For architecture students and professors, Hong Kong offers a world of possibilities

University of Florida architecture professors Robert Macleod and Nancy Sanders host a study abeoad every summer in Hong Kong.

Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 at 2:40 p.m.

For the second summer, UF professor of architecture Robert MacLeod and associate professor of architecture Nancy Sanders will be taking 24 graduate and undergraduate students to study in Hong Kong, where the pair recently won a government-sponsored design competition for a town called San Choi.

The competition required a redesign of 5 square kilometers of industrial space in San Choi. The couple, in conjunction with their design partner Albertus S. L. Wang, incorporated a series of 15 public green spaces while allowing many of the original buildings to stay. "We're very interested in the idea of public space," says MacLeod, 46,

"Especially in China, where public space is a differently evolving thing, with the passing of Mao and the opening up in terms of economics and so on, though it's still a tightly-scripted place socially when you're there."

Sanders, 37, was an undergraduate at UF before receiving her master's degree at Harvard and then moving to Hong Kong for seven years, where she worked with an architecture firm. She speaks Cantonese, but not fluently.

The professors' familiarity with the area and its culture allowed them to open some remarkable doors last summer, when they arrived with undergraduates and graduates from UF. The students were permitted to study some of the area's elite architecture, including the world-famous Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, designed by Norman Foster, and an interesting community called Commune by the Great Wall.

Located in proximity to the Great Wall of China, the Commune consists of separate vacation villas designed by China's most illustrious architects. Given all the other major cities in the world, why Hong Kong?

"You can't not look at China right now," MacLeod adds. "Any business person would tell you that. China is a very beautiful and kind of an amazing country. It's a very charged atmosphere right now in that it's a moment in its history where things are happening so quickly and with a surprising ease, especially for architects. There's an open- mindedness. Things can get built in China that can't get built very easily in the rest of the world." Another educational asset is that American students in Hong Kong are exposed to a very different world, MacLeod says. "I think that it's a place where, if you're a white person, you're a profound minority. That's a very interesting feeling. Actually, I think it's a very healthy thing to really feel like the Oother.' It's an interesting thing for students to realize that it's a huge world out there, and when they watch the BBC, it's not an American point of view. It's an amazing cultural, socio-political experience."

MacLeod says the Hong Kong trip is "life-altering" for some who go.

That would have to include the educators, too. The couple started looking for engagement rings in Hong Kong last summer.

"We had been talking about getting married & It just felt like the right time [to propose]," MacLeod remembers. "I almost picked a very famous site in Hong Kong called The Peak, which is one of the high points that overlooks the city, but I knew if I'd done that, she would have known." Sanders agrees. "If he'd taken me there, I would have known for sure."

Instead of going to an architectural landmark, one architect surprised the other by proposing in Hong Kong over tea and toast. The couple were married in April. This month, they return with UF students to Hong Kong.

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