LAAB Transformed Demolished Pier Into A Modern Cafe / World Architecture Community News

LAAB, a young architecture firm in Hong Kong with a strong focus on parametric design and fabrications, has used the piles from a demolished pier and transformed them into a modern cafe. The 46-year-old Wah Chai Ferry Pier was demolished in 2014 due to the Central and Wah Chai reclamation. After the pier was demolished, its piles were supposed to be transferred to the landfill.

Image © LAAB

Wan Ka Ling, an officer from Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department passed by the construction site and discovered all these abandoned structures. She believed that is a way to reuse these materials but it wasn’t easy to find a wood factory that is willing to take the wood.

The Wah Chai Ferry Pier, demolished in 2014. Image © LAAB Facebook Page

These piles are heavily eroded, covered with oyster shells and embedded with iron nails inside, which make it extremely difficult to reuse the wood. Lots of wood factories are not willing to process the wood as it is risky to break the saw during cutting.

Image © LAAB

Finally Wan found Wong Hung Kyun from Chi Kee Sawmill & Timber Factory, who is willing to take the wood. In fact, Wong has been collecting abandoned wood like telephone poles from landfill since 2000.

His business is getting more and more difficult as the sawing process is much cheaper in mainland China. Wong said the pier piles are made out of very dense wood and they will not be easily decomposed in the landfill. According to his estimation, these woods are from the tropical rainforest in North Borneo of Malaysia, which are 500-3000 years old.

To process the wood is tedious, which can take months. LAAB’s architecture director Yip Chun Hang shared that one time when they cut the wood they found lots of ants inside, furthermore the woods are so humid that they cannot use it directly on furniture.

Image © LAAB

After Wong processed the wood and did some tests with wood artist Wong Tin Yan, LAAB and are invited to use these wood in the design of T-Cafe in T · Park, a sludge treatment plant with education and recreational facilities opened to the public.

T · Park. Image © ARUP

The less eroded woods are used on tables and benches. While the eroded are encapsulated into a resin cube in order to preserve its original appearance. These resin cubes can be used as little chairs. The blue resin is like seawater, which reminds people the origin of the wood.

Image © LAAB

The project reminded one of the Log of Officina Corpuscoli, an experimental and interdisciplinary practice in Amsterdam that explores and researches on symbiotic relationships, microscopic spectrum and the materialization of these ideas.

Found by Maurizio Montalti, who is also the co-founder of Mycoplast (a company focus on mushroom-based material) and the Department Head of MAD Master (Materialisation in Art and Design) at Sandberg Instituut, Officina Corpuscoli has been working on biomaterial, digital computing, 3D printing and robotic fabrication.

Log, a resin volume encapsulating tree branches which were left as waste, the work is a reproduction of a natural fossil. Image © Officina Corpuscoli

While LAAB is quite well known for their parametric fabrication in which everything is finely controlled with data, like their project of Textile Alliance Headquarters and Asian Cultural Council; working with old pier wood is full of challenges and uncontrollable variables.

The material itself is a data storage with a huge amount of histories. Holes, cracks and stains are the parameters of the design, in which the design proceed needs to adapt to the material. The team wanted to keep the most from the pier piles instead of over-modifying them.

Image © LAAB

T · Park invited regularly artists and designers who are interested in the concept of recycling to the park. Here is a table made of old comic books, by Woodrite.

Image © Woodrite

To learn more about the production process in this video:

Top image © LAAB

> via HK01 / Hong Kong Design Center / City Magazine Design Post


Article wrote when I were still working in Hong Kong :
Chinese version <<築照>> @ Magaristo Magazine

I love appreciating and finding the behind layer of photography. I used to look at western photographers and I never got attracted by any Chinese photographers. One day I stopped by a gallery in Hong Kong near my office, there was a photography series about Chinese cityscape. They were erotic in a way that merging common Chinese life into the rapidly developing landscape. Right before I stepped out the gallery I found the photographer was a Chinese architect, due to my interest on architecture, I decided to stay a while more in the gallery.

