Hong Kong’s Lessons from NYC in Vertical Delirium

Reports from the Field by • 10/28

Event: Hong Kong | New York: Vertical Density | Sustainable Solutions
Location: Chase Manhattan Plaza, 10.16.08; Tishman Auditorium, New School, 10.17-18.08
Speakers: Learning from Hong Kong, 10.16.08: Thomas Wright — Executive Director, Regional Planning Association; Thomas Ho — Property Director, MTR Corporation, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; Elliot Sander — Executive Director & CEO, MTA; Christopher O. Ward — Executive Director, Port Authority of NY & NJ; Paul Katz, FAIA — Partner & Principal, Kohn Pedersen Fox; David Scott — Principal, Arup & Chair, Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat; Julia Lau — Sun Hung Kai Properties; Vishaan Chakrabarti, AIA — Executive Vice President, The Related Companies; Debating Density, 10.17.2008: Nicholas Brooke — Chairman, Professional Property Services Group, Hong Kong; Mark Willis — Visiting Scholar, The Ford Foundation; Peter Cookson Smith — Founding Director, Urbis, Hong Kong; Christine Loh — President & CEO, Civic-Exchange; Margaret Brooke — Heritage Hong Kong; Robert Tierney — Chair, NYC Landmark Preservation Commission; Carrie Lam — Secretary for Development, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; Amanda Burden, Hon. AIANY — Chair, City Planning Commission & Director, Department of City Planning; Designing Density: Theory and Practice, 10.18.08: Brian McGrath — Associate Professor of Urban Design, Parsons School of Design; Paul Chu — Hong Kong Urban Design Alliance; Laurence Liauw — Architect & Associate Professor, Chinese University of Hong Kong; Ackbar Abbas — Professor of Comparative Literature, Hong Kong University & UC-Irvine; Alexandros E. Washburn, AIA — Chief Urban Designer, NYC Dept of City Planning; Eric Höweler, AIA — Principal, Höweler Yoon Architecture; Jim Robinson — Executive Director, Hong Kong Land
Moderator: Carol Willis — Director, The Skyscraper Museum;
Organizers: The Skyscraper Museum

NYC and Hong Kong share certain conditions, physical and cultural: excellent harbors, limited buildable land, a history as transit points for immigration and emigration, and a collective willingness to explore the “culture of congestion,” as coined in Rem Koolhaas’s Delirious New York. If NYC was the original test bed for the idea, Hong Kong has adapted it successfully and stretched its possibilities. Hong Kong now has the world’s highest concentration of skyscrapers. Its middle class and its developers have created a thick forest of high-rise housing to accommodate them. The buildable areas of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula are so Manhattanized that the common description as Asia’s Manhattan has almost run its course and inverted itself, so that Vishaan Chakrabarti, AIA, executive vice president of the Related Companies, could refer to “New York [as] actually America’s Hong Kong.”

Carol Willis, director of the Skyscraper Museum, drew distinctions between forms of density produced by wealth and by poverty: affluent cities, like NYC and Hong Kong plus London, tend to embrace vertical development, while poorer cities like Mumbai and Cairo, though technically denser on a raw statistical basis, are predominantly low-rise. (If only the buildable 25% is considered, Hong Kong, like Manhattan, has about 70,000 people per square mile.) The early 20th-century Futurist vision, a rationalized city of high-tech multimodal transportation, takes literal shape in the elevated pedestrian bridges, large-scale harbor reclamation projects, and single-seat rail-to-airport connections of today’s Hong Kong.

A key part of this realized future is the MTR train system, a profitable private company that pursues an integrated rail/property development model. By coordinating all aspects of construction and management of mixed-use properties atop or adjacent to railway stations, MTR finances high-volume rail operations (some 3.4 million personal trips a day) without any government support. MTR also supports ambitious designs, including the eco-community LOHAS Park (“Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability”) near Tseung Kwan O station, a 50-tower complex that will segregate cars completely from pedestrian space in the interests of air quality, recreation, and healthy living. Local panelists, including the MTA’s Elliot Sander and the Port Authority’s Christopher Ward, expressed admiration for what Ho called a “win-win-win-win” for Hong Kong society, developers, government, and MTR. They wondered whether sprawlbound American culture is ready for such a radical departure into a post-automotive future.

