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"The Architecture of Density": A Study of Megacity Living in Hong Kong

By Dwell @dwell

A photographer's studies of Hong Kong's dense apartment blocks come to a London gallery. Slideshow

Michael Wolf began photographing Hong Kong's apartment blocks after moving there in 1994. Photo by Michael Wolf, courtesy of the Flowers Gallery.

In 1994, confronting what was, by his own admission, a midlife crisis, photographer Michael Wolf traded a career in photojournalism in Europe for a new life as an artist in Hong Kong.

One of the world’s most densely populated cities, Hong Kong crams more than 23,000 people per square mile into its most crowded areas. Because land is so scarce, many of them are crowded into sky-scraping residential apartment blocks.

These dense, towering dwellings inspired Wolf to pick up his camera, and now large-scale prints of some of the photographs he took are coming to London’s Flowers Gallery, where they will be on display from January 17 to February 22, 2014, in an exhibit titled "Architecture of Density." In a 2013 interview with The New Republic, Wolf said he initially photographed the buildings against the sky, showing them in the context of the surrounding urban landscape. “But when I looked at [the photographs], I wasn’t convinced that it worked,” he says. “And then I experimented: I started cropping the pictures without the sky, without the horizon, and suddenly I realized there was something there which was more than just buildings.”

Cropping the images gave the buildings the illusion of what Wolf calls “unlimited size”—the possibility that they could be more than 100 stories tall, and perhaps a mile or more long. Wolf drives the point home by exhibiting large prints that are either 48 by 64 inches or 70 by 90 inches. Close inspection of the images reveals that there’s more here than monolithic apartment blocks. Belongings—drying laundry, mops, birdfeeders and the like—reinforce the notion that these tiny, stacked spaces are people’s homes.

“You suddenly see these signs of habitation and that’s what makes them interesting,” Wolf says. “Because from far away [the buildings] could really be a pattern, a tapestry, and then when you get closer, you suddenly see there are people living there. It’s this duality which makes them interesting.”

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