<<Great Third Front>>
The photos doesn’t triggered me to think of any of his architecture background : Chen Jiagang, a Chinese architect once worked for major developments in China. He decided to be a full-time photographer since 2001. The photo series <<Great Third Front>>, themed the rapid city developments in China, however showed a strongly erotic composition which spatially contributed to the exaggerated female models. The wild and uncontrolled light and dynamic motions are almost contradictory to common architect’s treatments, which aims to find logic, find the rules, to make things convincing. The photo is not what interested me the most, but his personalities and stories.

Image 1 : Furong Ming, <<Great Third Front>>.
The houses, flowers, old trees, trolleys and the female model seems to be fighting for the front position.

Image 2 : Frosted Dormitory, <<Great Third Front>>.
The purple balloon, floor mop and planter accidentally dominated the photo

Image 3 : 6000volt Tramroad, <<Third Front>>.
with a bit feeling of deconstructionism, Chen used series of Tramroads to build

Birthed in Chongqing, Chen Jia Gang was an architect. In 1999 he was awarded by the United Nations as one of the best twelve Chinese young architect. He joined the developers’ force in early 90s, which was the time with rapid developments on architecture development. It was under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership : “let some people get rich first.”, the developers were under big advantages. As both an architect and development, he wasn’t happy about this advantage. The tiredness of the rapid development speed could be seen in his later works <<Diseased City>>.

Image 4 : Chen Jia Gang

Image 5 : Cinema, <<Third Front>>.
The space has already lost all its furniture to describe the spatial arrangement. However the lighten structure did.

Undoubtedly his biggest photography production are <<Third Front>> and <<Great Third Front>>. The term “Third Front” was from 1964 to 1978 when Chinese was defending America and Russian, they phrased the developments into three parts. The Chinese government moved all the heavy industries on the Chinese-Russian border to the South like Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan. The economy of the southern region was therefore growing rapidly. In the project <<Third Front>>, Chen started from Beijing, traveled to the southern region like Yunnan, Chengdu and Chongging, started to record the different cityscape. This was the time of rapid development, people worked hard on constructing; ironically he found the reversed side where it looked ugly and undeveloped. Started from 1980, Deng Xiaoping changed the direction of industrial development and promoted light industrial works. This was a big attacked to the Third Front region and the speed and struggle inside the region were reflected in his photography.

At the time I researched about Chen Jia Gang, I found a line. “We don’t feel honoured, but ashamed. All the proprietors blame him, hate him”

This was the ShangHeCheng project in Chengdu, probably one of his biggest failure. Launched in 1998, ShangHeCheng project promoted itself as “The new city with memories”. With the luxury spatial arrangement “one house one garden”, this was the utopia of Chen. “Plant a evergreen Osmanthus tree in your garden then enjoy the greenery throughout the eco-window in your house. The architecture is a green castle.” Traditional Chengdu construction techniques, like using gluten rice paste as a material to make bricks, were incorporated in the project.

The first phrase development attracted a strongly positive reaction. The developer decided to continue with the second phrase development. However the company started to accumulated debts during the construction. In order to balance the budget, the design was changed. The utopia garden of Chen disappeared.

Image 6&7 : Villa with private garden
Photo Credits :

Image 8&9 : phrase two development, where the balcony garden disappeared
Photo Credits :

Image 10&11 : ShangHeCheng
Photo Credits :

Does Chen Jia Gang know how to build?

Project manager Yang XingXiang was the person who said the line to blame Chen. The ShangHeCheng development and Chen’s vision was commented as awkward, both on its theory and practical aspects. In order to change the bad housing topology of the first phrase development, the contractor changed the second phrase design totally.

