Hong Kong is known for high density living, usually in the form of “Modern” apartment blocks like the one here, and trust me, it is surreal for a Westerner to wake up expecting to see the morning sky only to discover an intimate view of a couple of hundred neighbors looking back at you from the same exactly measured boxes only made different by colorful laundry strung helter-skelter like banners in all directions. Add the noise and smell of rush hour boat traffic on the Aberdeen channel below, and you have a picture of middle class life in Ap Lei Chau. But I digress, this is not a travel blog. Finally, I end up smitten with the sheer visual mass; rigid, regular, homogenous structural framework completely animated by the chaos of life. One without the other is unthinkable. Such was the vision packed happily away in my photos file until I was forced, by a recent article about sustainably built apartments, to to dust it off.
During the late 50’s and early 60’s; and keeping in mind that architectural academics love anything that can be defined by the attachment of an “ism” to the end of a word, a Japanese mega thinker and luminary by the name of Kiyonori Kikutake along with 3 others came up with a philosophy that has come to be known in architectural circles as “Metabolism.” Motivated, at its core, by the quest for more versatile solutions to the ever expanding post war urban environments, Metabolism had some interesting manifestations. Kikutake, for example, proposed supporting apparently floating floor planes in multistory buildings with structural mesh; think structural columns that look like Chinese finger traps. Floor planes, as it turns out, were not the only thing he floated. In response to the scarcity of urban real estate he actually designed an entire floating city.
Not to be overlooked was Kisho Kurokawa, another perhaps more pragmatic member of the group, who contributed to the architectural notions of Metabolism by the introduction off organic structural flexiblity in the form of capsule architecture, a real live example being the Nakagin Capsule Tower shown in the photo. Removable pods were actually made in a shipping container factory.
Sustainability being the current architectural mantra, the image in the article (India Art n Design: Mongkok Residence – Sustainability & the Skyline) is, nevertheless, mostly remarkable because the apartment is nestled between two modern towers. Dialectically speaking, what could more completely summarize the issue. Funny thing about opposites; they cannot be opposite unless they are somehow alike. No matter how they are skewed, upon what type of rigid or flexible structural frame they rest, whether the boxes are fabricated in a container factory or simply real containers, boxes piled one on top of another end up looking like piled up boxes. Quite possibly, they only become something else by introduction of the infinitely chaotic laundry.