Vibrant places in ZERO spaces


Empty spaces in cities have traditionally been sites waiting to be built on. These undeveloped lands are usually seen by its owners as a loss of income, or even worse, seen by the state as a sign of a city decaying. ZERO, is a new project by Professor Thomas Kong that challenges these negative values, and argues for a more positive one instead. Citing Asian philosophies and art theories, Professor Kong zeros in on sites in Beppu, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore, to produce what he calls the “new attitudes in a post economic bubble age”.

ZERO challenges the traditional role of architects by looking at why there are empty spaces in a city, and how people make use of them. “…We have been trained as architects that the only thing we could present to society is a building, to fill the void again,” writes Professor Kong. But, he questions if this is feasible in a time when “the myth of continuous economic growth is shattered”, and capital for development can no longer be taken for granted.

In Singapore for instance, I helped him document how students make use of the airport to study. The vastness of the airport and its temporal nature of use opens up this space for students to reclaim and use it in other ways. Reclaim Land’s stories also easily fit into ZERO as they happened on spaces that are empty, and ‘open’ for appropriation.

Through this project supported by the 3rd Jaap Bakema Fellowship, Professor Kong is using ZERO to call for the return of the “commons” as an alternative to private property ownership. Instead of commodifying spaces and clearly demarcating them as public or private, there should be collective ownership. Along with this new ownership structure, he has listed out ten new attitudes on how we use spaces so as to keep them fluid and open for possibilities. The project is a fascinating read that challenges our ideas of empty spaces and suggests that we should look at it all over again — starting from ZERO.