"My work depends on engineers, on electricians, and on a number of other specialists. And, in my office, I have more than twenty-five architects, so it's not very solitary. But, periodically, during the process of a project, I take home the drawings and I need to concentrate not only on designing and sketching things, but on really knowing the building, really knowing the project. I have to be able to walk through the whole building mentally without looking at the drawings, you know? I have to be able to sit and imagine walking through the building, going down each hall, entering the bathroom, washing my hands, going to the kitchen if it is a house. And if it is a public building, this can indeed be difficult. But I make every effort to study the project as it develops. Only when you can walk mentally through the building can you design the final details and can you feel the atmosphere of that building and what it really means. For this, I need moments to concentrate by myself, alone. In the office, this is not too easy because there are telephones, visitors-and interviews. But I can go home and sit alone and reflect."
Alvaro Siza Vieira.
"As much as poetry and literature, architecture is about relations between things and about passages from one to the other."
Alvaro Siza Vieira.
During the first day of the facilitation session in To Kwa Wan, I introduced the Circle of Gift Giving to the group. Sitting in a circle, each participant gave a small present to the person seating next to him or her. The ritual required the gift giver to share the source and meaning of the gift to the receiver. As the circle of gift giving enfolded, we shared funny, down to earth and poignant stories behind each gift. For example, one participant forgot to bring a gift and she bought one in To Kwa Wan. Being practical minded, she bought a bottle of WD 40 from a car repair workshop as a gift and hoped it would be useful for the gift receiver. Another female participant gave a movie ticket to the participant next to her. She explained that it was a movie date but her partner failed to turn up. She ended up leaving the movie theatre holding the unused ticket. A participant gave a small coin, which came from a memorable trip to Taiwan she made with her father, while another gave an old high school exercise book. She shared that the book brought back many memories when she returned to Hong Kong after being away for many years.
The participants were tasked to learn from the sociocultural and economic life of To Kwa Wan residents, and to come up with interesting ideas to archive the fast disappearing neighborhood over a one-month period. They came from all walks of life and were strangers to each other. Before diving deep into the task, I felt it was important to first form a community of learners through the ritual of gift giving. As Lewis Hyde in The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World so eloquently wrote,
"...it is not when part of the self is inhibited and restrained, but when part of the self is given away, that community appears.”
I was invited by the Make a Difference School in Hong Kong to be a guest facilitator for their 1- month in-Situ studio in To Kwa Wan. Over 3 days in August, I gave a public lecture on the concept of Social Archiving and conducted discussions with the participants and local residents on the future of the neighborhood that has been slated for re-development.
Looking at To Kwa Wan superficially, one sees only the large number of car repair workshops, and would not have imagined the neighborhood contains a rich and diverse collection of social relations and history. When I dived deeper through my street conversations with the local residents, I discovered a resident who plays the flute to entertain passerby and makes a very good impression of local singing birds. There was a shop that makes local pastry from a recipe that goes back 40 years, and even a car repair workshop that doubles up as a place to look after the child of a resident who has to work part-time.