Arts, Exhibitions & Performances, Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s visual density – captured by three photographers

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world. The land population density as at mid-2013 stood at 6,650 persons per square kilometre, and Kwun Tong, with 57,120 persons per square kilometre, was the most densely populated district among the District Council districts (according to this government fact sheet). Apparently, some people and websites claim, Mong Kok is even more populated with 130,000 people per square kilometre.

However, 75 per cent of Hong Kong comprises no-built-up areas. The high concentration of people in just a few square kilometres is due partly to the fact that new town development did not take place until well into the 1970s and therefore most of the population had to be accommodated in the main urban area along the waterfront of the Victoria Harbour on Hong Kong Island. The high price of land in Hong Kong also contributes to its high-density development. Many people can only afford to live in high-rise buildings – and Hong Kong has one of the highest property prices in the world.

According to this website, High density has many advantages: “It can create more efficient land use and is more cost-effective in providing public services and facilities. In terms of transportation, Hong Kong has one of the lowest energy consumption per capita in the world. High density maximises the effectiveness of public transport while minimising the distance between the sites of day-to-day activities. It also reduces energy and infrastructure costs”.

But of course, this leads to a lack of open space. This forced the government to encourage the construction of public amenities in exchange for increased floor space in new buildings by granting developers a ‘bonus plot ratio’. Thus many new buildings in Central have been designed to include public spaces or public passageways.

Other challenges of Hong Kong’s high density include traffic congestion, crowdedness and more specific problems: hundreds of people piling themselves like sardines into an MTR compartment, having no land left to bury the dead and looking out the window directly into someone else’s living room.

The high-density of Hong Kong is a great subject for photographers, for instance Michael Wolf captured the mind-boggling density of our vertical city:

Michael Wolf 1

Michael Wolf 2

Michael Wolf 3

Michael Wolf 4

Carsten Schael produced a series called Digiscopic – which shows Hong Kong through a big kaleidoscope. According to this article in Localiiz, “In Digiscopic, Schael explores this feeling of visual bombardment by pushing the limit of photography as an art. Through the use of Photoshop to digitally reflect familiar Hong Kong sights including building facades and our skyline, he layers an image over itself multiple times, blending them together to form the final piece”.

Carsten Schael 1

Carsten Schael 2

Finally, Manuel Irritier, who visited the city in 2013 and focused on close up photographs of apartment buildings in the city.

Manuel Irritier 1

Manuel Irritier 2

Manuel Irritier 3

Although his Urban Barcode work is quite similar to that of Michael Wolf’s Architecture of Density, Irritier explains in the same Localiiz article that “it was pure coincidence, and that he actually draws his inspiration from the work of German architectural photographer HG Esch”. Either way, his Manuel’s work is stunning too, don’t you think?


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