‘For all its inconveniences, Laing was satisfied with life in the high-rise.’
– J.G. Ballard, High-Rise.
This quote from J.G. Ballard’s dystopian novel “High-Rise” was in the back of my mind for all the duration of my stay in Hong Kong. Indeed, the high-rise way of life was everywhere, surrounding me.
Hong Kong is well-known for being one of the densest cities in the world. It exponentially developed after 1949, when the government had to build high-rises to house migrants seeking refuge in the city. Nowadays, it’s estimated that more than 50% of the city’s population lives in social housing. Styles evolved from the post-WWII slabs to contemporary “star-shaped” towers.
Instinctively, I started photographing these towers, wondering “people. how do they live in there?”
These buildings are high, blank and impressive – it systematically gives outsiders a mixed feeling of fascination, fear, alienation, also fuelled by regular photo essays and reports – from Michael Wolf to Andy Yeung – on the weird, sometimes inhumane, living conditions experienced there.
Who lives in these landscapes?
What gets out of these landscapes?
How are social norms evolving in these landscapes?
Do they offer a happier and healthier life?
Photographing these buildings became a way to appropriate the landscape, to humanise it and to humanise Hong Kong in general.
How do people live in there?
In Patterns of living, authors go over the shapes and characteristics of the standardised and serialised apartment type that constitutes the high-rise tower blocks. They notably highlight the emergence of “a particular flat type that housing studies now categorises as ‘indeterminate’: it is offered to tenants as a single room to partition to suit their own desires. Its success offers a model with international significance, controversial especially in rental housing, but potentially a way forward in reducing housing costs and allowing future flexibility.”