Human-Centric Urban Planning – GROUNDWORK for Localized Development Tailored to Community Needs

With experience in both private and public sectors, Charles Li, managing director of Groundwork Architects, has been involved in numerous notable projects throughout his career. In executing design work, he often encountered limitations imposed by different factors, such as predefined frameworks established in previous planning stages or existing architectural environments. These factors often predetermine the specific scope of design, making it challenging for practitioners to surpass.

Despite encountering various limitations in design work, Charles consistently upholds his design principles and beliefs, offering unique insights into urban design in Hong Kong.

“As a designer, my fundamental principles revolve around elevating the daily lives of individuals through meticulous planning.” – Charles Li

The Managing Director of Groundwork Architects, Charles Li

Human-Centric Design: Transforming Public Spaces for Enhanced Quality of Life

The architectural and interior design sectors in Hong Kong have achieved a commendable level of maturity and excellence, thanks to the contributions of numerous exceptional interior designers. Nevertheless, it is precisely these “smart” and aesthetically pleasing creations that have led Charles to contemplate the underlying purpose of architectural and urban design.
He finds himself questioning the narrowness of the streets and the daily struggles endured by people waiting for transportation. These inquiries collectively point to a shared concern: the apparent lack of meticulous design and consideration for public spaces.
Charles believes that Hong Kong, particularly in areas with rich three-dimensional space such as the Mid-levels and Lan Kwai Fong would benefit from improved urban planning. Specifically, the urban renewal and new development initiatives should prioritize a more human-centric approach to public space planning.

With a strong desire to utilize his expertise, he aims to make meaningful contributions to public space planning. His objective is to explore strategies that offer citizens more considerate travel and leisure experiences, all the while ensuring the necessary flexibility in design.

From People to Design: A Holistic Approach to Activities and Space

“From my perspective, I believe that any design should begin with people, followed by activities, then the corresponding spaces, with architectural design serving as the final step.” explains Charles. He believes it is essential to prioritize people as the foundation of the design process, although this approach may deviate from the conventional sequence.
The Danish city planner and urban designer Jan Gehl once said, “First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works.” This deeply influences Charles’s beliefs and principles, emphasizing a human-centered approach.

These beliefs and principles are reflected throughout Charles’ professional career. He played a pivotal role in the planning of the Kai Tak Development Area, where project adaptations were required due to substantial public opposition towards extensive land reclamation. Furthermore, his meticulous attention to population density contributed to the successful reduction of building heights and the seamless integration of leisure facilities in the urban design project of southern Tseung Kwan O, resulting in the creation of a comfortable residential area that stands today.

Striking a Balance: Integrating Designers’ Vision with Citizens’ Actual Needs

The Mui Wo Imagine project stands as a prime example of a collaborative design process, where teams work together to bring ideas to life. With a focus on developing urban parks that cater to the needs of citizens, the project entails engaging and educating stakeholders from various sectors, as well as raising public awareness. A crucial responsibility of the design team is to provide detailed project background information to relevant decision-makers. To address any uncertainties within the team, participatory activities, and co-creation were employed, fostering an environment of mutual learning and understanding. Through this collective endeavor, the project successfully generated optimal and feasible solutions.

Planning schemes often commence from the perspective of planning designers, which can sometimes deviate from the genuine needs of the community. This was the case for the revitalization project of Mongkok Toy Street, where the designers from the GW team realized that the citizens’ needs were not as diverse as initially imagined. Ultimately, the team discovered that the residents’ core requirements revolved around basic electrical facilities. Consequently, they focused their efforts on addressing these fundamental needs by appropriately installing the necessary infrastructure.

Take the redevelopment of the Kwun Tong City Centre Temporary Free Space and Playground for Project #K7 – as another example, through extensive public engagement and multidisciplinary design, it transformed into a vibrant space where people can interact in various forms.

From this perspective, the best urban design solutions often arise from the needs articulated by the stakeholders themselves. Recognizing that the success of any project extends beyond the exterior and functional design of buildings in which public participation and operational models are equally important.

Charles Li

The revitalization project of Mongkok Toy Street by Groundwork Architects. (photo: ricmaglau)

The redevelopment of Kwun Tong City Centre Temporary Free Space and Playground (Project #K7) by Groundwork Architects

Balanced Development for Sustainable Cities

Charles firmly believes that good design necessitates a delicate balance of various elements. In the context of future urban planning and design, the primary focus should extend beyond the pursuit of economic gains in commercial projects. Instead, it should emphasize fostering a positive impact on the community as a whole.

The urban design of Hong Kong holds significant influence over multiple facets of life, particularly for the elderly population. This encompasses considerations such as convenient travel, the thoughtful arrangement of shared facilities, and the provision of diverse recreational spaces. Prioritizing the reduction of gaps between different demographic groups is crucial, as it encourages mutual support and interaction within the city. Furthermore, actively engaging with diverse perspectives enables projects to be tailored to meet the specific needs of the local community.

To establish a sustainable and vibrant community, a dedicated and continuous effort is essential. Urban planners and designers must embrace a holistic perspective that places the genuine lives of individuals at the forefront. By actively seeking opportunities for learning and improvement, they lay the foundation for the ongoing advancement of urban design, paving the way for a brighter future for all.