KOWLOON ROCK CITY

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Map of Kai Tak, parceled into individual book pages. Vector files of HK are incredibly hard to come by, something to do with it's former status as a UK protectorate. The CAD file I finally got a hold of had buildings, roads, contours and land boundaries all on the same layer. Who does that??

Kai Tak is similar to most urban reclamation projects in that it abuts a situation of intense urban density, and yet the ground there is completely vacant, almost without any trace of its previous program. Kai Tak’s horizontal extension contradicts the vertical urban fabric of Kowloon, occupied by the city’s characteristic “pencil” towers and perimeter block tenement buildings in addition to the extreme topography on which they sit. When analyzed from discursively, these three characteristics of the city – topography, perimeter block and tower – describe a historical narrative of built-form and ground-form that is physically and temporally compressed. Prior to British occupation, Hong Kong was a sparsely populated military outpost for the Canton army, but starting in 1841, after the British first occupied the area, settlements developed rapidly combining a rich mixture of local and colonial influence. This tradition carried well into the twentieth century, even throughout Japanese occupation during the Second World War and after the British reoccupation.

True architectural change happened as a result of the 1949 mainland revolution and the takeover of China by the Communist Party, as a wave of migrants fled the mainland seeking refuge from the ongoing civil war...Soon, the construction and development industries responded with a massive shift in the city’s industry and in the 1970’s started to fill the skyline on both sides of the harbor with apartment towers. Due to zoning restrictions on lot sizes, the towers were designed with very small footprints, and often developers would purchase several adjoining lots in order to build a series of identical towers, sometimes only 1 meter apart from each other, thus earning them their pencil-like appearance.

The towers are scattered in isolation and in clusters throughout Kowloon, mixed with tenements, retail complexes, and the occasional remainders devoted to recreation...The combination of figures – towers, tenements, voids and harbor – create a city collage that recalls the aesthetic of Rowe, more than the specific contradictory aesthetic of Venturi and Las Vegas. The towers, which are often cruciform in plan, serve as a fitting substitute for the figural solids of the Ville Contemporaine, while the tenements retain the figural void-ness of the old city in Rowe and Koetter’s proposition.

Still, the aesthetic of Hong Kong differs from that of Collage City in that the city refuses to be read orthographically. A map of Hong Kong will attest to this, since it is virtually impossible to describe the form of the city – it’s sectional overlaps and formal hybrids – in plan alone; sections often help, however their interpolations with plans make them equally insufficient. Like the concept of the fold, Hong Kong is a complex combination of parts that work as a systematically greater whole, and perhaps the only way to understand the city is through entirely abstract means, such as diagrams and writings, or incredibly literal and formal devices such as animations and three-dimensional models. The conflation of collage forms and topography make Hong Kong unlike almost any western city model – it is not a museum city like Vienna, a continuous city like Paris, a modern city like the siedlungen of Frankfurt, or a postmodern city as it exists in a variety of city plans, from the Las Vegas strip to modern Washington D.C. It can only be mapped by a three-dimensional, immersed experience. In this sense, Hong Kong is a true Foldist city, in that its parts are elusive and multiple, yet its working as a whole is entirely recognizable as a dynamic and operational city-scape.

Reclaimed land folds into this concept of the city since it operates both as an extension of the urban ground and an object of a different structural logic. Land-reclamation in Hong Kong intensifies the detail, especially at Kai Tak, due to the intensity of the differential between the open and horizontal condition of the reclaimed land compared to the dense and vertical condition of the existing city. The ground at Kai Tak is therefore primed as a situation for investigating a more localized version of the intersection between built-form and ground-form and how it modulates according to the various urban conditions within and surrounding the former Kai Tak airport.

1 Comments:

Blogger Noel Murphy said...

I was going to do book tile pages! But of the Javits building itself: No Stop City

December 15, 2007 at 11:07 AM  

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