Urban Pauses:

Reclaiming Hong Kong's Residual Urban Spaces

Hong Kong 2016 - 18

More than a city, Hong Kong is a condition, where diverse moments of human habitation collectively generate an un-paralleled urban ecology.  This paper focuses on challenging preconceived notions of how we see our cities, steering away from the prescribed notions of urbanism and architecture as abstract entity, where citizen and professionals are separated by a vast gulf, rather it seeks to re-address the link between the city and human habitation.

Hong Kong is a city that has always developed reactively, as a reaction to given conditions, be it political or geographically, in the process generating a unique identity that responds and adapts to situations.  Conditions form the backdrop against which we live our daily life; they are the fragments that generate the public/social realm.  They represent both the ambiguous line between the city and its citizens and the moment where coexistence between the physical and the meta-physical realms collide. Understanding Hong Kong as a series of conditions allows interrogates our collective DNA of habitation and start a debate that anticipates rather than assesses, accepts rather than postulates.

Conditions of Place


Beyond modernity, the relationship between place and space is a critical component in understanding how urban condition are inhabited.  According to the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, space is something that has been vacated, freed within a defined limit (Heidegger, 1971).  The concept of limit here relates the description of where something starts, as opposed to where something ends, Heidegger traces the etymology of the word to the Greek word “orusmos”, concluding that spaces receive their essence from place and not from space.

Conditions without Architects


Rather than center the thesis of this article on Hong Kong’s macro intense urbanism, which has been the focus of numerous books of late, most recently “The Making of Hong Kong: from Vertical to Volumetric” (Shelton, Karakiewicz, & Kvan, 2011), the attention here shifts towards small scale micro situations typically dismissed as marginal or out rightly forgotten.


The idea originates from Bernard Rudofsky’s book “Architecture Without Architects” where in his introduction the author states “Architecture Without Architects attempts to breakdown our narrow concepts of the art of building by introducing the unfamiliar world of non-pedigreed architecture” (Rudofsky, 1964, p. 6) developing in the course of the book a taxonomy of anonymous, vernacular and spontaneous architectural examples.  Here however, the focus of the study specifically narrates the architectural conditions that respond to the Hong Kong’s challenging spatial limits, where their existence varies in degrees of precariousness directly associated to their temporal status.

Over the course of the last two years, at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, I have embarked on an urban research project that aims to decipher exactly those conditions “our sight stumbled across”, Perec describes above, which I encountered while living in Hong Kong.  The condition here becomes the tool to interrogate the collective DNA of how people inhabit such an extreme city, and at the same time allowing the formulation of a position from which we can actually learn from.  Too often, in our quest to explain given urban situations, architects are rushed to assess, and by association pass judgement on; rather than assess and postulate solutions, this study seeks to accept and uncover the process behind how the city operates: from the invisible interconnected networks to the adjustable and adaptive systems that Hong Kong constantly generates to survive.


Research team

Prof. Peter W. Ferretto

CHOI Sungyeol

WANG Haoran Howard