School of Architecture, CUHK

Black Book 2017-18

Message from the Director

“The Evolution of Design Thinking” is the title on a magazine cover that I noticed in a newsstand not too long ago. Surprisingly, it was not the Architectural Review or other design journals, but the Harvard Business Review, extolling the virtues of design thinking as a key strategic approach that can be applied not only to buildings and products but also systems, services and protocols in a world that is increasingly complex and difficult to interpret amidst unprecedented changes.

In this digital age of supercomputing, big data analytics and industrial robotics in a world with depleting natural and energy resources, when the pace of change is accelerating simultaneously in climate, technology and globalization, what is the vital advantage of design thinking? And, by extension, what are the lasting contributions of architects and urban designers who employ design thinking in creating more livable and sustainable cities?

In our School of Architecture, design thinking naturally informs all of our teaching and research activities, whether in design studios, required or elective courses, and research collaborations. While our Design Research Units aim to stake out distinct intellectual and critical positions, not coincidentally, the common word for each DRU is “design.” It is embedded in our collective DNA.

In his book The Science of the Artificial (1969), Herbert Simon notes the distinction between critical thinking as the analytical process of “breaking down” ideas, and design thinking as the creative process of “building up” of ideas. The dialectic between the two – as an interactive, iterative and integrative process – enables us to make sense of the complex connections between people and places, environment and technology, theory and practice, in order to lead us to design and innovation.

For our students and faculty in this coming academic year, and well beyond, let us be inspired by the capacity of design thinking to achieve the unmet needs of society with innovation and insight. In this shared pursuit, let us also encourage each other, in the words of Idris Mootee, “to reach a little higher, dig a little deeper and imagine a little bigger.”


Prof. Nelson Chen, FAIA FRIBA FHKIA
Professor of Practice in Architecture
Director, School of Architecture

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