In the future, there won’t be that many places in a city like Hong Kong where you can sit and take a breather in public without getting in someone’s way or being thought of as homeless. At least, that’s the theory one group of designers has. Their solution to this potential problem? Micro parks.
The Design Trust Futures Studio is a programme encouraging public debate and dialogue on design, and what role it plays in society. Twelve designers have come up with design concepts based on the idea that “small is meaningful”. Their efforts, from conception to prototype stage, are being displayed at Shek Tong Tsui's Yak Fu Lane until October 31.
These designers come from different professional backgrounds – some are environmentalists, others are graphic designers, or architects. They all have one goal in mind, and that is to examine the importance of smallness in local communities and see how it can be used to affect positive change.
Creating a mobile park
Xavier Tsang is a product designer who runs a candle shop. He is working with an urban designer, and a graphic and branding designer to create what they’re calling the Mobile Park.
“We’ve pushed the problems the city faces now to extreme,” Tsang says as he explains the thinking behind the concept. The Mobile Park is a solution for a problem they predict Hong Kong will face in 50 years time – namely, that as more public spaces are bought and turned into housing or commercial buildings, fewer green parks will remain available for use. Eventually, the city will see itself turned into a glittering metropolis of skyscrapers and roads.
“So we thought about how we could bring the experience of being in a park to people [when there’s no land to build on]," Tsang says. Going to the park doesn’t have to be a full-day trip. Even a quick 10 minute break can help break up the monotony of your day, as well as refresh your mind and your body. This thinking drove the team to the idea of being able to deliver a park on demand. Like GoGoVan, you can order a truck – but unlike GoGoVan, the truck would be a driverless flatbed truck, with a park module in it.
“We’re looking at trucks that will exist in 50 years time, so it'll be driverless, and you can choose what [park] modules you want, and even pitch in your own ideas and propose designs of new modules,” says the designer.
Modules would cover a wide range of park themes, from grass, to bamboo forest, to desert. Customers would get these micro parks delivered to them via a phone call or after they choose one from an app. More than one truck would be ordered and put together to create a not-so micro park.
These parks on wheels would offer people the full park experience, the team say. There will be adjustable lighting and temperature, as well as a built-in screen that can be used, for example, to live-stream London’s Hyde Park in Britain. There would even be park smells, Tsang says. The candle shop owner has added scents to the micro parks, too – ones unique to Hong Kong. Sai Kung, for example, is how your body smells after a dip in the sea, while Yau Tsim Mong smells like a traditional Chinese medicine shop, Tsang says.
Idea for the future, not now
The driving idea behind the Design Trust Futures Studio design concept is that designers should not feel limited by what the idea of a park is right now, Tsang is hoping they can come up with more interesting ideas so that some of them might eventually be of use to the city.
Zoey Chan, a fellow designer and a recent architecture and landscape graduate, agrees.
“A micro park is not necessarily a park,” says the 26-year-old, and cites railings commonly found along waterfront promenades as an example. Runners, when stretching, use them to help them with their exercise. That’s an interaction, one that makes people notice it as a very present object.
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That’s why her team, Part(k) of the City, have decided that wherever there is a railing, there can be a micro park.
To Chan, a railing is the definition of smallness. “It's small and linear, it barely takes up any floor area,” she says. That’s why her team is working hard on something that uses railings – found almost everywhere in the city – to create a micro park. The idea is that something that can be hung on them and used as a place to take a break – whether that’s seating, a storage room, or even a bed for the homeless.
Their micro park prototype has been trialled in a few different locations, as the team attempt to gauge public reaction to their concept. “Railings have lots of different functions, depending on how people use it – or if they use it at all,” says Chan.
Think outside the box
This project challenges her to think outside the box. “I'm an architect and my mind works in these very practical work patterns. Doing this, and getting to work with people from different backgrounds, offers me a lot of inspiration [for new ideas]," she says.
Parks still exist in Hong Kong for people to enjoy – for now. Old people still use them in the mornings, office workers use them at lunch, and you and your squad probably still hang out in them after school. But if our access to public areas is somehow lost to us in the future, then at least we have people like Tsang and Chan coming up with ideas now that might helps in coming decades.