Hosting a dinner for 2,000 senior citizens or teaching 200 children to plant a garden is not most people’s idea of what constitutes architecture. But for Marisa Yiu and Eric Schuldenfrei of the Hong Kong firm ESKYIU, that’s precisely the point. “It was about testing the limits of our audience,” says Yiu of these and other events that helped to make up the 2009 Hong Kong & Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\ Architecture, which she oversaw as chief curator. “We’re interested in architecture that’s not just about buildings per se,” says Schuldenfrei, “but how architecture affects the society around it.”
Hong Kong–raised Yiu and American-born Schuldenfrei met at Princeton’s architecture school and formed ESKYIU in 2005 as part of a generation of emerging designers who emphasize architecture as a social, cultural, and curatorial practice. While the husband-and-wife pair have also explored form and fabrication—with a futuristic stage set for movement artist Ido Portal, for example—they see architecture as less a matter of bricks and mortar than about connecting what happens inside a building to the community and world outside. In addition to the 2009 biennale, which took the do-it-yourself theme of “B.Y.O.B.” (Bring Your Own Biennale), Yiu, 38, and Schuldenfrei, 40, have mounted an interactive art piece made of metal “bamboo” on the roof terrace of an arts center in a formerly industrial neighborhood of Hong Kong; designed an installation of aquatic plants and “conceptual fishing reefs” to promote marine sustainability; and organized a bevy of talks and workshops tackling topics from cross-border issues in the Pearl River Delta region to the future of architectural education.