Image 12 : ShangHeCheng Second phrase. Spacious and impractical space where a long thin corridor exist.
Photo Credits :

As he no longer build, we can only find in his photos some traces on understanding whether he can build. In <<Diseased City>>, Chen attacked strongly the “let some people get rich first” development. He described in the photo series the development as a mental illness. The panorama photos gave a sense of “superspace” which all the scales and layers were superimposed. The yellowish color tone gave people a unpleasant feeling. The most interesting is when you look at the sketches of <<Diseased  city>> you already found the spatial quality between the black lines. The realization process of photographer gave a sense of realism but at the same time exaggeration, which fit the development background of China at that time.

Image 13 : Wedding Banquet, <<Diseased City>>

Image 14 : The sketch of Wedding Banquet, <<Diseased City>>

The <<Diseased City>> series was experiment in terms of lighting and composition, the lighting control was obviously not mature in this series. However the use of composition and light was found more successful in <<Third Front>>, which Chen no longer used complicated composition, but a simple and clear 5:4 spatial construction with light to create the hierarchy within the photo.

Chen’s photos expressed the elements of (I) non-building architectural elements (II) female (III)motion and (IV)light. Recent works <<Showroom>> was a great achievement on utilizing these elements. This photo series is the statement from the ex-developer : We are now living in the age which we have to work our entire life for buying a house. The showrooms were not just about the standardized space, but also about our dreams and desires. When Chen was young and studying in Chongqing for architecture, he was involved in the school publication. <<Jian Cui>> means “build outside architecture”, he achieved it by photography now.

Image 15 : People sitting in the room, <<Third Front>>
Using simple but strong lighting to construct space

Image 16 : Showroom 23, <<Showroom>>
The room is standard, but the motion and people inside are not standard.

Chen’s life, walking the opposite direction

He used to not follow the trend. When it was the time for developers, when every developers was thinking to build residential flat for earning money, he insisted to promote culture and construct museum. When he found the ShangHe museum, all the chosen artists were young and infamous artists. However they all became famous and important artists in China nowadays.

Last Word

It was a complicated feeling when I were researching Chen. All the critics on this visionary architect were bitter. The developed who worked with Chen Jia Gang said :

if it is good, people appreciate.
if it is bad, people sympathy.

But we need to be clear who is the client of art. Art is for people, not for the artist”

Reference :

How much do you want to pay?
Social Campaign «THINK BIG, ACT BIG, MAD 2011», Hong Kong

a special thanks to voluntary helper : April Lam

“Housing price in Hong Kong is expensive.”

Yes, people from all over the world know this. The crazy housing price in Hong Kong also led to a pessimistic thought among the citizens. “What are we working for? We work all days and nights for thirty years but all our salaries go to the down payment of the flat.”

The “Think Big, Act Big”’s housing workshop aimed to trigger participants to rethink how much space do we actually need and explore the potential of housing within the limited space supply in Hong Kong.

The typical floor plan of Hong Kong’s public housing was adopted in this exercise. People have personal lifestyles today so their needs for space differ. The improvement of information technology also allow us to live in small space as the computer world almost condense everything.

Of course we want a big house. But this time I am asking “How much do you want to pay for your house?”

“I am not going to pay for a cat”HKD $ 5,500,000

“I am going to feed my children outside my  house” HKD $ 7,500,000

Yes most of us actually don’t build by hand anymore

How to find sources of water in a dry tropical climate

“One way to know if there is water on a site is to lie on the ground before the sunrise,
lift your head up and watch the surface of the land.
As the first sun rays heat up the humid ares,
a little vapor rises, signaling a water source deeper down.”


Lengen, Johan van. 2008. The barefoot architect: a handbook for green building. p.565. Bolinas, Calif., U.S.A: Shelter Publications.