The “Debating Density” discussion produced rigorous self-critiques of development’s erasure of building styles and street life. The panel’s fundamental question — does density pay, or does it cost? — becomes more urgent, said Kohn Pedersen Fox’s Paul Katz, FAIA, in the context of current financial collapses triggered by housing loans; financial, housing, and environmental crises are all consequences of sprawl, Katz finds, and density is the solution. Yet planning for density, incentivizing dense community formation in and around urban areas, and ensuring affordability have also exacted costs: the city is losing a degree of its authenticity, and air pollution undermines postcard views. Panelists stressed that an engineering-based approach to planning can strip away the idiosyncrasies that are inseparable from high-quality urban life. NYC’s street-level diversity is a positive model for Hong Kong and other cities.

Panelists emphasized the importance of bottom-up planning, looking at the city as a multidimensional organism rather than the 2-D zoning maps, photos, and renderings. Hong Kong Urban Design Alliance’s Paul Chu has his students examine sections rather than plans to acquire a sense of self-organizing urban textures and understand how superblocks destroy complexity. Ackbar Abbas, a professor of comparative literature and native Hongkonger, recalled Koolhaas’s idea that congestion is not so much a problem as the “forever insoluble problem that allowed Manhattan to be built.” If a “Hong Kong-ism” is arising, the city’s history as a site of migration, dependence, and recurrent threats give it a unique dynamic balance, forever converting its own crises into vitality.

Comments are closed.

