Slice of Life: Who wants to get really high?
There are a small handful of cities in the world where the deliberate inducement of vertigo seems to have been a premeditated act by their founding urban planners. New York is one. Shanghai is another. But nowhere does this exquisitely nauseating feeling of dizziness reach unbidden heights than our own beloved Hong Kong.
The physical geography of the city, coupled with the massive population and the sheer lack of horizontal space, have made it necessary to build up rather than across this fragrant harbour. But somewhere along the way – let’s say 1987 – the architects and administrators seemed to have thrown function out of a high balcony window in favour of perverting the laws of physics.
Vertigo is the collective drug of choice that brings the IFC, the ICC, the Sky100, the bridges, the cable car and the myriad high-rise apartments of Mid Levels together in one addictive, palm-sweating experience. It’s something we can’t live without. Exterior lifts with glass-bottomed floors. Cloudbusting buildings that petrify you into blindness. Inclining streets. Suicidal rooftops. Traumatising skyscrapers. They’ve all been consciously planned and designed to push the boundaries of how we, ahem, interact with the world. Crystal meth may be outlawed in Hong Kong, but vertiginous whirling is on every street corner.
We all have friends who live on the forty-fuck-me floor of an apartment block with a balcony small enough to enter onto sideways. Such balconies were built to give the apparition of freedom, of transcendence, and the (fat) chance of fresh air. The opposite in fact is true. More often than not they induce fear, motion sickness and that insanely irrational but human desire to jump or fly or escape from life. Perverse designs. Illogical vantage points. Seemingly toppling office block structures. Just the thought of these can send chills (both hot and cold) down the spine.
Shakespeare once defined masochism as a lover’s pinch that hurts... and is desired. That’s what the evolution of Hong Kong architecture feels like to me: intoxicating masochism. The incredibly fantastic G-force edifices of the IFC and the Bank of China may well look astounding from the safety of the pavement, but many a tortured soul has pondered a “flight of fancy into deadly reality” on those windy, lonely, lightheaded summits.
And it’s all for what? To maxmise space? For sure. To accommodate the populace? Certainly. But somewhere in the back of those male masochistic brains lies an architectural desire to defy gravity, to get closer to the heavens, or space, or simply to burst through the bounds of the rational world. And most of them are succeeding. Last week you may have encountered a man who threatened to jump into rush hour traffic from the bridge that connects to the IFC. The police had already installed a yellow bouncy bed to catch his fall, but they needn’t have bothered. He was far too close to this mortal coil. Up there, up high where the buzzards soar, and where dreams are disproportioned, is the place to be for such tragic closures.
Anyway, there’s no use in moaning about the dizzy heights of Hong Kong. London, Shanghai, the Emirates, Chicago – they’re all in the process of building superstructures that will make our own skyscrapers look like piddling LEGO blocks. And as my best friend says whenever she visits Ozone bar: “It’s good to get drunk on the precipice.”