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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 12 March 2013
This review is from THE GUARDIAN(newspaper)(London). It was written by OLIVER WAINWRIGHT- Friday 22nd Febuary 2013, 14:59 GMT. ([...])
This reveiw is NOT by me -Janet's

Cities Without Ground: a guidebook to Hong Kong's elevated walkways

In Hong Kong, your feet need never touch the ground. But now, for the first time, a book can help you navigate the high-rise web of bridges, tunnels and lobbies that make up the city's fabric

In Hong Kong, it is possible to walk all day without ever having to set foot on the ground. In this super-dense metropolis, built on an implausible terrain of sheer-faced mountains and reclaimed land, you can go from your house to the office, via shops, stations and ferry terminals without once touching terra firma.

It is a city built on an intricate network of elevated bridges and submerged tunnels, aerial walkways and suspended passages. The platforms of transport hubs meld into labyrinthine malls, which in turn bleed into office lobbies. Branches of stairs and escalators continuously connect onwards and upwards, to the extent that you're never quite sure what altitude you might be at, how far from the street you have risen - or if, in fact, there was even a street to begin with.

This unique urban condition has now been mapped for the first time by a group of architects and academics, who have brought their findings together in Cities Without Ground: A Hong Kong Guidebook. The work of Adam Frampton, Jonathan D Solomon and Clara Wong, the book takes a systematic look at the layered topography of the city, drawing over 30 key areas in exploded axonometric diagrams to reveal the interweaving networks of pedestrian infrastructure.
A map shows the interconnecting levels of the Shun Tak Centre and Sheung Wan - a hub that connects trains, ferries, helicopters, buses and taxis, alongside a neighbourhood of dried seafood shops A map shows the interconnecting levels of the Shun Tak Centre and Sheung Wan - a hub that connects trains, ferries, helicopters, buses and taxis, alongside a neighbourhood of dried seafood shops. Image: Oro Editions

The project claims to be "a manifesto for a new theory of urban form" and the authors argue that Hong Kong "demonstrates the viability and even robustness of public spaces that do not resemble a street or a square."

In such a city of artificial ground, the activities that usually happen in a park or civic square are instead displaced into the air-conditioned lobbies of shopping centres, or the shady undercrofts of office blocks. On Sundays, some of these zones are entirely taken over by armies of domestic workers on their day off, sitting in endless rows on blankets, chatting, eating and snoozing. In other areas, groups of retired men gather to show off their songbirds, while a nearby gaggle of children practise musical instruments.

The maps depict an impossibly elaborate web, with escalators, ramps and walkways stretching for miles in every direction, spreading like the vigorous root systems of an army of weeds. It is an unplanned, often illogical matrix, which is the result of piecemeal development - different links and stitches built by different parties over time according to their specific needs. It is, the authors write, "a result of a combination of top-down planning and bottom-up solutions, a unique collaboration between pragmatic thinking and comprehensive masterplanning."

The phenomenon began in the 1960s, when the Hongkong Land company, one of the main developers in the region, built an elevated walkway to connect a luxury hotel to the second storey of an adjacent shopping mall. An insignificant move, perhaps, but it in fact had the effect of changing the rentable values within the building: suddenly the mall's second floor units could be rented out for more than those at ground level. It entirely recalibrated the vertical logic of real estate value.

The government also caught on to this being a good way to move people around town without getting in the way of traffic, and so the elevated urban realm began to grow - beginning with transport hubs, but soon extending throughout the city.
West Kowloon ... Hong Kong's gateway to China, a multi-storey landscape with an aromatic garden and kids' fun world. West Kowloon ... Hong Kong's gateway to China, a multi-storey landscape with an aromatic garden and kids' fun world. Image: Oro Editions

Drawn in a bold graphic style that is somewhere between Haynes construction manual and SimCity, the maps are annotated with some of the activities that occur across the many layers and levels of these pieces of infrastructure. The Shun Tak Centre and Sheung Wan - a hub that connects trains, ferries, helicopters, buses and taxis, alongside a neighbourhood of dried seafood shops - depicts a landscape where housewives haggle over preserved sausages, around the corner from a jockey club and fabric bazaar.

A map of the Olympic neighbourhood shows that even bedroom communities and back-office complexes are relentlessly connected, where an impatient private maths tutor and bored child practising the piano share two different levels of the same piece of an elevated interchange. Elsewhere, impromptu art exhibitions and political protests take place in shopping malls, pavements become salons or workshops, and covered bridges are transformed into restaurants and dance halls.

Although sometimes falling foul of the architect's tendency to fetishise the visual richness of exploded diagrams over the clarity of what they actually mean, the book represents a valuable piece of work. It captures this specific moment in time, and shows that these connecting stitches of routes and walkways not only aid connectivity, but provide the informal social arteries on which the city thrives.
This reveiw is NOT by me -Janet's
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on 31 March 2013
The book includes some photos of Hong Kong, some narrative and a series of diagrams of the interconnecting indoor walkways that make up a large part of the public space. Unfortunately, I found most of the diagrams difficult to understand and visualise. The main effect of the book has been to make me want to go and see what the reality actually looks like because the book didn't really help me to do this.

The diagrams are certainly pretty, but not always presented in the clearest way they could be. They are sometimes too complex and overloaded with arch details that obscure the interesting parts. While there is a key and colour scheme apparently denoting the relative levels of floors on the diagrams, I'm sure they could have found a better colour scheme for it - the varying shades of pink are sometimes hard to distinguish and could easily have been a lot more intuitive. They don't always seem to be used consistently either, with slopes apparently connecting floors which are coloured as the same level.

The other thing that undermines the comprehensibility of the diagrams is that the authors seem to have got a bit carried away with the conceit of "city without ground", to the point of largely denying its existence. It is pretty clear from the pictures that quite a lot of the ground in Hong Kong is flat reclaimed land, and ignoring it as a relevant "level" seems to be taking the principle too far - rendering the diagrams less useful than they could be. Some of the diagrams have no boundary between what is apparently ground (it has cartoon buses and cars on it) and what is apparently water (with cartoon boats). They do frequently reference the 1800s coastline, and I can't see why this is more relevant and interesting than the current coast.

Some other elements have a lack of attention to detail. I particularly like the road intersections where the lines of buses and cars are simply overlaid on each other, resulting in some amusing arrangements where Hong Kong's cars appear to be balanced on the top of its buses.

The occasional burst of architect-waffle comes straight out of pseuds' corner, but that eases off after the early pages. I found the comedy tags ("couple having argument", "penniless tourists return from casino") amusing for about two pages and irritating thereafter, particularly on some of the more complex diagrams where the overload of information on the page increased the difficulty in understanding.

Overall, it is an interesting book, and I would like to try it out in its claimed use as a guide book. My main response was irritation that it wasn't better when it could quite easily have been if the authors hadn't got so carried away with their own cleverness.
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on 24 April 2013
I wouldn't consider it a guide book per say, more an interesting art/design project based around maps.

Having said that we did use it a few times to see what was around us and a few tips.

It did also give us a great idea of the huge amount of shops below our feet near our hotel.
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