“If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place.”
It took me a while to start writing this text. I was thinking and rethinking, how to put my experiences - what I saw and learned within and from Hong Kong, what I smelled and perceived at the places I visited until now - into words.
As we visited, in particular, residual spaces within the elective course, I tried to focus on these and went through the photos I took during the walk again. But the city still seemed to escape my attempts to break it down into thoughts and words describing the seen.
So, I decided to start investigating at the very basic - at my own perception. What does it make so hard to bring structure into the experienced? Why couldn’t I define the seen? Why is it especially so hard to describe the residual - “Non-Lieux” a Non-Place?
The first site we visited, Mei Foo, was introducing us to typical Hong Kong housing: Generic towers extruded, copy pasted next to each other, generating enormous density - compared to European standards - with an uplifted ground floor podium. The urban fabric is closely interrelating housing, public space and privacy, shopping facilities and traffic. People are living in a symbiosis with infrastructure.
The huge bridge including the MTR station is a main element of the urban structure and cuts the housing blocks into two parts creating two atmospheric worlds. Even if the towers placed on one side are the same as on the other side, one can feel the different vibes passing from the southern stereotypical public housing part to the northern part, which is welcoming visitors and inhabitants with green areas and water fountains, generating an almost holiday like feeling.
This in-between space, the usually unused leftover-under-the-bridge-space in this case, is a lively place with people sitting on benches, spending their time observing others passing by, heading to the fresh market to do their grocery.
The preceding description, as well as the associated photo, show how residual space can be used.
But this was not the way most places were, we visited. Most of the residual spaces we saw were empty, some taken over by nature, others simply forgotten. Filled with no meaning, they become places in the city where the city seems to disappear.
Interestingly, going through the photos, I realized that most of the pictures I took were related to streets, bridges, and connections of space. Infrastructure once again as a main structuring element of the city.
Understanding the city as Augé does, Supermodernity is producing non-places - places of continuous transition - such as temporary housing units, holiday clubs, refugee camps, dense networks of transport that are working at the same time as inhabited space; fleeting, temporary, ephemeral.
This describes well how I perceive Hong Kong as a city - and what makes it as well so hard for me to define it:
You are a constantly passing through something, you feel like a solitary visitor in a constant move even if you are not alone. You can‘t get the whole image - you can just catch a partial glimpse.
Coming back from the non-place definition of Augé to my own experience I want to point out that I was very fascinated by the fact, that this meaningless and ignored spaces can become a place with identity and importance for the public again.
Even if they are still non-places in terms of definition regarding transition and movement - non-place, like place, is never pure - they may become a home, a meeting point for young people, public space with special qualities - a space that gives identity to someone.
It‘s no longer just space, but becoming a place.
In my opinion, the possibility of filling these voids of activity with meaning and function is working, due to the fact of the urban set up in Hong Kong. The city is a dense conglomerate of stapled functions and needs in a 3-dimensional way, that is craving for more usable space at every end. The inhabitants are used to the layering of functions and constant urban change. Eleven square meters of living space can be used in a more efficient and various way as I have ever seen anywhere else - why not use these spaces as well?
The missing engagement of the public conquering these non-spaces more offensively may be as well connected with the missing perception of this places. Qualities and potential of the spaces are hidden until you really start to look consciously.
I am not yet done with perceiving Hong Kong, but what I learned from observing especially left-over spaces during the walk with the wisdom of hindsight is, that we are often seeing things without really perceiving. This was for me furthermore reinforced by the intangible characteristics of the residual.
With the help of the photos I took - I would say often subconsciously or out of fascination - it was possible to re-walk the tour in my mind. This made me realize afterwards, how important transition spaces are and that they are directly connected with, often the reason for if not becoming it itself - the residual.