set in when I first moved to Hong Kong. How could one city operate on so many
A preponderance of skyscrapers -- not to mention overpasses, footbridges
and elevated walkways -- led to my snap judgment that Hong Kong was a
city in the air. Or, taking into account the many subterranean routes too, at
least not one in which residents spent much time at ground level.
I'm not the only one to think that way. In fact, a trio of authors with
backgrounds in architecture and academia have written a new book, Cities Without Ground, which analyses
-- and intricately models with multi-dimensional graphics -- 32 sites across Hong
Kong where shopping malls, parks, office tower lobbies, tunnels, escalators, roof
gardens and more come together in sprawling tiered patterns. According to Adam
Frampton, who co-authored the book with Jonathan D Solomon and Clara Wong, "it's a guidebook in that it takes
different sights and applies a [new] way of looking at them."
places are often little understood or even pondered by locals, let alone
visitors, outside of practical context like how to get from one neighbourhood
to another or how to avoid the oppressive climate outside. Why? Mainly because
the city's composite structure -- a result of hyper-dense construction due to
limited developable space amid hilly terrain -- is unintuitive to untrained
eyes. What this new book does is make these convoluted networks intelligible
Take one of
Hong Kong's most well-known attractions, the Big
Buddha on Lantau Island. Access to the remote location is via a 5.7km-long airborne
cable car, while the statue itself is located up a flight of 240 steep steps. Cities
Without Ground has created a diagram that maps out its various planes, including where
elderly locals finish their morning hikes (at the bottom, on the outskirts of the
touristy village nearby) and where devout Buddhists meditate (at the top).
example: one of the city’s iconic landmarks and a must-see for travellers is
Mid-Levels Escalator. Snaking up the side of a hill that starts at sea
level in the Central neighbourhood , the longest outdoor covered escalator system
in the world connects everyone from commuters to tourists to malls,
restaurants, office buildings and more along its 800m length. The authors break
down the site by elevation: a thick thread of bus routes at the bottom; just
above, outposts for tofu, lanterns and costumes; mid-way up, a haven for expats
in the SoHo neighbourhood; towards the top; a mosque that sits catty-corner
from French-style Café Lavande.
spatial networks] are a form of hyper-efficiency," Frampton explained.
"But if you look at how people use [them], you'll find it's an equally
valid form of public space." Amid the sterility of chain stores, metro
stations and fast food, the authors posit, these passageways create spaces
where everyday Hong Kong life simply happens.
has attracted attention from the technical,
urban-planning-obsessed set, but for the traveller it helps to demystify a
complex and multi-layered city, and introduces a sense of familiarity to
otherwise hectic surrounds. And isn't that process -- crossing the boundary from
unknown to known, strange to common -- what travelling is all about?
Hana R Alberts is the Hong Kong
Localite for BBC Travel