Last month thirteen UON students studying architecture and construction management got the opportunity to travel to Hong Kong and China to study urban living environments in the fourth densest populated city in the world. Here, Chris Hanlon a recent Bachelor of Design (architecture) graduate who’s now working in industry explains how it gave him a whole new perspective on architecture and how he is now drawn to the Pearl of the Orient.

1. What was the purpose behind the recent student field trip to Hong Kong and China and who was involved?

The overriding premise behind the trip was to expose us to different urban environments and how they adapt to meet the needs of local people. As well as Hong Kong, we also spent two days in mainland China visiting (our lecturer and trip leader) Derren’s ancestral village in Shunde, in the Guangzhou province. Here we were introduced to courtyard houses and village style living that is typical of the area.

2. What was the most interesting experience you had as part of the trip?

Definitely the way that Hong Kong plans its expansion and how they utilise every parcel of land that they can. Planning regulations in Hong Kong require all services and amenities (subway lines, telephone connections, schools, parks, hospitals, etc.) to be in place before the construction of housing and businesses even commences. This planning procedure ensures that each new area of Hong Kong is set up in a way that ensures its success – something I think Australian cities can learn from.

3. Which city or town did you find most interesting and why?

Not specifically any part of Hong Kong, but the way they live. The lifestyle in the city is this peculiar mix of Eastern and Western cultures that seems to hold on to some of its more ancient traditions, all the while embracing many new and modern norms from Western countries.

4. Was it all just about looking at flashy new high rises?

Not entirely. We did look at many of the new high rises, but in more of a lets-critique-and-evaluate-them kind of way. The main purpose was to demonstrate that high density living with a large population in condensed location is feasible. Personally, I would say we – as a country – need to be expanding our urban centres vertically – rather than horizontally – with attention being given to the provision of public amenities and infrastructure before people move in and occupy the area.

5. What was it like travelling with your fellow students and lecturers, was it a good group?

We ranged in age from 19 through to 27, all with different backgrounds, life experiences, and personalities. Working in close quarters in the Architecture Design Studio on campus means that we have all seen each other around, but not necessarily had contact with one another. So the trip kind of became a bridge between the different years and degrees that we may not have individually taken the time to put in if it wasn’t for the trip.

6. Did the trip change your perspective on architecture, how?

I have travelled quite a lot previously, but I have never experienced the sheer density and organised chaos that is Hong Kong. I can remember looking at photos of Hong Kong city before the trip and thinking “how the hell does anyone live comfortably in that environment?” But, having spent time there I can see myself living and working there for at least 12 months. It’s a city that thrives on challenges and is constantly working to make itself more efficient.

7. What would you say to students thinking about studying architecture at UON?

Do it. I applied to three different universities to study architecture – UNSW, QUT, and UON – I was offered a spot at all three, but took my first preference of UON. I don’t regret my choice. The lifestyle that Newcastle city offers is amazing and the facilities that we have access to at uni are fantastic. If I didn’t have access to the Architecture Design Studio I would not be as successful in my studies as I have been. Having 30 or 40 other students in the same boat as you, around you each day makes it more enjoyable. Each project is different, but you always have 40 opinions on hand to tell you where to go to move forward– which isn’t always helpful, but it’s nice that the option is there!

8. You’ve just finished your third and final year of your undergraduate degree, what’s next for you?

I’ve just started working full time at Webber Architects. So far it has been great because they have me using the skills and knowledge that I have gained over the last three years of study. It’s challenging because these are real world projects that can fail if something isn’t correctly implemented – which is also terrifying! Next year I’ll go into the Master of Architecture degree at UON, which is a further two years of study, while working part time.

9. Would you recommend other students get involved in the field trips to Indonesia, Nepal, Hong Kong and Alice Springs next year?

Absolutely! From what I heard the Alice Springs and Indonesia trips were awesome. Everyone had a great time and experienced so much more than they thought they would and more than they would if they just spent their mid-semester break at home.Study Architecture at UON:

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