Guest speaker discusses Hong Kong walkways

Assistant professor Wendy Fok discussed aformal planning with guest speaker Jonathan Solomon./Monica Tso/The Daily Cougar

Assistant professor Wendy Fok discussed aformal planning with guest speaker Jonathan Solomon. | Monica Tso/The Daily Cougar

The unpredictability of Hong Kong’s system of walkways demonstrates a robustness of ground space in cities and presents a notion for the future of informal or formal infrastructure, said a noted architect Thursday at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture.

Jonathan D. Solomon, the associate dean at the School of Architecture at Syracuse University, documented his studies of Hong Kong’s infrastructure in his book, “Cities Without Ground.” Solomon discussed how the city has developed without formal blueprints and depicted Hong Kong as a groundless city.

“Hong Kong is more interesting from ground level instead of skyscrapers,” Solomon said. “From knockoffs sold before the real thing to amateur musicians performing before professionals, the elevated walkways serve as cultural interconnections.”

Solomon presented several city guides that revealed the intricate arrangement of footbridges between buildings as “aformal” urbanism instead of formal and informal. He focused on three buildings to explain his research.

“The Shun Tak and Sheung Wan Centre is an elegant switch between land, sea and air,” Solomon said. “Switching from cool to hot, crowded to air-conditioned, the Queensway Plaza has a reverse sequence of temperature. It lacks visual hierarchy and has neither ground nor no end boundaries. The Lockhart Road Municipal Services Building achieves continuity between atmosphere and interior.”

In comparison, the Galleria poses as a great investment for aformal urbanism, said Solomon before exploring Houston’s architecture and urban designs.

Architecture sophomore Michael Burch was intrigued by the concept of a groundless city and its impact on the surrounding architecture.

“To be honest, I was quite surprised when I sat in my chair anticipating a commentary purely based on architecture and learned of this pedestrian circulatory development in China,” Burch said. “The relationship between the Chinese government, citizens and architectural firms of these structures was eye-opening.”

Burch assumed that Hong Kong’s population density, shrinking availability of land and increasing foreign involvement were causes for a unique infrastructure. He considered a comparison between Hong Kong and Houston and concluded that Houston’s development toward a vertically diverse circulatory system seems to be far in the future.

“Similar structures including the circular skywalk that connects three major Methodist Hospital buildings have been constructed in the medical center, but Houstonians are apt to grow outwards than upwards,” Burch said. “If Houston’s population increased dramatically and all social activities moved toward downtown, then I believe such an infrastructure might develop.”

Another architecture sophomore, Benjamin Beil, was interested in Solomon’s idea of aformal architecture.

“Interested in the aspect of masterplanning, I find this development rather important because it provides us with a different perspective of how to help peoples’ problems efficiently and personally,” Beil said. “It was interesting to learn how this development took place since there is essentially no formal master planning needed. Instead, they irregularly organize a given space based on their needs.”

Beil imagined the possibility of implementing Solomon’s concept to Houston and compared the differences.

“The infrastructure in Houston is not really efficient because Houston has a ridiculous amount of ground space, which is why the city is so spread out. The underground system in downtown is similar but doesn’t connect the important parts of the city,” Beil said. “I would be amazed to see if there will be any progress made toward the creation of efficient new public spaces though.”

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