disease. By the late 17th century, the French government issued detailed instructions authorising how lockups be used to control pandemics. Everyone had to be locked inside their homes or otherwise face being killed. Total surveillance was conducted. Surveys were carried out daily to identify those present or absent; statistics about who was dead and was alive were constantly updated.

During our current pandemic, Hangzhou used health labels to control people’s movements. This practice had been used previously.  In 2005, Beijing’s Dongcheng District (東城區) launched a “grid-style social management system” (網格化社區管理), sub-dividing the district into a grid comprising areas each measuring 100 metres by 100 metres. Each square was assigned a grid manager (網格員) who observed and reported all significant events to the relevant authorities. In 2013, President Xi Jinping announced the nationwide implementation of this grid-style social management system. This year, Covid-19 sped up its implementation. Hangzhou’s health code categorises people into one of three groups – green, yellow, or red – according to their travel history and current body temperature. People with a red code are not allowed to enter supermarkets or leave their local area. As the system was developed, it came to include gradients of colours that more accurately reflected people’s health condition and activities. As with China’s social-credit system, the system has ramifications for social psychology and behaviour. Many are worried that the system will stay and become normalised after the pandemic.

Hygiene control is not just about medical science. It often also involves governance and politics. People have to choose between safety and freedom on a range of different levels. For example, people in New York had to decide whether to join street protests against police brutality while running the risk of being infected with the Covid-19 virus or stay at home and remain safe. People in Hong Kong have had to make similar calculations, too. Presented with such extremes, everyone has to decide how to find a suitable balance. TZ

Amoy Garden in 2003 (Credit: Apple Daily)

Amoy Garden was most seriously affected by SARS outbreak in 2003 (Credit: Billy Yellow, CC by SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Study showing air flow through block and slow vertical flow within the reentrant space. From Jin-yeu Tsou, Architectural Studies of Air Flow at Amoy Gardens, Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong, and its Possible Relevance to the Spread of SARS, status report, 2 May 2003.

Study of velocity vectors showing rapid flow of across the mouth of the reentrant space. From Jin-yeu Tsou, Architectural Studies of Air Flow at Amoy Gardens, Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong, and its Possible Relevance to the Spread of SARS, status report, 2 May 2003.

Creating resilient cities

It is unfortunate that most cities nowadays are designed with only one goal in mind — maximising economic gain. So long as our value system remains principally economic-centred, whenever we talk about anything that might reduce economic gain, we face opposition. However, a city planned with only one dominant goal will be neither resilient nor sustainable. It cannot easily adapt or cope with change or the unknown. Economically efficient cities also lack diversity. An inclusive city is also a diversified city. EN

A recent study on working from home shows that, during the Covid-19 pandemic, people who lived outside cities adapted better than those living in apartments in cities. People live in cities for economic reasons, but they often lack the space necessary to retreat and adapt. This can cause tension in families, with couples arguing after being too close to each other for too long, or children who cannot stand their parents anymore. If we are going to design our city to be resilient and diverse, we need redundancy, with allocations of inefficient or flexible spaces for people to use. EN

Since industrialisation and urbanisation, cities are frequently considered as centres of disease – breeding grounds for epidemics and other blights such as air pollution, congestion and crime. To solve such problems, there have been many calls for deurbanization, such as Howard’s plea for a “Garden City” or Corbusier’s for a “Radiant City”. Some critics, however, have argued that such deurbanised ideals basically ignore the roles cities play as centres of civic life. Instead they propose we celebrate such concepts as collectiveness, community, and consensus, not only under the governance of technocrats, but also as occasions when communities can come together to overcome crises. They also point out that diseases often lead to more dire situations in rural areas than in urban ones due to a lack of communal and collective coordination, medical facilities, and reliable transportation and communication networks in the countryside. TZ

I have been contemplating what present-day architects have inherited that make us practice our discipline in the way we do. Le Corbusier and Alvar Aalto responded to pandemics with the sanatorium movement. In the absence of vaccines, many experts and professionals, including architects, believed in nature’s healing properties. Some, such as Richard Neutra, even made this their design premise. The triad comprising technology, sanitation and the economy very much ingrained in our discipline, have also driven the way architects respond to diseases. As modernist architects believed that the removal of ornamentation minimised the accumulation of dirt, among the most direct responses were the whitewashing of walls, the use of concrete for construction and the use of pure forms that emphasised geometry.  ES

