‘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.

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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.

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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?

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Photographing these buildings became a way to appropriate the landscape, to humanise it and to humanise Hong Kong in general.

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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.”

Read: Patterns of Living: Hong-Kong’s High-Rise Communities, Hillary French & Yanki Lee

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