The city of Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated urban centers on Earth. Located on the Kowloon Peninsula, it is surrounded by water in the east and mountains in the west. With real-estate scarce, Hong Kong builds wherever it can. But the city’s true groundwork is not founded on steep hillsides or reclaimed land: it’s founded on money. Hong Kong is also Asia’s financial powerhouse. It accommodates the highest concentration of banking institutions in Asia and the world. As affirmed by Hong Kong-based architect and urban designer, Laurence Liauw: “If you are not about business, you do not belong in Hong Kong.”
Walking down the streets of Hong Kong is certainly a feast for the senses. Whether its the smell of deep-fried squid, the sound of double-decker buses, or the visual stimulus of never-ending billboards, everything is trying to grab your attention. Everything is trying to sell you something.
Perhaps most interesting of all is the social interface between consumers, producers and the physical environment. Much in the same way as unrelenting vendors pursue potential customers along the street in hopes of selling a product, one is relentlessly bombarded by visual stimuli that appear to encroach on every morsel of our personal space.
To technology theorists Scott page and Brian Phillips, the idea of urban interface provides a way of exploring new territory for software design by juxtaposing the development of the city with that of information technology. As described by Page and Phillips, the physical embodiment of the city (its buildings, its streets, and its infrastructure) can be thought of as hardware . Correspondingly, the city’s software is a combination of the social, political, and economic forces that capitalize on the physical city. From this perspective, urban interface serves as a medium through which both the software of the city (anthropological) and the hardware ( geometrical) interconnect.
In the city of Hong Kong, the urban interface between both forces exists in various forms. Stores and market centers in the city commonly develop along areas with significant pedestrian traffic. The Hong Kong Mid-Levels Escalator and Walkway System, for instance, receives approximately 55,000 daily users. It is an occurrence within the city that has prompted the redevelopment of a once dilapidated area and an example of the city’s software influencing its hardware.
Likewise, the recognition of the city’s infrastructure, in this case Hong Kong’s limited restriction on billboards, has gone so far as to impact the market tactics of small business owners in Hong Kong. Rather than pushing the same objects/information to a 7.1 million person audience, shop owners target each individual separately–either through lights, food samples , pamphlets, and even small conversation. Billboards are used as a means to present a product while the promise of a socially stimulating experience is used to draw customers in. In essence, everything is tailored to make consumption easier. Vendors are conveniently located at all subway entrances (in which case metro signs become a type of billboard for all food vendors). Gold fish are sold wholesale along entire streets–as advertised by large billboards.
The visual stimuli within a city is in many ways the presentation of information. Thus, as the amount of available data increases, so too does our reliance on tools to navigate this context. Small business owners in Hong Kong understand this. To facilitate the consumption of goods, billboards are placed strategically along busy thoroughfares as means for users to navigate through shopping districts and locate the product of their choice with ease. For this reason, one needs not hunt for a jewelry store in Hong Kong, ever-lurking billboards depicting jewelry will always find you.