Changes to hospital design

Hospital design has seen various developments in the last twenty years aimed at controlling the internal environment, among them the use of negative pressure controls in isolation wards and operation theatres. Very soon, we will be completing the Extension of Operation Theatre Block of Tuen Mun Hospital with 20 operation theatres (OT). These are all modular OTs, prefabricated in Germany complete with an M&E system that incorporates plenum pressure control. The air moves in one direction and is separated from the rest of the building with seals on doors. Modular integrated construction (MiC) has not been popular here, but now the government and the public are more aware of it. I visited Singapore and went into some government and private hospitals that have been using MiC for more than ten years. The inspection panels in these schemes are easy to clean and have no damage or downtime. Hong Kong should explore using them. BL

Before the implementation of the Hospital Authority’s (HA) Ten-Year Hospital Redevelopment Plan (HDP), it was quite some time since Hong Kong had any big hospital projects. We should tap the late-mover advantage and take benefit of MiC technology now being used in hospitals elsewhere, the Science Park’s InnoCell and our recent quarantine camp facilities. SL

Healthcare projects have a strong emphasis on efficient service delivery. This means minimising the space required to optimise clinical usage and speed up the healing process of patients. Architects have been trying to infuse green and sustainable building elements into healthcare design by bringing in natural elements such as air, light, green gardens and buffer spaces into buildings. Such schemes may require additional floor space and so lower efficiency, but they also introduce new qualities that may aid healing. We also design in space where staff can enjoy quiet moments and refreshment breaks during their busy schedules, so helping generate a sense of institutional belonging.

While the Covid-19 pandemic was still ongoing, we started to investigate ways of preventing another pandemic. For example, drafting plans to convert some wards into negative pressure rooms for treating infectious patients that took into account the need for extra mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) support. In the case of a surge of new cases, such schemes would allow A&E departments to be able quickly to reconfigure wards into segregated spaces for receiving infectious and non-infectious patients, complete with special routes for sending infectious patients to isolation wards. The schemes would lower efficiency in terms of space utilization but provided necessary precautionary measures. RL

In a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) hospital design seminar, a scholar outlined how since Roman times hospital design had always concentrated on providing sunlight, ventilation, and space for patients to encounter nature and the external environment. He found hospitals with high ceilings and windows allowing cross-ventilation are better for health. He also highlighted how in the 1960s hospital design briefs in the UK always stipulated cross-ventilation and that patients be able to look out and see trees. At the seminar’s concluding panel discussion, a doctor said: “We must not trust air-conditioning more than we trust nature, even if nature is never efficient.” That doctor was probably right. The best air-conditioning could only manage 10-15 air changes per hour (ACH) but opening windows on both sides of a ward can lead to 50 or more ACH. However, cross-ventilation requires space between building blocks and so often is spatially less efficient. The seminar taught me to focus on the good not the efficient. Interestingly, in a recent HKIA web-seminar, Dr Chiu Lee-Lee, Former Cluster Chief Executive of the HA’s Kowloon West Cluster and Hospital Chief Executive of Princess Margaret Hospital, echoed these views. Comparing the outcomes of two hospitals in Hong Kong during SARS, she found that an older hospital performed much better than the newer one because of its natural ventilation. The newer hospital did not even allow you to open its windows.  EN

Edward (EN) proposes letting Mother Nature provide ventilation in hospital design. However, another school of thought advocates using environment controls in medical wards to set levels of temperature, humidity, air change and pressure in line with what patients need. If patients are infectious, we will need negative pressure isolation rooms to protect medical staff outside those rooms. Patients who are weak and easily subject to infection require positive-pressure isolation rooms to ensure harmful elements flow out of the room. Some clinicians want to control the environmental parameters with precision in order to provide a stable and manageable environment for both patients and staff by eliminating the influence of natural elements. As architects, we tend to always want to introduce natural elements that we see as positive features. However, we must always bear in mind that things such as greenery can attract hazardous bugs and germs in clinical spaces. RL

We have heard much discussion about cross-disciplinary efforts, or what could be understood as a composite design model that strives to deliver multiple values. Jin (JT) mentioned cross-disciplinary efforts in research projects, and Sylvia (SL) mentioned cross-disciplinary efforts across different stages of projects from design to operation. There has also been discussion about the need for redundancy and diversity in efficiency-centric design. But how do we measure these kinds of hybrid or composite models? Is it possible to conceptualise a hybrid model incorporating different parameters? TC

My background may be of some interest, as I have worked as a designer and as a client representative for hospital projects. At Aedas Ltd, I was project architect for the Queen Mary Hospital Redevelopment scheme, which included the highest standard pathology laboratory in Hong Kong. I then joined the Hospital Authority as a manager and was involved in one of the mega projects of the Ten Year Hospital Development Plan – the Prince of Wales Hospital Redevelopment scheme. Those eight years taught me that the degree to which we can incorporate the various parameters in hospital design very much depends on the end user’s needs and how decision makers rank the priorities. Designing hospitals in Hong Kong is challenging because of the high demand for clinical services. For example, wards designed with six beds usually end up having extra beds added, mainly because our public hospitals often have occupancy rates of more than 100 percent.

