Harvard Design: Hong Kong GSD’s Annual Alumni and Friends Weekend

Honoring the school’s growing global influence, GSD Development and Alumni Relations hosted Alumni Weekend 8,000 miles from Gund Hall, where nearly 150 alumni, faculty and friends convened in Hong Kong from September 14 through 16 for an engaging program including “The Future of the City in Global City-Regions” symposium, local architectural tours and a Grand Reception. While the bulk of participants came from the school’s vast alumni base in the region, several participants traveled from remote locales including London, Poland, Chicago, Texas and Australia, representing classes from 1970 to 2014. In an effort to meet alumni closer to home, the School opted to host this year’s event outside of Cambridge for the second year in a row.

On Saturday, while some guests checked-in at the Island Shangri-La Hotel, early arrivals took self-guided walking tours to famous Hong Kong destinations designed by GSD alumni and friends, including the Pacific Place by Thomas Heatherwick, the Asia Society Building by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, and the Hong Kong Arts Centre by Tao Ho (MArch ’64). The party began in earnest that evening at the Upper House Hotel where guests mingled in the garden perched above the urban streetscape, looking out onto Hong Kong’s famous Peak and the historic Wan Chai neighborhood.
Recent graduates were happily in full force, having recruited one another to attend, socialize and network. Wendy Gan (AMDP ’13) corralled friends to attend, “This was a wonderful opportunity to show my city to my fellow alumni. I managed to convince a classmate to come all the way from London! The weekend connected me with old friends that I haven’t seen in a while and I made several new ones. A group of us were so excited that we are already talking about a mini-reunion in either Hong Kong or Seoul this November.” Another recent graduate, Dan Hui (MArch ’10), reinforced the significance of the GSD in the region, “I hope the GSD will bring Alumni weekend back to the Asia region in the near future. The weekend showed that the GSD has a deep presence in the area and the pace of change to the built environment here warrants further engagement.”

On Sunday morning, SERT Council Members were honored at a brunch at the prestigious Hong Kong Club designed by Harry Seidler (MArch ’46), where they were welcomed and honored by Dean Mohsen Mostafavi and Professor P. Scott Cohen. Later that day, guests headed to Central Pier Number 9 to embark on a private, architectural boat tour led by Jason Wordie, a local historian. The 90-minute tour provided breathtaking, panoramic views of Hong Kong’s majestic skyline from the water.

Guests disembarked at a former ferry terminal, now home to the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, to regroup during a brief reception and settle in for the afternoon’s program exploring the West Kowloon Cultural District, the largest cultural initiative of its kind in the world that will establish a major center for music, performing and visual arts on a dramatic harbor-front site in the heart of Hong Kong. Tialong Jiao (AM ’99, PhD ’03), the Dr. Frank Tsao Wen-king Chief Curator of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, provided opening remarks, followed by Colin Ward, partner at Foster + Partners, who presented the firm’s master plan to integrate 30,000 square meters of arts education facilities within the everyday life of the city. Aric Chen, curator of design and architecture at M+, described how the museum, designed by GSD faculty Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, will anchor the budding cultural district and transform the cultural life of the city, while Edman Choy from Herzog and de Meuron shared the design for the new museum itself.

Monday morning brought the main event, “The Future of the City in Global City-Regions,” a full-day symposium featuring a variety of important perspectives from GSD faculty, alumni, designers and developers with local expertise. Nelson Chen (AB ’75, MArch ’78) opened the day with a warm welcome and introduced Dean Mostafavi who reinforced the GSD’s role in the region and the import of hosting an international gathering of alumni and friends. The symposium included four sessions, each focusing on an individual topic facing the region, including urbanization, sustainable infrastructures, innovations in urban development, and the closing roundtable on global city-regions. Participants included Anthony Gar On Yeh, Rahul Mehrotra (MAUD ’87), Sean Chiao (MAUD ’88), Nelson Chen, Eric Kar Lock Chan, T.C. Chew, Joseph Brown (MLAUD ’72), Paul Katz, Augustine Tit Sun Lee, Jack Portman (MArch ’73), Grace Tan (MDesS ’00), Arthur Aw, Gordon Gill (MArch ’93), Dr. Feng Lun, and Bing Wang (MAUD ’99, DDes ’04). The highlight was the closing roundtable, “Conjectures: The City in Global City-Regions,” featuring selected panelists plus Nancy Lin (MArch ’97) and Rocco Yim, and moderated by Dean Mostafavi. For a full listing of program, click here

Frank Lee (MAUD ’79) especially enjoyed the Grand Reception, ”In the early evening we gathered on a rooftop terrace at Sevva, designed by Calvin Tsao, (MArch ’79), overlooking Victoria Harbour. We witnessed a synchronized decorative laser and light multimedia display featuring buildings on both sides. It was a wonderful way to wrap up an eye-opening journey.” Sevva provided a stunning venue for conversation and camaraderie, an indoor/outdoor experience immersed in the Hong Kong skyline where, in contrast to the tightly packed symposium, guests loosened their proverbial ties and settled into some serious socializing, reflecting upon and discussing the day’s content.

The school extends a very special thanks to Nelson Chen (MArch ’78), Sean Chiao (MAUD ’88) and Nancy Lin (MArch ’97), who were instrumental in planning the weekend, and also to AECOM who provided staff assistance throughout the weekend. Chiao reflected on the power of the reunion, “The Harvard Design: Hong Kong weekend was a great reunion of many like-minded people, who have accomplished much in our own respective fields, big and small. It’s meaningful to bring everyone back together to reconnect, and re-ignite the spark in all of us again. It made me realize the influence that all of us have managed to create in the communities we live in.”

Stay tuned for an announcement regarding next year’s alumni and friends weekend dates and location.

Click here to watch a highlights video of the event.