Annie Lye

Annie Lye is a design historian and an academic anomaly who hails from Hong Kong. Prior to her MA, Annie has worked across the architecture, arts & culture, and academic sectors internationally and now found a new footing within the cultural-consultancy landscape of London.

Research Project

SPINE OF THE CITY: The Hongkong Tramway Depot that Transformed Wan Chai District, from Depot to Commercial Complex, 1904-1989

Exploring the entanglement of agendas and influences of the HK Tram system on Hong Kong city's urban-social development under the British Colonial rule.

Material Culture, Modern, Asia, Media, Built Environment, Decolonisation, Untold / Marginal Narratives, Methods of Documentation

Sharp Street Depot of Hongkong Tramways Limited in Causeway Bay, 1980s, Original photo by shared by Acstudio on Flickr, Edited by Annie Lye.

This dissertation aims to unravel my personal fascination with studying the built environment in Hong Kong under British Colonial rule (1841-1997). Through studying The Hongkong Tramway (HKT) as a design element within the history of Hong Kong, I seek to understand the transformations of this landscape, once deemed by the British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerson to be “a barren island, which will never be mart [market] of trade”.1 The electric tramway was introduced to the colonial city in 1904 and established as a company in London a few years prior in 1902. The HKT was the first electric-powered public transportation system in Hong Kong, introduced during a time and place in which the traffic was “confined almost entirely to rickshaws” and pull-carts.2

The research within it aims to strengthen our relational understanding of the city’s long-term urban planning and speculation with transportation administration, policy, private-sector dealings, and social-economical demands.
I explore this against a background of historical events including the successive land reclamation schemes along the Hong Kong north side, post-war restoration resulting from the Japanese Occupation (1941-1945), influx of migration and population growth from Mainland China, British government policies on alleviating urban density and sanitation complications, the fertile growth in Hong Kong’s industry and commerce during the 1950s into the 1980s, and the specific redevelopment of districts on Hong Kong Island. All these events set a crucial foundation to this study of the establishment and impacts of the Hong Kong Tramway within the city of Hong Kong. It furthermore opens up investigation into the complex interplay between the tram with the society, economy and policy of Hong Kong’s urban development over eight decades.

1 Frank Welsh, A History of Hong Kong (United Kingdom: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997), p.1. 2 Hong Kong Tramways, Letter from Alfred Dickinson & Co. addressed to Sir C. P. Lucas of the Colonial Office, 5 December 1901.

Symposium Presentation ︎︎︎

Transcultural Objects Panel ︎︎︎

In Addition

Brickfield Newham: A Living, Playful and Muddy History

There is only so much you can learn in the archives. Research by doing – sometimes called ‘embodied research’ – is also a crucial way to learn about historic technologies, techniques and craftspeople. And that was exactly what Margot, my coursemate, and I were able to do at Brickfield Newham…

It was 11am on a Sunday and I was standing in front of the metal gates leading to the construction site in the Royal Docks, behind Tate & Lyle Sugars Factory in Newham. I had just cycled seven miles and woven through perhaps one of London’s most treacherous stretches of highly-trafficked highways to arrive at Brickfield Newham.

Group of children collecting yellow clay during the Newham Brickfield Project Public Weekend, June 2021. © Photo Courtesy of Annie Lye

The next 45-minutes was a cacophony of thudding and smacking. I was joining the Cody Dock Brick Restoration team, a community group who have been skilfully restoring a brick-lined dock in the borough. Some had arrived on their own whilst others were with their partner and young children. Many of the young ones immediately gravitated towards the vast mounds of black and yellow clay, digging their hands into waste material that had come for excavation works in Royal Docks and Plaistow Station.

Two young girls and their grandfather feeling the black clay during the Newham Brickfield Project Public Weekend; Blocks of bricks made by children participants, June 2021. © Photo Courtesy of Annie Lye

All were soon elbow-deep into kneading the clay, shaping clats ready to be thrown into the brick moulds, or carrying their brick-masterpieces to the drying hack. Children were also gathered around their work benches, hands caked in clay, sand and sweat. Their faces betrayed a look of glee that comes from realisation that everything can be touched and played with. Seeing this stirred something in me. I was seeing a future generation engaging with raw materials, learning through making about one of the world’s oldest known building materials, which has been fundamental to human civilization construction since 7000 BC. The future history of brick making was, in those moments, being formed, moulded, and lived out. Within those hours, I saw how history and collection research can come alive through making.

©2022 by V&A/RCA History of Design MA