Design at Riverside
7 Melville Street S, Cambridge, ON
Portraits from Above contains photographs,drawings, and transcribed oral histories depicting self-built rooftop settlements (shanty towns) constructed by Chinese migrant workers. Architect Rufina Wu and photographer Stefan Canham, document five of these rooftop communities which are unique to Hong Kong’s older districts and are under threat of demolition as part of Hong Kong’s larger urban renewal plans.
Rufina Wu was born in Hong Kong in 1980. She studied at the University of Waterloo in Canada where she completed degrees in Environmental Studies and Architecture. She was a CCSEP Visiting Scholar at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China from 2005 to 2006. Beijing Underground, her graduate thesis, focuses on migrant housing found in Beijing’s underground air raid shelters. This body of research won an AIA Medal and was exhibited in Canada, United States, and Germany. From December 2007 to February 2008, she was artist-in-residence at Hong Kong’s Art and Culture Outreach, collaborating with Stefan Canham on Portraits from Above. The project won the 5th International Bauhaus Award 2008 and was published by Peperoni Books, Berlin, and MCCM Creations, Hong Kong. It has been exhibited in Asia, Europe, and North America, including solo exhibitions at Goethe–Institut and Lumenvisum Gallery (Hong Kong, 2009), Kunsthaus (Hamburg, 2009), Design at Riverside (Cambridge, ON, 2010) and Harbourfront Centre (Toronto, 2010). Her research interest focuses on informal housing tactics associated with rapid urban development and population mobility. Rufina currently lives in Vancouver.
Stefan Canham was born in England in 1968. He studied Film at Hamburg Academy of Fine Arts, Germany, and has been working free-lance on documentary photo and television projects since 1995. He is interested in the amazing and beautiful things people create even under adverse circumstances, and in their photographic representation. In 2003 he was artist-in-residence at the Schleswig-Holsteinisches Künstlerhaus in Eckernförde, Germany. His photographic record of the mobile squatter culture in Germany was short-listed for the 3rd International Bauhaus Award 2004 and published under the title Bauwagen / Mobile Squatters by Peperoni Books (Berlin) in 2006. He has exhibited in Germany and abroad and contributed to journals like An Architektur (Berlin), Critical Planning (Los Angeles), Sarai Reader (Delhi), MONU Magazine on Urbanism (Rotterdam) and Arhitext (Bucharest).
From December 2007 to February 2008, he was artist-in-residence at Hong Kong’s Art and Culture Outreach, collaborating with Rufina Wu on Portraits from Above. The project won the 5th International Bauhaus Award 2008 and was published by Peperoni Books, Berlin, and MCCM Creations, Hong Kong. It has been exhibited in Asia, Europe, and North America, including solo exhibitions at Goethe–Institut and Lumenvisum Gallery (Hong Kong, 2009), Kunsthaus (Hamburg, 2009), Design at Riverside (Cambridge,ON, 2010) and Harbourfront Centre (Toronto, 2010). Substantial parts of the project have been presented in themed exhibitions, including Informal Cities at the Coomaraswamy Hall, (Mumbai 2009), Breda Photo (Breda, 2010), High-Rise – Idea and Reality at Museum für Gestaltung (Zurich, 2010), Rapid Change at Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts (Auckland, 2011), and The City that does not exist at Museum Ludwig Forum (Aachen, 2012).
Introduction by Rufina Wu and Stefan Canham .
Self-built settlements on the roofs of high-rise buildings have been an integral part of Hong Kong’s history for over half a century. The rise of rooftop communities is closely linked to the migration history from the Chinese Mainland to Hong Kong. With each of China’s tumultuous political movements in the 20th century, like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, there was a corresponding wave of Mainland Chinese migrating to Hong Kong. The large influx of migrants resulted in a severe housing shortage and fostered the emergence of informal settlements. People constructed living spaces by utilizing every available space and all types of materials on the flat roofs of high-rise buildings. These rooftop structures range from basic shelters to intricate multi-storey constructions equipped with many of the amenities of modern life and have enabled subsequent waves of migrants to live in the central urban areas of the city.
Rufina Wu (Canada) and Stefan Canham (Germany) utilize the tools of an architect and the tools of a photographer to document the rooftop communities of five buildings located in older districts in the Kowloon Peninsula and slated for redevelopment by the Urban Renewal Authority of Hong Kong. Text records of the residents’ stories, measured drawings of each distinct rooftop structure, and high-resolution images of the domestic interiors of more than twenty households offer an unprecedented insight into the everyday life of Hong Kong’s rooftop residents.
The Portraits from Above exhibition made its Canadian debut at Design at Riverside following engagements in Hong Kong and Germany.
The book, Portraits from Above is a winner of the 2008 International Bauhaus Award.