Article @ Magaristo Magazine

早前紐約時報登了普林斯頓大學一位建築系教授Michael Graves的文章 <<Architecture and the Lost Art of Drawing>> 。他感慨今天建築設計的電腦化令建築師們少了一點想像力,令建築失去了活力。

“Architecture cannot divorce itself from drawing, no matter how impressive the technology gets. “
今個學期的其中一課是Computer Media,是筆者在香港讀學士時最討厭的一節課。因為我們往往要囫圇吞棗的學新的軟件,在還未熟習的程度下就要把它應用;因此常常不能得心應手。今個學期Computer Media的頭三課是理論課,除了畫畫之外每週要讀上300-400頁的文章,三個星期內如此囫圇吞棗的讀了兩個世紀。

在建築未開始「文明」前,建築師(當時還未有建築師一詞)用的是雙手建房,把磚頭石頭一塊一塊的疊;今天的建築師,無論是手繪圖還是電腦圖,都是由點和線建構成。大約由文藝復興時期,建築師開始把繪畫和建造兩者合二為一。14世紀佛羅倫斯建築師Filippo Brunelleschi把 linear perspective應用在建築設計上。(圖1) 我們不能斷定建築圖像的應用對建造技術有直接的關係,14世紀時的歐洲的確出視了很多建造技術的突破,因為當時的建築師開始把不同的知識如數學,建造術,物理學等等融入建築建計中,圖畫只是其中之一。

圖1:透視圖的原理 (credit:


圖2:Lapérouse, Labrouste

跟Michael Graves有同感的筆者也在香港讀學士時被20世紀過份電腦化的建築設計嚇怕。

“I find this quite different from today’s “parametric design,” which allows the computer to generate form from a set of instructions, sometimes resulting in so-called blob architecture. The designs are complex and interesting in their own way, but they lack the emotional content of a design derived from hand.”

6年前香港大學建築系來了一位新的院長Ralph Lerner,作為美國普林斯頓大學建築學院前院長的他,把香港大學建築系來個大改革。頓時間我們的studio多了不少先進的機器,3d printer,CNC machine等等…學生們一個學期學一種新的軟件,行內作最普及的AutoCAD被新的教程踢走,老派的建築師學會和建築事務所大喊「港大畢業生連正規的平面圖也不會畫。」早二十年前香港的建築事務所仍有中大與港大的分支,老闆總是愛請自己母校的學生。但殺出一個學制改革後,香港建築界總算「合一」了。

走到美國筆者當然也逃不過電腦化設計的魔爪,迎新會教授花了最多的時間講解電腦與軟件的要求。在每天都要對著屏幕二十小時的情況底下,有時建築的情感都被埋沒在滑鼠的聲音下了。Computer Media理論課完了後第一份功課是用Maya軟件畫一個電燈泡。(圖3) 用了三課的時間學新軟件,大家最後都把燈泡圖嘔了出來。學校的教授比較有經驗,十分清楚軟件背後的邏輯;明白了電腦如何公式化每一集人手畫的線,把其轉化成數字,再形象化在你眼前的屏幕上面。電腦軟件開發了超越肉眼我們看不見的第四感,不少建築師也開始利用電腦帶來的新角度來設計建築。(圖4 &5) 這種超越肉眼界限的空間,人性化與否?


圖4:Preston Scott Cohen’s Eyebeam Atelier Museum

圖5:Preston Scott Cohen’s Eyebeam Atelier Museum

參考 :

Benevolo, Leonardo. 1978. <<The architecture of the Renaissance>>. Boulder, Colo: Westview Press
Jacques Guillerme, Hélène Vérin and Stephen Sartarelli. 1989. <<Archaeology of Section, PerspectaVol. 25>>. pp. 226-257. Yale University, School of Architecture

I were reading about French movement and revolution in the 18 century. An architect Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-Le-Duc wrote a beautiful piece :

“Extremes and contrasts are necessary to the poet. when a man of strong feelings sees his country invaded : when he is the witness of shameful abuses; when his sense of right is outraged; when he suffers or hope, if this man is a poet, he is inevitably inspired.”

Then I thought of a news I read recently, a chinese developer built a massive development in Angola, Africa. Ignoring the aesthetic value of the development, the housing estate ended out empty because of the expensive housing price.

Photo credits : business insider