Cities would be nothing without the sense of experimentation and the future-forward push to always break the status quo in demand of a better urban life. As many successful urban designs and strategies as there have been, the world has also seen some not-so-successful ones, that have been pushed to the sidelines becoming a forgotten memory over time. While we look ahead and speculate about what the future of cities could and should be, maybe it’s time to take the lessons learned from these failed projects and pay homage to their misfortunes, so that history’s mistakes aren’t repeated in the present day.
Kowloon Walled City: The Latest Architecture and News
A longer version of this article, written by current ArchDaily intern Sharon Lam, was originally published in Salient, the magazine of the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association, titled "In the Shadow of the Kowloon Walled City."
It is the 1970s in Hong Kong, and you are eleven years old. Early one evening, you go out to a nearby neighborhood for dinner with your family. A five-minute walk from your primary school, it is also a place you frequent with your friends. The food here is good and especially renowned for its fishball noodle soup, which is what you always get. You’ve been here so often that navigating the subterranean corridors to the noodle stand is easy, and you know where to step to avoid the ceilings that drip the most. Your bowl of noodles arrives and you slurp them down, unaware of the fact that over the next couple of years this very neighborhood will peak in its population and its infamy, and remain even decades later as one of the most remarkable social anomalies in recent history.
At its peak, the Kowloon Walled City was home to 33,000 people in just two hectares of land—the size of about two rugby fields—making it the densest place on Earth at the time. It was a hastily put together conglomerate of tiny apartments, one on top of the other, caged balconies slapped onto the sides and connected through a labyrinth of damp, dark corridors. All the while, the rest of Hong Kong went about as normal, seemingly unaffected by the crime and squalor within the Walled City.
Following our top 40 Architecture Docs to Watch in 2014 and our favourite 30 Architecture Docs to Watch in 2013, 2015 is no exception! Our latest round up continues to feature a fantastic range of films and documentaries telling the tales of unsung architectural heroes and unheard urban narratives from around the world. This entirely fresh selection looks past the panoply of stars to bring you more of the best architectural documentaries which will provoke, intrigue and beguile.
From a film which explores one man's dream to build a cathedral (#4) and a simultaneous history of and vision of Rotterdam's future (#7), to a tour of the world's last surviving squatter town in Copenhagen (#14) and A Short History of Abandoned Sets in Morocco (#16), we present - in no particular order - thirty freshly picked documentaries for you to watch in 2015.
Twenty years ago, one of the world’s most unusual and unexpected pieces of architecture was razed to the ground: Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City, the most densely populated area on earth. Squalid, dark, and labyrinthine, the informal city was not only a hotbed for organized crime, but also a vibrant community of commerce and hope. Now, the Wall Street Journal has released this short documentary, bringing the city back to life and revealing why it holds a special place in world culture today.
In light of the release of a second, revised edition of City of Darkness -- the authoritative text on Kowloon Walled City, which you can help Kickstart here -- authors Greg Girard and Ian Lambot have shared an excerpt from City of Darkness Revisited.
The early phases of the Walled City were characterised by predictable building typologies and the buildings were constructed on the principle of squatters’ rights, with random construction on spots of available land by whoever got there first. Alleyways and passages evolved – unplanned – into the established ‘map’ of the City, which would remain until it came down. A basic electric supply existed, increasingly burdened by illegal connections that frequently overloaded the system, and the few standpipes supplied the only water. As the need to accommodate the ever growing residential and commercial populations forced it to in the 1960s, the building typology of the Walled City made the leap from two- to three-storey residential structures to taller, six- to seven-storey ones. This represented an important threshold, because at these greater heights the buildings unavoidably became more complex and required greater labour to realise, reinforced concrete, more investment, and so on. They also required a different way of living. Water had to be transported up to the higher floors by hand. Likewise the propane gas canisters that furnished fuel to cook or heat water.
20 years ago, Greg Girard and Ian Lambot published "City of Darkness", a book which documented life inside the notorious Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong during its peak in the late 1980s. When the high-rise slum was cleared and demolished soon after in 1993, this collection of photographs, interviews and essays became a eulogy of sorts, becoming one of the key texts on the most densely populated place the world has ever seen.
Two decades later, Girard and Lambot have revisited the book - and to fund this new edition, they have turned to Kickstarter.
Read on after the break to find out what's new in this edition and how you can help fund the book.
Whenever I see sensational exposes on the supposedly sublime spatial intensity of Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City (demolished in 1994), they strike me as nothing more than colonial fantasies that have little to do with the reality of living in the midst of one of the world’s cruelest slums. You see the Walled City pop up constantly like it’s still a valid or even interesting subject. This informal settlement has been diagramed, photographed, and written about for decades from an aesthetic point of view, rendering its victimized and oppressed inhabitants all but invisible. Not to say that this wasn’t home to a lot of people and that no “fond memories” were formed there, but still, like all slums, it was a tough place to live, fraught with contradictions in the haze of hope for a better life.
It has been twenty years since the demolition of the Kowloon Walled City. To mark this, the South China Morning Post has created an info-graphic that details the facts and figures of what life was like inside this architectural oddity.
Read more about the madness that was KWC after the break...