2 comments on “Guthook Goes to Hong Kong

  1. I wonder if people in Hong Kong would agree with this excerpt from one of my favorite books which some friends call a hippy book, ‘A Pattern Language’ by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein  ©1977.

    There’s probably a lot of healthy things going on there which offset any ill effects if there are such a thing.


    There is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy.

        High buildings have no genuine advantages, except in speculative gains for banks and land owners. They are not cheaper, they do not help create open space, they destroy the townscape, they destroy social life, they promote crime, they make life difficult for children, they are expensive to maintain, they wreck the open spaces near them, and they damage light and air and view. But quite apart from all of this, which shows that they aren’t very sensible, empirical evidence shows that they can actually damage people’s minds and feelings.


        The strongest evidence comes from D.M. Fanning (“Families in Flats,” British Medical Journal, November 18, 1967, pp.382-86). Fanning shows a direct correlation between incidence of mental disorder and the height of people’s apartments. The higher people live off the ground, the more likely are they to suffer mental illness. And it is not simply a case of people prone to mental illness choosing high-rise apartments. Fanning shows that the correlation is strongest for the people who spend the most time in their apartments. Among the families he studied, the correlation was strongest for women, who spend the most time in their apartments; it was less strong for children, who spend less time in the apartments; and it was weakest for men, who spend the least amount of time in their apartments. This strongly suggest that sheet time spent in the high-rise is itself what causes the effect.

        A simple mechanism may explain this: high-rise living takes people away from the ground, and away from the casual, every-day society that occurs on the sidewalks and streets and on the gardens and porches. It leaves them alone in their apartments. The decision to go out for some public life becomes formal and awkward; and unless there is some specific task which brings people out in the world, the tendency is to stay home, alone. The forced isolation then causes individual breakdowns.


        More recently, there is the evidence brought forward by Oscar Newman in Defensible Space. Newman compared two adjacent housing projects in New York – one high-rise, the other a collection of relatively small three-story walk-up buildings. The two projects have the same overall density, and their inhabitants have roughly the same income. But Newman found that the crime rate in the high-rise was roughly twice that in the walk-ups.


        At three or four stories, one can still walk comfortably down to the street, and from a window you can still feel part of the street scene: you can see details in the street- the people, their faces, foliage, shops. From three stories you can yell out, and catch the attention of someone below. Above four stories these connections break down. The visual detail is lost…


        In any urban areas, no matter how dense, keep  the majority of buildings four stories high or less. It is possible that certain building should exceed this limit, but they should never be building for human habitation.


  2. Thanks for the travelogue.   Love the pics, they give a sense of history, expansion, and power. 

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