Juan David Grisales


Masters in Design Studies Thesis Prize

From Humboldt to Caldas: On Environmental Liberations by Means of Tropical Altitudinalization

Advised by Pablo Perez-Ramos

When we stand on earth and think of the world in latitudinal terms, we are minimal, yet this is the world we attempt to conquer and pretend to comprehend. When we stand at low altitudes in the tropics, in front of tropical glaciers, we can see the world – through Altitude – without the need to go out in space to synthesize an image of this planet.

This thesis proposes a deviation from reading the world in latitudinal terms, to see beyond North vis-à-vis South dichotomies, and to transcend binary norms that have largely defined and misinterpreted tropical environments. While many of these territories have achieved political independence, the colonial structures of power and imperial views remain, and they continue to govern us.

The work is developed through two interconnected components. First, a group of essays that examine and conceptualize a series of “Environmental Liberations” in the tropical Andes, which include liberations of ecologies, grounds, and publics, but most importantly, liberations of the mind, social constructions, and imposed norms that are constantly manifested in the built and non-built environment.

Second, these ideas are also narrated and abstractly projected through time and space to generate a “Tropical Journey,” as a timeline to disseminate history and a device to assess tropical diversity.

This historical trip and landscape narration are an invitation to read the earth’s short elevation, which only extends a few kilometers, and explores how altitude becomes “a Tropical Liberation” – a disassociation from misperceptions of “Tropical” as a homogeneous hot and humid climatic condition.

Cover page of a book with an image of palm trees on a steep hillside, with the title “From Humboldt to Caldas or On Environmental Liberations by Means of Tropical Altitudinalizaton by Juan-David Grisales”

Pages from a book showing a map of the equatorial latitudes on the left, and text on the right.

Pages from a book showing an artistic image of the side view of a mountain on the left, and text on the right.

Pages from a book showing an old map of profiles of the Andes mountains on the left, and text on the right.

Pages from a book showing a photograph of the side of a steep slope covered with palm trees on the left, and text on the right.

Pages from a book showing an aerial photograph of a house in a green tropical landscape on the left, and text on the right.

Pages from a book showing an aerial photograph of a hilly green cultivated landscape on the left, and text on the right.

Pages from a book showing a topographic map of a mountainous region on the left, and text on the right.

Pages from a book showing a graph with the elevation of a mountain slope on the left, and a series of landscape images on the right connected to the elevation with horizontal lines.

Pages from a book showing an elevation of a mountain landscape on the left, and text on the right.

Pages from a book showing an aerial photograph of a river winding through dense green tropical forest on the left, and text on the right.

Pages from a book showing two images of a person standing at the tops of different mountain peaks on the left, and text on the right.

Name Withheld


Masters in Design Studies Thesis Prize

Departing Departures: Mapping the Hong Kong International Airport as a Spatial-Political Threshold of the City in the Post-National-Security-Law Era

Advised by Malkit Shoshan

The second return of Hong Kong marks the end of the one country two system. As the clock strikes midnight, the fine dress of the city turns into rugs and her carriage reverted to pumpkins. With the rupture, comes the displacement of the city’s population like the brain drain that prompted the Berlin Wall erection. The Hong Kong airport have since become a precarious spatial-geopolitical threshold over which the specter of a second Cold War looms. The Norman Foster architectural and engineering marvel, once a symbol of pride signifying Hong Kong’s free and open society, now devolves into a set of fragile Pearly gates that struggles to uphold its promise as an egress to the world beyond. The thesis probes the underlying sociopolitical, historical and psychological vectors that converge at this increasingly critical border crossing. Peeling away the physical veneer, it seeks to expose and deconstruct the spatial-geographical politics of the air terminal. Taping into the realm of the unnarratable and intangibles, it probes the border-architecture in an age when telaesthesia perpetuates traumas, and traumas foreshadows memories of the future. In the manner of an autopsy, the immersive game medium is experimented as a tool to revisit the city’s final episodes. Developed alongside the thesis, the video game project serves as a set of visceral spatial re-enactments designed for public expression, connection, empowerment and archival of history. In the afterlife of the city, the simulacrum is an antidote to the bon fire of vanity, a therapy for reconciliation with traumatic encounters, as well as a virtual media artifact continuing the fairy tale’s unfulfilled glamours that is short-changed by an abrupt ending. As a methodology, the video game artifact is an alternative form of archaeology by which historical events could be systematically deconstructed, whereby intangible vectors of memories and perceptions can be explicated and rendered accessible.

In Game Footage Videos:

A person wearing a backpack and pulling a rolling suitcase walking through a hilly landscape made of piles of objects.
Chapter 7 – Exit and Rebirth: Final scene of departure signifying freedom from political persecution, systemic violence, and psychological stresses. Beginning of a diasporic person’s journey to find a new identity.m player’s apartment to final departure by plane.

Illustration of flowchart showing various objects travelling through a conveyer belt system.
Sketch Illustrating overall flow of game narrative, from player’s apartment to final departure by plane.