New York Public Library 53rd Street Branch by TEN Arquitectos. Steele's role: Principal in Charge/Project Architect. Photo: TEN Arquitectos.
Featured Member: Andrea Steele, AIA Featured Member
Congratulations to @babkwth for winning our first-ever #ArchtoberSelects Instagram Challenge.
Field Condition Names Winners in Debut #ArchtoberSelects Instagram Challenge Reports from the Field
CLP 2017 Inaugural class: (l-r) Ayodele Yusuf, Jenna Leigh Wandishin, Daniel Horn (back row), Michael Caton, Michaela Metcalfe, Christina Hernandez, A.L. Hu, Shilpa Patel, Jack Dinning, Jessica Morris. Credit: Center for Architecture
Policy Pulse: Announcing 2017 Civic Leadership Program Class Policy Pulse
AIANY Emerging New York Architects Committee Civic Leadership Program (CLP) kick off at the Center for Architecture. Credit: Center for Architecture.
Civic Leadership Program Kicks Off At the Center for Architecture
Nike New York Headquarters by Studios Architecture and Workplace Design + Connectivity. Photos courtesy of Nike.
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
Submit your work to the 2017 AIANY COTE Awards!
New Deadlines New Deadlines
The Bier House by Kaneji Domoto, featured in "Kaneji Domoto at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonia,” on view through 08.26.17. Credit: Thad Russell
On View On View
Classifieds Classifieds
Public Square by FXFOWLE. Image: FXFOWLE/Driverless Future Challenge.
Driverless Future Challenge Names Winner Reports from the Field
Apartment, New York. Photo: Michael Moran.
Featured Member: Leonard Kady, AIA Featured Member
A temporal collage of the historic site by Seher Erdogan Ford.
Announcing the Recipients of the 2017 Arnold W. Brunner Grant for Architectural Research At the Center for Architecture
Hyper-Efficient Building Workshop on 06.14.17 and 06.15.17. Credit: Center for Architecture
Policy Pulse: New Hyper-Efficient Building Training Launches Policy Pulse
From left: Peter Lampen, AIA; Luke Surowiec, LEED AP; Steven Winter, FAIA; John Lee, AIA. Photo: Center for Architecture.
A Closer Look at 80×50 Initiative’s NYC Retrofit Accelerator Program At the Center for Architecture
Bartholomew Voorsanger, FAIA, Principal, Voorsanger Architects, and Alastair Gordon, Contributing Editor, Architecture and Design, Wall Street Journal. Photo: Center for Architecture.
Cocktails and Conversation with Bartholomew Voorsanger, FAIA, and Alastair Gordon At the Center for Architecture
Koray Duman, AIA, LEED AP, Founder, Büro Koray Duman. Photo: Nicholas Calcott/Surface Magazine.
Featured Member: Koray Duman, AIA, LEED AP Featured Member
Hilary Ballon (1956-2017). Courtesy of NYU Abu Dhabi.
In Memoriam: Hilary Ballon (1956-2017) In Memoriam
NYPL Mid-Manhattan Library renovation by Mecanoo and Beyer Blinder Belle.
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
Cast and Place by Team Aesop, winner of the 2017 FIGMENT City of Dreams pavilion competition.
New Deadlines New Deadlines
Harris House site plan by Kaneji Domoto, featured in “Kaneji Domoto at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonia,” on view through 08.26.17. Courtesy of the Kaneji Domoto Family Archive.
On View On View
Classifieds Classifieds
Waterproofing of the facade system and roof at 540 West 26th Street for Savanna. Design Architect: Morris Adjmi. Rendering: Morris Adjmi.
Featured Member: Howard Zimmerman Elevated to AIA College of Fellows Featured Member
From left: Signe Nielsen, RLA, FASLA; Cynthia Rosenzweig; Susanne Desroches; Jeffrey Raven, FAIA, LEED BD+C; and Jee Mee Kim, AICP. Photo: Center for Architecture.
Climate Change in NYC: Bridging Science and Practice At the Center for Architecture
Courtesy of the Center for Active Design.
Policy Pulse: FitCity 2017 Lands in Queens Policy Pulse
Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, Astoria, Queens, NY. Somvanshi’s role: Associate, Project Manager and On-site Supervisor. Firm: Ennead Architects (previously Polshek Partnership). Photo: Jeff Goldberg/Esto.
Featured Member: Kalavati Somvanshi Elevated to AIA College of Fellows Featured Member
Robert Michael Kliment, FAIA. Courtesy of Kliment Halsband Architects.
Robert Michael Kliment, FAIA (1933 – 2017) In Memoriam
Museum of Modern Art  east section renovation by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler. Credit: Iwan Baan
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
09.17.17: Call for Entries: 2017 AIANY COTE Awards
New Deadlines New Deadlines
Lurie House by Kaneji Domoto, featured in "“Kaneji Domoto at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonia,” opening 06.22.17. Credit: Thad Russell
On View On View
Classifieds Classifieds
New York City Police Academy by Perkins + Will. Photo: Courtesy of Perkins + Will.
Featured Member: Michael Plottel Elevated to AIA College of Fellows Featured Member
AIANY Opposes Paris Climate Accord Exit From the Desk of the President
Manhattan Districts 1/2/5 Garage and Salt Shed by Dattner Architects and WXY architecture + urban design, 2016 Building of the Day. Credit: Center for Architecture
Call for Archtober Buildings of the Day New Deadlines
Upper East Side residence by Gabellini Sheppard, New York. Photo: Paul Warchol.
Michael Gabellini, FAIA, Delivers AIANY 2017 Gil Oberfield Lecture At the Center for Architecture
AIANY representatives at AIA New York State's "Architects in Albany Advocacy Day." Credit: Center for Architecture
Policy Pulse: 2017 Architects in Albany Advocacy Day Policy Pulse
Families make collages of their dream playgrounds. Credit: Center for Architecture
Draw, Design, Build! NYU Teams Up with the Center for Architecture for Family Programming Learning by Design
Weill Hall at Cornell University, Ithica, NY. Photo: Scott Frances.
Featured Member: Renny Logan Elevated to AIA College of Fellows Featured Member
The Shed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Rockwell Group.
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News
New Deadlines New Deadlines
Siegel House by Kaneji Domoto, featured in “Kaneji Domoto at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonia,” opening 06.22.17. Credit: Thad Russell
On View On View
Classifieds Classifieds
AIANY 2017 President David Piscuskas, FAIA, at the National Summit on Design and Urban Mobility. Credit: Center for Architecture
Are We Ready for Autonomous Vehicles? From the Executive Director
Reflections at Keppel Bay in Keppel Bay, Singapore. Photo: Keppel Bay Pte Ltd.
Featured Member: Daniel Libeskind Elevated to AIA College of Fellows Featured Member
Join us for FitCity 2017! Hunter's Point South Waterfront Park by Thomas Balsley Associates and WEISS/MANFREDI. Credit: Albert Vecerka/Esto.
Policy Pulse: FitCity 2017 Policy Pulse
Speakers of "Hesitation and Constraints: Barriers to Social Research in Practice." Credit: Center for Architecture
Social Sciences, Good for Your Bottom Line and Society At the Center for Architecture
The Quad Cinema, renovated by Projects Design Associates with rebrand by Pentagram. Credit: Marion Curtis / StarPix.
In the News In The News
Names in the News Names in the News