Nature as a teacher

One distinctive feature of Hong Kong is its combination of high building density and diverse natural landscapes. However, if you still believe that visitors can only discover nature by traveling to the countryside, you might be falling behind because sustainable architecture is becoming a norm.

Famous for presenting a green mall concept with a living wall the size of 18 tennis courts, K11 Musea on Tsim Sha Tsui’s harborfront brings greenery all the way to its rooftop.

The mall’s Nature Discovery Park claims to be Hong Kong’s first urban biodiversity museum with education on sustainability. It hopes to foster greater awareness for sustainable urban living and planet conservation among city dwellers.

“Positioning K11 Musea as the silicon valley of culture, we want to promote different types of culture, including art, architecture and sustainability,” said Ellie Tang, New World Development’s head of sustainability.

“Sustainability, especially in the middle of the city, might be a bit difficult to understand because it’s not tangible,” she added.

“Greenery is a way to entice people to pay attention to our commitment to environmental sustainability. Nature really is everywhere, and it’s just a matter of whether or not we see it, and we know how to appreciate it.”

By promoting activities and workshops, they hope to educate children and families about urban biodiversity and how to adopt eco-friendly habits in their daily lives.

One of the activities is the guided Nature Discovery Tour organized in association with the Jane Goodall Institute Hong Kong, ending at the Nature Discovery Park.

Following the themes of “earth,” “sea,” “sky” and “art,” the tour takes visitors on a journey to discover more than 180 species found at K11 Musea.

A tropical green cabinet and Silk Road-inspired floral designs cover the floors of the “earth” section, while the “sea” part presents the largest outdoor aquarium in Hong Kong, replicating the marine environment of Victoria Dockside.

The butterfly garden in the park doesn’t look like what you would expect either. A variety of flowering plants are arranged around Carsten Holler’s Giant Triple Mushrooms art installation, providing a natural urban habitat for an assortment of butterfly species.

Tang said that its seaside location means the air is infused with a lot of sea salt and it’s windy. The park therefore decided to use flowering plants to attract butterflies, birds and beasts instead of building the usual butterfly garden, which might end up killing them anyway.

“The reason behind that is a healthy ecosystem is not just for humans to appreciate, but it’s also a home for a lot of different species,” Tang said.

The tour ends with another nature-inspired art piece, Korakrit Arunanondchai’s United Nations of Happiness after Homosapiens leave the Earth, which provokes viewers to think about the relationship between economic development and ecological integrity.

Accompanied by a guide, the tour inspires people’s imagination by taking a pause, asking them to observe the shapes in nature, and prompting reflective questions.

“We want to provoke thoughts about ways people can learn to appreciate the beauty of nature first, and then learn how to protect it,” said Tang.

Realizing that more families, especially younger ones, are growing herbs and vegetables at home, another initiative supported by the park is the Urban Farming Experience.

It aims to educate on the benefits of farm-to-table dining, vertical farming and why local agriculture is more sustainable, through a few months of farm work.

“It would be hard to educate the public or influence others to say use less plastic, eat less meat and adopt these environmentally friendly behaviors,” Tang said.

“So, instead of pushing people and telling them what you shouldn’t do, we want to influence them from a more positive angle through education with first-hand experience of urban farming.”

The Urban Farming Experience program not only promotes environmental sustainability but also personal wellness because it encourages people to eat locally, which is more sustainable and ensures food safety.

Tang said the Nature Discovery Park cares about mental health and hopes people can heal themselves by immersing in the park, one of the K11 group’s core values.

“People don’t need to go to the countryside to realize the beauty, value and function of nature,” she said. “We think that is critical to achieving personal wellness and, of course, wellness for the environment.”

(This article was published at The Standard on November 19 2019: Education: Nature as a teacher )

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