The City Of Kowloon
Sometimes I wake up at 3am thinking about how things are built. There are a lot of us that do this now. Since the web is spaceless, we can build at the speed of a thousand Chinas, breakneck, in any axis. The ability to begin new, instantly -- or instead take a premade foundation -- or instead build on an existing settlement, is exhilarating. While the comparison to physical locations is probably inaccurate, also inevitable.
The Kowloon Walled City was a Hong Kong enclave, demolished in the early nineties, that grew and existed without any architects. There were 33,000 people living in a six acre space, an incredible population density even compared to Hong Kong around it. Not lawless, and not ungoverned, but having its own laws and governance, mostly by the Triad. In retrospect, there seems to be relative amazement that the Walled City operated so well given such a lack of order. It is the antithesis to the Northern European idea of design, it is “bad” from that architectural and societal viewpoint.
The web is full of Kowloon Walled Cities. It doesn’t matter if you think they are built well, or badly. You probably live in one, you at least visit one. You may work in one. The design is not necessarily intentional, but by human habit. Knowing the city takes expertise and time, it is the difference between knowing the maze-like streets of London versus the grid of (much of) Manhattan. People in these ad-hoc enclaves easily congeal into levels of authority based on knowledge, and clans based on location, or some peculiarities of the layout. Duplication is uncontrolled, rampant, mutates quickly. There is no abstraction, there is only growth, everything is literal and references immediate surroundings.
Kowloon was demolished, I wonder what it would be like if it had remained. The changes come piecemeal, one cell at a time, occasionally a convention bubbles up, or a block dictator enforces a law. But talk of the city is always talk of the people in the city, of the city as an organism, instead of the city as an ideal or a concept. Building the city happens all the time, is never finished, and while disorderly, abhorrent to those who desire the systematic and the abstract, the process is larger than a single architect, a cluster of independent actions.
links:A rare insight into Kowloon Walled CityKowloon Walled City documentary99% Invisible Episode 66- Kowloon Walled CityKowloon Walled City, Hong Kong