School of Architecture, CUHK

New Director

Photo credit: Office of Research and Knowledge Transfer Services, CUHK

Conversation with the New School Director: Professor Hendrik Tieben

Would you like to share with us your first impression of our School of Architecture?

I still remember my first visit to Hong Kong and the School in 2005 and the impressions of the exhilarating verticality of the urban landscape, the School’s welcoming atmosphere, and the combination of international faculty and local students, coming together to learn from each other.

What is your aspiration in leading our School in the coming years?

CUHK’s School of Architecture has a strong identity which is why I have been staying here for more than 15 years. The future of the School should evolve from this identity while engaging proactively with current issues and opportunities.

When the School was founded 3 decades ago, our first Director Tunney Lee understood very well the socio-spatial issues arising from rapid urban growth. Thus, he proposed the integration of the School into the Faculty of Social Science and focused on pressing issues such as the need for decent and affordable housing. After the millennium, colleagues expanded the School’s scope and established the School’s international recognition in research by engaging with issues arising from the SARS epidemic and climate change. With the increasing relevance of these areas, they should remain key foci of the School.

The School is recognized for its education of highly competent graduates for the architecture profession.  Faculty members have raised the quality in the field of “making” – exploring traditional crafts and their re-invention with digital means, which are our important core strengths to keep and further develop.

Over the last decade, the School has grown by establishing two urban programmes – BSSc in Urban Studies and MSc in Urban Design which develop approaches to address urban issues of the region and develop skills in placemaking, co-creation, and community building.

The School is well set-up to embrace current challenges. In the coming years, it will be important to foster synergies by facilitating collaborations between colleagues in the School and Faculty, and with our alumni, and the School’s expanding local and international network. Furthermore, I am committed to keeping the School a welcoming and open place for students and colleagues, that promotes gender equality and diversity proactively.

What insights from your past experience are you hoping to integrate / adopt as the Director?

I have always treasured activities beyond the classroom which allow students to engage with diverse urban and environmental conditions and real-world concerns of local and international communities.  We plan to resume and expand these activities with international workshops and more exchange programmes after Covid.  During the pandemic, we learned to leverage on opportunities provided by online communication, e.g. holding international online workshops. We could enrich our future teaching by engaging global partners in a more affordable, inclusive, and sustainable way.

What are the biggest challenges, academically and professionally, facing our students?

The design education and profession are rapidly transforming. We are all getting used to a wide variety of online tutorials and lectures, which enrich and potentially replace traditional forms of education.  Digital manufacturing techniques are replacing older forms of production; new AI software is now beginning to replace more sophisticated services. We have to keep track and engage with these developments and search for the new opportunities that they might be offering. At the same time, we should reflect on the ethical and theoretical implications of these changes. Students and teachers also need to reconsider the profession regarding its impacts on the environmental and social issues of our time.

What are some of the larger issues nowadays that you feel an architecture school should be preparing its students for?

The current pandemic and climate crises are affecting the everyday lives of people on a global scale. According to observations in many places, the crises widened existing inequalities between genders, age, and social groups. In architecture and urban design, the crises push us to reconsider a wide range of points: the use of materials, the provision of good indoor and outdoor environments, the relationships between living and working, and the redesign of infrastructures, neighbourhoods, and public spaces. With the reconsideration of the hardware, we also need to rebuild the software: the sense of communities, support of vulnerable groups, and the building of capacity. As designers, we can have a central role in these processes by linking hard and software, and using our design skills to develop practical solutions, which facilitate communication and co-creation. We should prepare our students to proactively embrace the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which world-leading consultancies, as well as the most innovative young design firms, have started to do over the last few years.

What words of advice do you have for our students?

While nobody can predict the future, investing in the ability to analyze complex issues, mastering a wide range of analogue and digital skills, and learning from engaging with many different people, cultures, and conditions, will help prepare you for this uncertain future and allow you to become an agent of positive change.

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