As space is so scarce, meeting clinical needs have tended to be given priority. Efficiency is seen as the most important of all considerations. That means maximising clinical space comes first, with common architectural elements such as public space, gardens, natural air and daylight becoming secondary considerations. Contending with these ideas is a school of thought that suggests natural elements should be introduced to improve hospital environmental quality. Doing this could shorten the time patients’ stay and so reduce bed demand in the long run. That is the reason why some recently completed hospitals have a better balance between the two considerations. With limited land supply and high demand for clinical needs, however, hospital design in Hong Kong will remains challenging. PM

What architects like to pursue is sometimes not on the ingredient list for achieving efficiency. There are, however, some projects that incorporate more healing facilities, rehab gardens and so on than others. Over the years, the space standard for individual beds has increased from 6.5 square metres to 7.5 square metres, and now to 9 square metres. Pilot projects and mock-ups have got better and better at demonstrating design benefits to non-architects. I have used them during the engagement process with patients, society, and sometimes legislators. Having multi-disciplinary collaborations between architects, medical professionals and patients is important for healthcare projects so we can engage these stakeholders from the start and so translate our qualitative designs into quantitative figures that push ideas forward. SL

We now can add another justification for the need for good environmental quality in hospital design. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced those who need to go hospital weekly, especially the elderly, to stay put. One invisible impact of this has been a regression in persons with dementia. If hospitals are designed in a more “inefficient” way, with more greenery included in enclosed clinical spaces, they can operate like sanatoriums for an increasingly aging population that desires a different kind of hospital – one that is a healing space. Environmental and spatial stimulation is as important, often even more important, than clinical treatment. This is a real social issue in highly developed Hong Kong with its aging population. It needs to be tackled in post-pandemic hospital design. ES

The WELL Building Standard established by architectural practitioners, medical experts and academics evaluates the environmental quality of space using qualitative indicators to assess buildings. It can be a useful tool to explain design ideas to clients or the end-users. TI

Compared with WELL, the BEAM PLUS system currently used in Hong Kong emphasises the design stage of projects rather than their impact. One way of improving things would be, as Tony (TI) suggested, to adopt a new mechanism standard or maybe enhance BEAM PLUS to emphasise more qualitative indicators. JC

Tuen Mun Hospital hybrid Operation Theatre

Queen Elizabeth Hospital,1963 

(Credit: Unknown author via Wikimedia Commons)

Constructing quarantine camps

One of Hong Kong’s quarantine camps was completed in 26 days and another in 56 days. The construction process was effective and efficient because there was centralised coordination. The Architectural Services Department acted like a conductor directing an orchestra of different departments. Everyone performed in unison. The same thing applies to the collective creation of a hygienic or liveable city. Instead of different departments pursuing their own visions of a sustainable city separately, I really would like to see an orchestrated effort from the government in this area. A few years ago, HKIA proposed to the government setting up a Liveable City Authority to handle cross-departmental collaboration on policy implementation, but nothing came of that. This pandemic shows that we need daring structural change. If we can do everything necessary to complete a quarantine camp in 26 days despite having many departments, it is clear that Hong Kong, given a mission and a direction, can handle complex tasks efficiently. CC

P&T was the architectural designer for one of the quarantine camps. From the beginning, the Development Bureau led all the building professionals and construction participants as a single team. We asked for procedural streamlining. Reflecting on how the project was realised in such a short time, the crucial factors were the preparatory work and foresight of those charged with be responsible for its buildability and the industrialisation of the construction process.

Compared with Covid-19, SARS had a higher fatality rate but was not as infectious, so the need for quarantine facilities was less. Without the Chun Yeung Estate to provide some buffer time, we could not have completed the quarantine camps in time. We constructed the camp in record-breaking time, but still needed 26 days. Medical personnel arrived the day after the completion of Temporary Quarantine Facilities at Lei Yue Mun Park and Holiday Village to prepare for people arriving from Iran who required quarantine. Our success was due to strong preparatory work, the use of new construction technologies and having good professional inputs. SL

I agree that planning ahead has proven to be important. The reason Temporary Quarantine Facilities at Penny’s Bay could be built so fast was because P&T and our contractor had already obtained Building Department approval some months ago for the use of a particular type of MiC. Maybe we will quickly forget about Covid-19 when all this is over, but we should plan for the next pandemic. Could we develop smarter plans for future hospitals, such having a carpark inside the hospital complex that can be flexibly convertible into a medical facility with pre-planned infrastructure? Or drafting new client requirements that allow for the conversion of convention centres or school buildings for disaster relief? Architects can contribute ideas for such schemes, but the major developers of public facilities should take the lead. JC

Photo of forum panellists. Left to right: Eunice Seng, Bernard Lim, Tao Zhu, Paul Mui, Ronson Lui, Edward Ng, Tony Ip, Jin-yeu Tsou, Sylvia Lam, Joel Chan, Corrin Chan; (back facing camera) right to left, Ellen Ngai, Weijen Wang, Thomas Chung.

