Essay by Max Hirsh
Over the past 20 years, Hong Kong has shed its roots as a colonial trading hub and emerged as a global financial center, a transition enabled by massive investments in infrastructure and land reclamation that have physically reprogrammed the urban landscape. The most dramatic (and costly) of those endeavors was the Airport Core Programme, a 10-point urban redevelopment scheme that accompanied the construction of the new Hong Kong International Airport on an artificial island off the coast of Lantau, on the territory’s sparsely populated southwestern fringe. The program included a land reclamation project in Victoria Harbour that increased the size of the central business district by more than 20 percent, as well as a 34-kilometer high-speed rail and road corridor between the airport and downtown Hong Kong. Throughout the 1990s, nearly all of the world’s dredging equipment was stationed off the coast of Hong Kong, harvesting sand from the South China Sea upon which to build office towers, hotels, shopping malls and the infrastructure that supports them.
In little more than a decade, HKIA has become the world’s busiest trans-shipment center for air cargo; it also serves more than 50 million passengers annually. Among the tight-knit community of airport designers, HKIA is famous for the infrastructural bravado underpinning its rapid construction. Less well known is the unusual diversity of urban activities that flourishes on its periphery: a new town of 100,000 residents; a giant pop concert arena; a cable car network spanning the rugged mountain ranges; and, on the airport’s southwestern flank, a string of ancient fishing communities sustained by the production of dried seafood. As shown in this gallery, it is a sprawling landscape of hiking trails and villages, expressways and logistics complexes, that spatializes the contradictory impulses shaping urban design strategies in Asia’s leading metropoles.
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