David Birchall. 'Sound Drawing'

Public opinion, civic uses of land tied to social systems, changing land use definitions as demographics and social attitudes change:

Nora Wendl. ' Pruitt-Igoe, Tomorrow'

Heather Dunbar and Xiaowei Wang. 'Pruitt-Igoe Now'

Dustin Valen. 'On the Merits of Bad Behaviour in Public Parks'

Mapping and being: why are some places beautiful, what do we think about them as we draw them, photograph them and document their ephemerality and their sometimes difficult histories:

Novka Cosovic. 'Ometepe Island, Lago de Nicaragua'Graham Hooper. 'Castles of sand, fall in the sea, eventually'

The vast spaces of deserts, military sites, and national parks.  Are these spaces any less complex than our busy urban landscapes?

Desirée Valadares. 'Dispossessing the Wildernes, conservation issues in national parks'

Matt Neville. 'Our National Landscape; romanticising the Canadian hinterland'

Sara Jacobs. 'Ghosts, Tooele County, Utah'

Lindsey Nette. 'Lost in the Empty; Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan'

Dillon Marsh. 'Assimilation; Kalahari Desert, South Africa'

The remediated landscapes of mining, war and detente – each has left a damaged land which, through sheer necessity, is reclaimed, reforested and brought into the present with great love and hope:

 Leanna Lalonde. 'Under Cover of Green; the re-greening of Sudbury'

David Fortin. 'Watching Sudbury; gazing at a re-greened landscape'

Ruth Oldham. 'Holes and Heaps; terrils as cultural artefacts in le Bassin Mineur, France'

Xiaoxuan Lu. 'Landscape Noir; Laos'

Mike Taylor. 'Form on the Frontier; an architecture for the DMZ'

Protective infrastructure: it’s a dangerous place out there.  How do we make nature palatable, less threatening, less likely to crash down on our heads:

Dominique Cheng. 'Planespotting; the Kai Tak Project'Michael J Leeb. 'Flood mitigation: Akamina Parkway, Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta'

Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter. 'Trollstigen Visitor Centre, Romsdalen-Geiranger fjord, Norway'

Stephanie White. 'Listening to Landscapes'

Landscapes understood by the foot, which walks them, and by the hand, which draws them:

Michael J Leeb. 'Oil City, 1901' Alec Spangler. 'Walking and Narrative'

Troels Steenholdt Heiredal. 'The Aarhus Drawing'


Dominique Cheng: Planespotting, the Kai Tak Project

Cities are inevitably shaped by historical events and urban phenomena.  This project examines a site’s capacity to resuscitate the memory of a spectacle in the absence of the architecture that generated it, and asks whether or not this can reverse the effects of what Robert Smithson described as the entropic city.  The Kai Tak Project positions the individual as its primary focus by engaging the culture of casual aircraft spectatorship, or planespotting, that once existed in the city of Kowloon, to evoke an alternative reading of the cityscape.

figure 1 : Grand Aviary Schematic Plan. Circuit diagram illustrating the ‘processor’ Chek Lap Kok (current Hong Kong International Airport) hard-wired to the ‘receptor’ Kai Tak (former Hong Kong International Airport). Activity in the form of take-offs and landings occurring at the new airport are fed simultaneously to the old airport to activate a series of staged disturbances in South Kowloon.
The history of Kowloon and the evolution of its first airport can be characterised as one of transience and constant change resulting from inadvertent shifts in the political and economic landscape.  During its 73-year long tenure of the airfield (1925-1998), the site, located on an ocean inlet between Hong Kong Island to the south and Kowloon to the north, endured numerous ownership changes and one world war punctuated by a Japanese invasion.1  Its initial formation as an aerodrome was happenstance in nature and its subsequent development was driven by piecemeal urbanism in the absence of a comprehensive master plan. At the point that a transaction between two investors intent on developing the vacant lands dissolved, the government recognised the site’s potential to become an airfield that could be extended and expanded as needed into Kowloon Bay.2  Over the following decades, the site underwent several transformations, from an aviation school in the 1920s to a naval air base modified in the 1950s to suit commercial aviation.3 Inevitably, the growth of South Kowloon was defined by a constant negotiation of space – urban space to air space.  

The approach path to Runway 13/31 in particular left an indelible impression on the urban fabric, inscribing a distinct path of low-rise buildings as a result of both aviation clearance requirements and the city’s natural topography of rugged hills and valleys.  Landings at the airport, which grew increasingly more difficult, were a dramatic spectacle of aerial gymnastics – aviation enthusiasts grew accustomed to watching commercial aircraft sweep across the city at dangerously low altitudes during descent. Planespotting was a term coined to define this culture of casual spectatorship of aircraft, akin to watching birds in an aviary.  Building rooftops and hillside plateaus evolved into makeshift observatories as other buildings and landmarks (designated by checkered signs and beacon lights) served as visual cues for pilots during final descent.  South Kowloon was a Mecca for planespotters up until the airport could no longer sustain the pressures imposed by both population and infrastructural growth.   

By the 1990s, the airport had reached a tipping point, warranting plans for a new replacement airport.  Kai Tak Airport was officially retired in July 1998 in favour of Chek Lap Kok Airport located on reclaimed land 19 miles to the west. The Kai Tak site remained predominantly vacant for over a decade due to extreme levels of petroleum contamination and escalating property costs. Today, it is a ferry cruise terminal with tall residential development filling what was once restricted airspace; the airfield apron and the checkerboard markers are the only remaining relics of the past. The landing approach itself is immortalised in amateur home videos, photographs and recollections gathered from retired pilots and planespotters alike.  

figure 2: Sparging Field. In a state of disuse, the landing strip is populated with siphons that release contaminated air back out into the atmosphere through a process of soil vapour extraction and air sparging. The process of remediation is transformed into a performance of sound. 3

The project is a series of urban interventions (or staged disturbances) mapping the trajectory of the former flight path. They make reference to the landing approach via the city as a communicative interface.  A direct relationship is created between the new airport (Chek Lap Kok International Airport) and the old airport, as one is programmed to respond to the other through various transformations in architecture and landscape in South Kowloon (figure 1). Highrises are retrofitted with ‘spotters’, or mechanical oculi that move in unison to scan the city for aircraft during take-off and landing (figure 3).  Street signs momentarily rotate like flapper boards to display the flight codes (airline and flight number) of both outgoing and incoming flights. At the runway, the process of remediation is exhibited as a symphony of air and sound as at regular intervals pipes buried in the soil extract and exhaust contaminants in the form of gas (figure 2). The interventions, deployed in sequential order and triggered by data originating from the new airport, simulate the experience of a phantom airport. figure 3: Spotter. Oculi are appended to highrises all over South Kowloon – their sychronised movements trace the path of phantom aircraft descending into the city at regular intervals.

1 ‘Hong Kong (China) - History’ in T. Ngo, editor. Hong Kong’s History: State and Society Under Colonial Rule. London: Routledge, 1999. p80
2 Choa, G. The Life and Times of Sir Kai Ho Kai, second edition. Sha Tin, New Territories: The Chinese University Press, 2000. pp. 31-32
3 Kai Tak Airport 1925-1998. (2013, October 4). www.cad.gov.hk/english/kaitak


Dominique Cheng is an architect and artist based in Toronto. His illustrations and installations have been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Art Gallery of Hamilton and the Gladstone Hotel.

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