Cover An aerial view of The Communal Living Room, the first micro-park envisioned by the Design Trust Futures Studio (Photo: Design Trust)

Marisa Yiu and the Design Trust have overhauled a decrepit city park into a neighbourhood oasis to bring a community together

On a bright spring morning in Tsuen Wan, Marisa Yiu was examining the finishing touches on her newly finished living room, designed in a pleasingly elementary palette of pool blue, marigold and maize terrazzo. Only this was not technically her living room, but everyone’s.

Yiu, a co-founder and the executive director of Design Trust, was realising a vision three years in the making, the first of four micro-parks designed in Hong Kong to revitalise public spaces. This one, called The Communal Living Room in Yi Pei Square Playground, transformed a space not long ago marred by violence during the 2019 protests into one that would bring together local communities in positive ways, with vibrant slides and accessible equipment for children, and sitting-out areas for adults that stand in contrast to the neighbouring mahjong and gambling parlours.

The design was conceived by a team of young creative professionals familiar to Design Trust, working under the mentorship of architect Mimi Hoang, and brought together public and private interests in an experiment that Yiu hopes to expand with additional micro-parks under the umbrella of the Design Trust Futures Studio’s Play is for the People programme, each with a unique aesthetic and design concept, as she discusses here:

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What is a “micro-park”?

I’ve always been fascinated with definitions and categories of public space, and know space and proportion is always relative to an urban context and social condition. A few years ago there was a lot of discussion about micro-apartments and the phenomenon of shrinking apartment sizes, so with Hong Kong facing a lot of pressure in terms of space and density, how can we balance that with shared public space? How can we think about the city as our living room and be more creative with our parks? As cities around the world become increasingly dense, they are developing pocket parks for breathing areas, and as there is no true definition of this term I thought it would be applicable as a counter to the micro-apartment phenomenon.

Back in March 2018, I recall the government claimed to manage 1,549 small parks, gardens and sitting-out areas, of which 44 are under 100 sqm. The most common would be the smaller sitting-out areas in Wan Chai or Mong Kok, which are literally squeezed between two tong laus. I’ve always been fascinated with urban public spaces sandwiched in between buildings or under flyovers, and thought, “How do we deal with this?” 

What is Play is for the People intended to convey?

Design Trust builds opportunities for emerging designers, thinkers and scholars to excel in their work. We are committed to creating platforms to stimulate the positive process of design through research-based grants, creative sharing and engaging communities in the Greater Bay Area and internationally. We have a lot of talent and young graduates who are busy working during the day, and this offers a moment to pause and create with peers and established professionals.

Play is for the People discusses and questions the role of play, whether play as a human right for children, or how elderly people play, and the role of playgrounds as spaces for social connection and cognitive creative development for children. How do we create playful and meaningful yet unique play spaces for all ages that are also site-specific to the condition and neighbourhood?

See also: 10 Country Parks And Nature Reserves To Visit In Hong Kong

What went into creating the first park in Yi Pei Square?

In January 2018, four out of ten shortlisted sites were selected for testing out the new collaboration concept. They were Portland Street Rest Garden, Hamilton Street Rest Garden, Sitting-out Area under Flyover in Hill Road and Yi Pei Square Playground. The four sites were selected as they were small parks in old districts with intensive traffic and pedestrian flows. Out of the shortlist, I was very excited to work with the team to select Yi Pei Square due to its site and urban context. It is approximately 10,000 sq ft and the biggest site among the four underway, surrounded by mid-rise residential buildings, with several alleyways leading onto Sha Tsui Road and Chuen Lung Street.

The original park had a few pieces of fitness equipment for the elderly, along with some benches and trees, but was underserving the community. When the design team went to observe the site, most children could only use the elderly facilities to play. The sizes of homes in the area are small, thus the residents were eager to have a shared space and the team put forth a “communal living room” concept to serve the community’s needs.

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Above Watch a timelapse showing how the park was created (Credit: Design Trust)

What are the design highlights?

Its aim is to be a park for all walks of life, intergenerational and inclusive. The team tested new materials, including a combination of safety play mat sculpted into large-to-small integrated terrazzo materials, and weathering steel also for the first time in Hong Kong parks, and graphic innovations across the site from signage to landscape graphic markings.

What were the implications of being a public/private partnership?

I do see this partnership working with NGOs as a positive aspiration to build momentum for the future of our city involving more people in civic design or empowering young designers to participate in this amazing city we live in. The fascinating news is the government has announced revitalisation plans for another 170 parks and play areas across the city in the next five years. We very much hope our humble, modest yet ambitious NGO can help to craft and shape our city more in the future.

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