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Floating Fields

Floating Fields by Thomas Chung from the School of Architecture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. As its name suggests, “Floating Fields” is simply vegetables planted on a pond near the flour factory. Premised on a vision for “Re-Living the City,” the work aspires to an alternative, organic living based on reinvigorating post-industrial architecture and public space with a productive edible landscape.

Floating-Fields-By-Thomas-Chung-02-759x356 Floating Fields / Thomas Chung

© Thomas Chung

Floating Fields transforms a 3,200 m2 area of a former flour factory in Shenzhen into a productive pondscape and enjoyable public space. Drawing from site and local traditions, the obsolete industrial site is revived by a self-cleansing eco-water cycle that integrates floating and rooftop plots, fish, duck, silkworm, algae cultivation with filtering ponds. The edible pondscape is designed as a live laboratory researching on regenerative design, urban food production, and low-carbon urban living aspiring to a place-based, bio-social urbanism.

Floating-Fields-By-Thomas-Chung-03-759x872 Floating Fields / Thomas Chung

© Thomas Chung

The aquatic theme is inspired by the floating oyster-raft tradition in Shenzhen Bay, and the erstwhile water-based polyculture of Mulberry-Dyke Fish-Pond Silkworm growing in Pearl River Delta (PRD), South China. The site’s existing underground waterway is opened up; the former workers dormitory’s openings and column bay rhythm extend the pond grids and pathway design. Concrete ground is broken up to form larger ponds; crushed rubble recycled as gravel paths. Brick platforms, bridge, steps, benches and pavilions create a walkable landscape combining food production and water recycling. A virtuous cycle of self-sustaining ecology fuses urban agriculture, research lab and animating public space for all.

Floating-Fields-By-Thomas-Chung-04-759x530 Floating Fields / Thomas Chung

© Thomas Chung

Floating-Fields-By-Thomas-Chung-09-759x569 Floating Fields / Thomas Chung

© Thomas Chung

Ecological Water Cycle:

The project’s water cycle can be selfsustained. Waste water first enters the algae ponds, cleaned by the filtering ponds, and purified in the water lily pond. Then it flows into the carp pond, duck pond, onto the floating plots and aquaponics and mulberry fishpond areas. The floating plots gives oxygen to the water while partially cleaning it, before going back to start of the cycle. Part of the cleaned water is used for rooftop irrigation.

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© Thomas Chung

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© Thomas Chung

Multi-cycle Ecology:

Floating Fields integrates multiple ecological cycles, including Mulberry dyke Fish pond, aquaponics, floating farming plots, rooftop growing, filtering ponds and algae cultivation into one interrelated productive ecosystem. Ecologies within each part have multiple functions such as two-way nutrient provision, waste water recycling, crop production, water purification and landscape features, creating more flexibility than conventional closed systems.

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© Thomas Chung

“Floating Fields is a landscape complex that constitutes an experiment and exploration entirely based on the curatorial theme of “Reliving”. It is an exquisite and beautiful work, not only reviving the roots of a variety of agricultural and aquatic cultivation, the unique ecological agricultural landscape of the Pearl River Delta, but also extends and transforms them into a unique public space that offers a pleasurable leisure experience. Floating fields recreate the ‘mulberry-dyke fishpond’ culture in an elegant and lyrical way.” – Jury comments / Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism Architecture (UABB) Awards

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© Thomas Chung

Thomas Chung:

Floating Fields is premised on a vision for ‘Re-Living The City’, speculating on a place-based bio-social urbanism. It aspires to an alternative, organic living based on reinvigorating post-industrial architecture by creating enjoyable public space through a productive edible landscape, at the same time reviving the roots of the polyculture ecology (multiple agri + aqua-cultures) that once defined the unique territorial landform of the Pearl River Delta.

Floating-Fields-By-Thomas-Chung-19-759x569 Floating Fields / Thomas Chung

© Thomas Chung

Inhabitants of the low-lying, flood-prone, delta landscape fused agriculture including silkworm, mulberry leaves and fish cultivation with inventive eco-engineering to evolve the Mulberry-dyke Fish-pond, one of the most celebrated examples of intensive eco-agriculture of the region. It engendered a once flourishing water-based commerce that has now all but vanished leaving abandoned landscapes. Likewise, this year’s biennale venue, the former Da Cheng Flour Factory, is a product of Shenzhen’s rapid urbanization, a monumental effort that covered overnight the centuries-old wetland polycultures with concrete and industry to fabricate the instant flotation of the expectant metropolis. The obsolete factory, now cracking up to allow sunlight and overgrown wild blossoms to seep through to the water underground, testifies to the enduring resilience of nature.

Floating-Fields-By-Thomas-Chung-21-759x532 Floating Fields / Thomas Chung

© Thomas Chung

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© Thomas Chung

Floating Fields resuscitates the lifeless site. Concrete ground is broken up to form large connected ponds for edible fish. The presence of an existing covered waterway is revealed by a filtering corridor of varied water-cleansing plants and grasses for fish feed. A complete water cycle is created:

a contemporary version of the dyke-pond cultivation is combined with low-tech aquaponics; a life-giving waterway inspires the filtering corridor, mulberry trees are grown to feed cocoon-spinning silkworms inside a pavilion; while colourful algae is expertly cultivated and harvested to enhance the water purification and produce fish feed. The notion of floating plot is tested out as light-weight, mobile farming plots on different horizons, on water-bodies, filling pavilion roofs or on top of buildings. A self-sustaining ecology is developed to demonstrate a virtuous cycle of hybrid urban-agricultural environment that can also become at once a productive and leisure public space for enjoyment of all.

Returning to fundamental urban re-living, disbanding excessive construction, and resuming a symbiotic space for nature, Floating Fields hopes to cultivate comforting nourishment amidst the restlessness of our buoyant city.

Floating-Fields-By-Thomas-Chung-25-759x458 Floating Fields / Thomas Chung

© Thomas Chung

Project Data:

Project name: Floating Fields
Location: Shenzhen, China
Coordinates: 22.476244, 113.903633
Type: Public Space, Factory Space
Project area: n/a
Project Period: 2015-2016
Status: Built
Completion Year: August 2016


  • 2016 – Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism Architecture (UABB) Awards – Winner
  • 2016 – World Architecture Festival Award – Category: Production Energy And Recycling > Completed Buildings –  Winner

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: China Merchants Shekou Industrial Zone Holdings Co., Ltd.
Landscape Architects: Thomas Chung – Associate Professor – School of Architecture The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Project + Research:

  • Sophia AU, Joshua LAM, NG Kai Hong, Sylvia SIU, Bill SO, WONG Ming Chiu

Executive Partner: Chi Fai Fung
Farming Consultant: Founding Member, SEED (HK)
Agriculture Consultant: Chi Fai FUNG, Founding Member, SEED (HK)
Algae Cultivation Collaborator:

  • Microalgae Research Team, The Open University of Hong Kong
  • Prof. HO Kin Chung (Dean, School of Science & Technology, OUHK)
  • Mr. WONG Yee Keung (Assistant Lecturer, OUHK)
  • Mr. LEUNG Chi Chung (Research Assistant, OUHK)
  • CHAN Ka Kwan, CHEN Jun Jie, CHEUNG Ka Yau, HO Ting Hong, LEE Yiu Lun, TSE Chun Yiu, YIU Kui Fan

Text Description: © Courtesy of Thomas Chung, Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism Architecture (UABB) Awards, School of Architecture The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Images: © Thomas Chung


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