The Architecture of Density
is a new photographic exhibition by Michael Wolf
at the Robert Koch Gallery
, San Francisco. The hyper-dense architecture in question is in Hong Kong, where systems-building has been pushed to the extreme, and residential towers are seemingly just extruded from a single storey, cut and paste up to several hundred feet without deviation.
While some of Wolf's images look manipulated, that's not the case. Small individual touches - hanging washing, blinds, etc. - reveal these as real places, real homes. Some of these structures are so thrillingly banal that you almost wish they were imaginary, a grim warning of the architectural oblivion that unthinking modernism has created. So why are images like this so seductive? The large-format architectural view was arguably pioneered by Andreas Gursky
, an artist whose blank, matter-of-fact images
convey a sense of enormous scale, dwarfing their human subjects. Gursky also visited Hong Kong
, as did the photographer Peter Bialobrzeski
, whose exhibition Neon Tigers
added a nighttime sheen
to the same subject matter.
It's almost ironic that this late period, cookie-cutter modernism has earned so many glowing artistic tributes. The work of all three photographers emphasises the similarity, repetition and, ultimately, inhumanity, of these buildings, yet we're detached by distance; would they be so exciting and dynamic if we actually had to live there. These structures respond to Hong Kong's extraordinary property market, with its ups and downs
caused by the limited availability of land and the former colony's uncertain politicial status: their style and collective impact is almost secondary.
continues to fascinate architects and urbanists. While Hong Kong's cramped skyscraper clusters are perhaps the unacceptable face of the modern metropolis, the search goes on for an instant contemporary city. The jury is still out on Will Alsop's SuperCity
at City of Sound
), the subject of a new exhibition at Urbis
. 'What if the North became one city?', begins the blurb, and as with all these things, it's hard to tell if the questionner expects us to be happy or sad with the outcome.
Consider the renovation of the vast Park Hill Estate
(1961) in Sheffield, one of Britain's first, and largest, housing estates, and one which had evolved specificially out of the then fashionable Corbusian
doctrines. Park Hill is shortly to be renovated. It was once a 'SuperCity', I suppose, yet its form and typology has fallen far from favour. The contemporary Alsopian vision is a strange hybrid of linearity and verticality, a celebration of extreme mobility (more specifically, the 'romance' of the M62 corridor
). Time will tell how well such ideas are received. Related, the Twentieth Century Society's
already excellent website has had a new year re-vamp.
Update. Eastern scale. This architectural model
(the world's largest planning model) at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall shows the entire city at 1:2000 scale.