Person with backpack and suitcase walking down a city street past riot police facing off against civilians.
Chapter 5.7 – Narrow Streets: Video game scene Illustrating Hong Kong’s State Of Exception. Police rounding up pedestrians in downtown Central, perpetuating public fear under constant police surveillance.

Flow chart of different scenes and their chapter numbers and titles.
Scene Diagram illustrating scene breakdowns and overall chapter organization.

Collage of images of domestic apartment interiors and television news footage with text.
Game Story Board – Prologue scene depicting a Hong Kong resident preparing to depart the city for good. The backdrop is a typical compact Hong Kong apartment, with everyday objects acting as storytelling devices.

Collage of images showing rendered interiors with a police officer depicted as a marionette.
Chapter 5.5 – The Marionette: 721 Yuen Long West Rail Station. Stairs of Terror scene re-enacting infamous pro-gov tug attack on passengers on the 21st July, 2019. Police on scene of attack filmed turning a blind eye to violence and walking away.

Collage of images and sketches showing a traveller with a backpack and suitcase navigating scenes of complex baggage conveyer belts moving many different household objects.
Chapter 2 – Down the Mechanical Belt: Video game scene allegorical of Memory/Trauma Depository. Player questions the end state of their deposited memories and exposes the censorship mechanism embedded by “infiltrating” the luggage belt system.

Four scenes showing a suitcase close up, and a person wearing a backpack inside the suitcase filled with objects.
Chapter 3 – Tunnel of Darkness Suitcase Scene: Player is downsized and placed in his suitcase. Player must escape the pursuit of the spotlight and avoid having “restricted” items getting illuminated. Books, banners, flags, respirators, have become restricted items under the new police state of Hong Kong.

A series of images of a person with a backpack and suitcase walking inside a large travel terminal.
Chapter 1 – Something Lurking in the Background: Airport Terminal 1 link entrance bridges spanning over a valley of memories. Arrival hall below bridge is flooded into a river that symbolizes the collective subconscious of traumatic historical events and the prevalent milieu of systemic violence. Flooding is indicative of a one-way departure journey.

Four scenes recreating different perspectives of an iconic image of a person facing off against a column of tanks on a boulevard in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Chapter 5.2 – From the Ashes: Chang’An Avenue 1989 June 4th. Recreation of Jeff Widener’s powerful historic image, where an anonymous Beijing resident single-handedly stopped a column of tanks in front of international press. Player explores the scene through both the tank operator’s perspective as well as through Jeff Widener’s Nikon FE2 camera fitted with a Nikkor 400mm 5.6 ED-IF lens.

Person wearing a backpack walking through a plaza with banners and a cluster of tents.
Chapter 5.3 – Dancing in the Rain: Player taken through a tour of the 2014 Occupy Central village/encampment at Harcourt road. She is introduced to various improvised street interventions of the protest village, such as first aid centres, outdoor classrooms, Lennon walls, the temporary public square. Player can converse with occupiers (Non Playable Character) in the scene to learn about the historic event.

Collage of images of interiors of airplane cabins interspersed with historical images of public unrest.
Chapter 7 – Exit and Rebirth: Take-off scene, where player clears the Hong Kong Borders and finally finds freedom from persecution, fear and systemic violence. Beginning of player’s diasporic journey to redefine their identity.

Proey Liao


Masters in Design Studies Thesis Prize

An Attempt to Approach a Void: Georges Perec, Cause commune, and the Infraordinary

Advised by Edward Eigen

In February 1973, Jean Duvignaud, Paul Virilio, and Georges Perec introduced the infraordinary in the fifth issue of their small journal, Cause commune. The infraordinary subsequently became attributed mostly to Georges Perec, to describe his keenness for the everyday in his prolific literary works. Infra-, a spatial preposition, meaning under or below, modifies the ordinary, or everyday life, in a call to action “to question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us.” Such a simple, local act can have immense consequences. Rather than removing “the everyday” from its context in order to defamiliarize it, as Cause commune critiques of mass media, the infraordinary studies the context itself, a seemingly blank space, or void, upon which the everyday is written. By choosing interdisciplinary essays to include in Cause commune, with a vast array of subject matters, the editorial team demonstrates the infraordinary is not just applicable to the literary, sociological, and architectural disciplines, but formulate an art of living upon this blank background.

The following thesis is an attempt to approach the infraordinary not only as the subject of exploration, but as a method of writing itself. The aim of this thesis is to trace the infraordinary conceptually through the immediate textual context of Cause commune issue No. 5, the work of Georges Perec, and the work of Cause commune’s other contributors. It is not an origin story, but a text enumerating ideas and forms of thought on everyday life that coalesce in this journal. By excavating what is below everyday life, the infraordinary shows just how unfamiliar we are with everyday life in the first place as we constantly come up against and avoid a void, and how we are equipped to do something about it—through creative acts and life itself.

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Animation showing spread of images in thesis.