Reshaping the building industry

I have been thinking how the paradigm of response to pandemics regarding spatial planning, social distancing, industrialisation, and compartmentalisation of space should be reset. Interestingly, the idea of satellite city is not that old. In a 1948 report on Hong Kong, British town planner and open space advocate Patrick Abercrombie advocated for more open spaces in satellite areas after studying the city’s sanitation and health situation. While the plan was not adopted by Hong Kong, the Singapore government did reference it closely together with recommendations by other experts, and in the 1970s implemented a ring plan scheme for the entire island city based on the principle of open space design. But if the problem of disease has been historically solved through planning, why do we still face it now? Two fundamental questions arise. First, a lesson drawn from the recent dramatic spike of cases in Singapore is that planning for housing should pay attention to the form of and access to ventilation, not just its provision. I am currently studying private housing plans in Hong Kong and have discovered that most of them feature rooms without ventilation. I believe that the profession can push for equitable access to ventilation and space at every scale. Second, the division between private space and open space is not as distinct as Abercrombie delineated. I used to live near Central Park in New York, so I value the benefit of a proximity to a large open space. But what happens when you cannot physically access it, such as during a lockdown? While the environmental benefits of parks and other green spaces are great, public space is about much more than this. A healthy city should be environmentally and socially sustainable. Public activities and encounters occur in privately owned public spaces such as “cha chaan tengs”, cafés, malls and atria.  As so much open space in this city is privately owned, I feel architects have a civic duty to help imagine how it can be opened for greater access. ES

Our current planning system emphasises quantitative figures: how much commercial, open and residential space is needed for different regions, and how plots are divided between different users. If you ask officials how to come up with creative urban designs, they cannot give you an answer because the current system does not allow for urban design to be interpreted qualitatively. If we wish to plan to do future urban design creatively, we have to change the mechanisms use — so they can allow us to translate visionary design into “control” parameters on an urban scale. Whatever we discuss may be high-sounding, but if the mechanism issue is not tackled, all we can do is talk. JC

There needs to be a balance between creativity and policy direction in the overall design framework. In the Nordic countries, they set the overall national direction and key indicators for city development. That sets the parameters for their national development and planning. They also allow variations in planning to factor in every region’s uniqueness and conditions. Hong Kong seems to have more control but no clear direction. Professionals have been trying hard to bridge the gap between the government and the community. Several criteria need to be met to have a successful healthy city. One of these is having a sound policy commitment from the government, another is active community involvement. I hope to see some policy changes in these areas after Covid-19. CC

The mechanism that Joel (JC) mentioned is important, but the reality is that in this society, dominated by economic concerns, the minimum becomes the maximum. Rather than having the government to prescribe what should be done, I believe progressive pilots and research projects can demonstrate to non-professionals how good design works for the benefits of society. In this way, new mechanisms can be developed. SL

I wonder if our design institutes and government departments can hold some competitions to find some new ideas. Traditionally, the Planning Department and Civil Engineering Development Department have tended to invite large engineering consultancies with multi-disciplinary teams to draw up masterplans for newly planned areas. There is a big debate about how new planning principles should be implemented. I adjudicated several competitions in mainland China, including one for the Lok Ma Chau Loop Innovation and Technology Park. That was an international competition which invited international firms to collaborate with mainland China practices to ensure competition ideas were implemented well. Some masterplans in Shenzhen are of high quality and also fulfil local planning and civil engineering requirements. I suggest institutes such as HKIA and HKIUD hold competitions with the Civil Engineering and Development Department and Planning Department to generate design ideas that promote resilience, better ventilation, and other principles. For healthcare buildings, new ideas about ward design could be explored, and also discussions with experts on how to hold such competitions. BL

Holding a competition is not the ideal solution for every scenario, but it’s a good tool for bringing out innovative ideas. Hong Kong has not organised any competitions during the last few years. Hong Kong has had a great tradition of public housing design since the early 1950s. But gradually, we have created a system that though increasingly efficient also has too many control mechanisms. We should allow greater flexibility so innovative ideas can emerge. Singapore’s public housing authorities have awarded pilot projects through competitions to encourage new ideas. Hong Kong should consider this option. CC