Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Radical Mix in Hong Kong

Density in Hong Kong has accelerated the transformation of architectural typologies, which is nowhere else in the world to be found. The city has become an experimentation ground for high density vertical environments. It is the most important case study for the good and the bad of city of the future.

Mixed Use has always always an imminent parameter in the typological development of Hong Kong. Scale and configuration has changed over the years, but the general condition of a hybridization of a building has remained. And this is the biggest difference to the Western Modernism, which was more inclined to segregate and separate function.

The starting point for the Radical Mix is the traditional shophouse: the hybrid of living and working under the same roof. Other than the western townhouse, it has been a typology of complexity, incorporating gardens and patios to separate and integrate the various users in a micro urbanism, rather than in a building.

With the increased modernization and densification of the city, this model of the shophouse has not been questioned, but taken as a foundation for the Radical Mix. The explosive growth of Hong Kong after the second world war fell into a time, when modernist urban visions were discussed (again): The most successful impact on the urban development of the city in terms of typology and environmental issues must have been La Ville Radieuse and its vision for the high rise residence with free views, inside, but far away from the city.

La Ville Radieuse, le Corbusier's answer to the question of sustainability at that time, was criticized by urban theorists such as Gaston Bardet for being environmentally unsound in terms of urban microclimate and human comfort. Bardet, through his drawings of shadow casting, illustrated that the design and layout of the building blocks would, in fact, create lots of overshadowing zones which do not receive any sunlight for long periods in the winter time. With wind flow and cold winter temperatures, these overshadowing zones could bring about intolerable thermal conditions to pedestrians during the coldest months of the year.

What is unexpected is that these impossible conditions caused by the shadows created the opposite in tropical and sub-tropical Hong Kong where the millions of a new boom generation found in these shadow zones and wind ravines relief from searing heat, creating a milieu for public space and a new urbanism was born where there was barrenness before. The development of mass transit systems freed the wide streets from cars and vehicular traffic, and the subway seamlessly connect one neighborhood to another.

Like the undergrowth of a rainforest, a lively, complex street culture thrives in astonishing configurations beneath the Asian Plan Voisin, oblivious to the thoughts of the most celebrated architect of our time who would have surely approved. Driven by commercial and economic impulses, the configurations take on the nature of the old neighborhood fabric, their DNA bears the imprimatur of their cultural and societal context despite the modernity of the constructions.

The process hits a plateau, however, when the demand for a more ideal micro-climate leads to air-conditioning and an envelope, and the podium mall materializes as a result. Designed by a centralized architectural authority, malls become increasingly a closed system that manifest entropy, a state of inert uniformity that metastasized throughout Asian cities. Yet nowadays, the Radical Mix is a successful economic model, which impacts the city's life and environment far more than we would have ever expected. It's micro urbanism has developed a level of sophistication, which has lead to near autonomous and self sustainable conditions. The resulting form however, starts to counterproductive to the city fabric as a place for public and public life.

With increasing overheating of the city due to the heat island effect of the podium tower typology, an acceleration of road side pollution due to the street canyon effect, one is inclined to question, if the current status of the podium tower typology is counterproductive to the city. Hong Kong's temperature in urbanized areas have peaked last year due to the nocturnal heat radiation. Most affected were the areas with the highest concentration of mixed use podium tower buildings.

Those areas are also affected by increased road side pollution, and effect, which is worsened by the accelerated wind speed through the needle like towers, that acts as a cap for the pollutants from vehicles, containing them on the immediate pedestrian level. The resulting deterioration of the street as a positive public space, leads ironically as a countermeasure to a further increase in interior public spaces in form of podium tower mixed use developments.
Studies have shown the negative effects of a density, driven by the hyper podium tower typology. It is up to the developer and the architect to draw conclusions from there towards a more sustainable typology. The wellbeing of the city is in the interest of the architecture as well. Therefor it becomes our most important duty, to incorporate a more expansive view of Architecture, to refocus energy into the larger context of living, especially in the understanding of how others live and our implications on their kind of environment. To simultaneously create and be created by the forces of the context, architecture is no longer an object, but also a subject in the larger scheme of things: Architecture must perform, not just form within that realm.

Team: Ulrich Kirchhoff, Louise Low, Lai Lok Sung

© 2011, ice - ideas for contemporary environments

1 comment:

  1. Great post here. I took it as a reference while developing the concept for parasite farms feeding off Hong Kong neon lights. Here is the link if you are interested. Keep up a good work