USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Buddha Shrines and Panties; the typical Hong Kong

It soon became evident that Hong Kong was going to be a very different experience to the city of Los Angeles.  As an LA architect arriving in HK, the sharp repetition of pencil towers on the horizon was a daunting sight to behold.  The saying “repetition is the bane of life” quickly sprung to mind. Never-the-less nothing could have prepared us for the shear energy and excitement that runs through the city.

The two cities could not possibly offer similar experiences.  This is due to LA and HK being built and planned under very different ideologies due to their own respective context.  The comparison between these two cities is interesting because while Los Angeles can still afford to be driven by an ideology based upon want (due to the vast space availed to it), sever land restrictions force HK to be planned and constructed on an ideology driven by need.  While this results in an incredibly repetitive and dense architectural landscape, it is through its dense programmatic relationships that HK is experienced as an exiting and vibrant city.

Hong Kong has very little space to develop horizontally.  Due to strict zoning regulations established around the city (in order to preserve green space), HK is unable to spread itself in a similar fashion as LA.  This has resulted in HK urban life becoming incredibly dense.  This is displayed by the obsession with architectural efficiency and the cities expansion of the pedestrian sidewalk to the Z-axis when opportunities along the X and Y-axis have become limited.  This intensification of urban life leads to a greater desensitization of the human mind, as proposed by Simmel, than would be the case in sprawl LA.   Simmel suggests that the urban environment forces the human mind to develop an organ to protect itself from the “discrepancies of the urban environment”.  As urban density increases, so does that society’s obsession with numerical values as further priority is placed upon financial gain as judgment from the “head” supersedes that of the “heart” (Simmel p.414).  With HK being a far denser urban environment than LA, its population and developers feel a greater need to squeeze every square inch of land for its top potential numerical value.  This is displayed by HK’s landscape of pencil towers with their efficient floor plans and building systems as developers attempt to maximize their project’s floor space efficiency.  The result is a bland repetitive landscape that enables very little natural sunlight and ventilation to reach the ground.

While I consider the architectural repetition of HK’s landscape as an unfortunate sacrifice for urban efficiency, the need to build in a dense space has also produced intriguing, and sometimes unexpected, programmatic relationships on both the macro and micro scale.  It is through this dense development of program that HK becomes truly exiting to experience.  Hong Kong overcomes its horizontal restrictions through vertical programmatic development forcing programs to co-exist in close proximity.  This is evident in the intricate urban development that takes place at the base of commercial towers to ensure all new development is securely connected to the complex HK urban grid.  Walkways are often elevated from the ground creating secondary pedestrian streets filled with programs intertwined with markets and roads.  This need to optimize space creates fascinating moments such as the construction of a highway below a cemetery to enable vehicles to circulate below the space.  Laurence Wei-Wu has described this type of intense programmatic relationship as a HK norm.  This phenomenon has as a result also been fully embraced by HK citizens on the micro level. This was displayed while we experienced HKs section on it’s Central-Mid-Level Escalator: “look over there, panties being dried out next to a Buddha shrine; typical Hong Kong” (Laurence).



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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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