As a city, Hong Kong doesn't have it easy; impossibly dense and smothered by unsympathetic hilly terrain, the gymnastics that it performs to survive has lead to the growth of unique urban spaces. Cities Without Ground deconstructs the unfathomable spaghetti of pedestrian bridges, tunnels and walkways, which make up pedestrian Hong Kong. The book, created by motley trio of architects and academics: Jonathan Solomon, Ciara Wong and Adam Frampton, graphically dissects this labyrinth in a series of snappy axonometric drawings of 32 various routes through the city.
Read more about the story of Hong Kong's pedestrian maze after the break...
The city's love affair with segregated pedestrian routes started in the 1960's, when the Hong Kong Land Company built an aerial walkway to connect one of its luxury hotels to the second floor of a shopping mall. The resulting influx of well-heeled tourists meant that higher rent could be charged on the second floor shops, so naturally they began to do this on whatever project they could. This also inspired the government to build walkways stemming from public transit hubs into the city, meaning it could easily separate the movement of vehicular traffic from pedestrians. Since, the network has continuously grown incrementally, as needed, by both the government and business owners.
Today, Hong Kong is penetrated by a vast system of connected lobbys, walkways, and tunnels that rise and fall without any apparent relationship to ground level. The fluctuating size and mixed public/private nature of this infrastructure creates a totally different atmosphere depending on when and where you are in it; at times, it is part of a perfumed shopping mall, a corporate lobby, or an oily bus station. The resulting variation in lighting, temperature, humidity, noise and smell further creates unseen boundaries in which define the space and influences how it is used by the masses.
The authors describe the book as "a manifesto for a new theory of urban form". They contest the perception that Hong Kong suffers from a lack of social space, arguing that this unique beast has become a surrogate for the parks and public squares, an idea many other cities are familiar with. According to the authors, it is possible cross the city without ever leaving its air-conditioned environs.
What is described as "a result of a combination of top-down planning and bottom-up solutions" has lead the people of Hong Kong to use what is essentially a piece of infrastructure as an unusual, but legitimate, public space. This network of shared space has become so vital to the public that city laws require many premises to keep their portion open around the clock, regardless of business hours. In 2008, conflict arose when security guards in the Times Square piazza attempted to stop people from lingering in the area, sparking public debate on the ownership and nature of these public/private spaces.