CCHU9048 Humanities
The City: Histories of Urbanism and the Built Environment

[This course is under the thematic cluster of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’.]


Course Description

What is a city? Through what processes is our built environment constituted? How do we dwell in our cities and how do different kinds of urban space shape our sense of place and community belonging? This course will explore practices of urbanism across a range of contexts from antiquity to the present day. By doing so it will allow students to develop insights into the social relations and human struggles that have been produced by, and continue to produce, particular types of built forms in different places over time. In the broadest sense, the course will use urbanism as a lens to understand the relationship between urban forms and the complex, multiple processes that constitute cities and their urban milieus.

The course content will be organized around sets of case studies, with each focusing on a specific theme that indicates particular continuities and congruencies between cities of different locations and time periods. The discussion throughout the course will engage with questions related to contemporary urbanization and consider how historical knowledge may impart a better understanding of the challenges we are facing in the global present.

[Students will sign up for one half-day field trip scheduled during Reading Week.]

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

    1. Become familiar with the urban heritage of the past and locate built environments in their historical, social and cultural contexts.
    2. Analyze urban processes from different perspectives by thinking across time and geographical scales.
    3. Develop wide-ranging curiosity about cities and the different peoples that inhabit them.
    4. Develop a critical awareness of the complex forces that shape the forms and norms of the environment and the ongoing construction of urban culture and social milieu.
    5. Strengthen the ability for teamwork and communication skills.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 22
Tutorials 10
Fieldwork / Visits 4
Reading / Self-study 44
Assessment: Project assignments 60
Total: 140

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Tutorial participation 10
Project assignments 65
In-class assessments 25

Required Reading

  • Chu, C. (2013). Combating nuisance: Sanitation, regulation, and the politics of property in colonial Hong Kong. In R. Peckham and D. Pomfret (Eds.), Imperial contagions: Medicine and the cultures of planning in Asia (pp. 17-36). Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
  • Davies, A. R. (2012). Points of origin: The social impact of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. In G. Bankoff et al. (Eds.), Flammable cities: Urban conflagration and the making of the modern world (pp. 273-292). Madison, MI: The University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Donald, J. (2005). City. In T. Bennett et al. (Eds.), New keywords (pp. 32-35). Oxford: Blackwell. 
  • Ganjavie, A. (2012). Role of utopia for design of future cities: Utopia in urban planning literature. Studies in Literature and Language, 5(3), 10-19.
  • Girouard, M. (1985). Bruges and Venice. In Cities & people: A social and architectural history (pp. 100-112). New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press.
  • Hall, P. (2002). Cities of tomorrow. Oxford; Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. [Selective chapters]
  • Heng, C. K. (1994). Kaifeng and Yangzhou: The birth of the commercial street. In Z. Celik et al. (Eds.), Streets: Critical perspectives on public space (pp. 45-54). Los Angeles; London: University of California Press.
  • Home, R. (1997). The inconvenience felt by Europeans: Racial segregation, its rise and fall. In Planting and planning: The making of British colonial cities (pp. 117-135). London: E & FN Spon.
  • Knox, P. L. (2011). Cities and design. London; New York: Routledge. [pp. 19-21, 82-91]
  • Kostof, S. (1991). The city shaped: Urban patterns and meanings through history. New York; Boston; London: Bulfinch Press. [Selective chapters]

Recommended Reading

  • Calvino, I. (1972). Invisible Cities. Vintage Classics. [Excerpt]
  • Chu, C. (2012). Between typologies and representation: The Tong Lau and the discourse of the ‘Chinese House’. In M. Rajagopalan and M. Desai (Eds.), Colonial frames, nationalist histories (pp. 253-283). London: Ashgate.
  • Hall, P. (1998). Cities in civilization: Culture, innovation, and urban order. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. [Selective chapters]
  • Kostof, S. (2010). The rise of the city: Architecture in western Asia. In A history of architecture: Settings and rituals (International 2nd ed.). New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Selective chapters]
  • Lee, L. O. (1999). Remapping Shanghai. In Shanghai modern: The flowering of a new urban culture in China, 1930-1945 (pp. 3-42). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Leung, P. K. (1998). The Walled City in Kowloon: A space we all shared. In M. P. Y. Cheung (Ed.), Hong Kong collage: Contemporary stories and writing (pp. 34-39). Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.
  • Ma, L. J. C. (1971). Urban growth and urban economic activities – The case of K’aifeng. In Commercial development and urban change in Sung China (960-1279) (pp. 138-146). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.
  • Ween, C. (2014). 100 ideas. In Future cities: All that matters (pp. 115-131). London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr C.L. Chu
Division of Landscape Architecture, Faculty of Architecture
Tel: 3917 7690
Email: clchu@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr C.L. Chu
Division of Landscape Architecture, Faculty of Architecture
Tel: 3917 7690
Email: clchu@hku.hk