Interior urbanism in two Asia Pacific cities: spatial intensifications in Hong Kong and Hanoi

Serafina Amoroso


As cities grow taller, the ceilings, facades, basements and grounds of their buildings deepen, thus generating hybrid conditions that make the city disappear. A citywide network environment has become a ubiquitous building.

In the last decades, new alternative urban interiors have been developed in dense Asia Pacific cities, which are still undergoing implosive transformations. The paper hopes to provide some considerations on two case studies – Hong Kong and Hanoi - which can be used as templates or reference for future debates on interior urbanism. In this paper, the conditions of urban spaces in Hong Kong and Hanoi will be compared and discussed to reveal fresh possibilities of meanings and potentialities that have lain hidden.

Due to such factors as ever-growing population, shortage of urban land, increase in gross domestic product (GDP), Hong Kong is experiencing a vertical intensification. A superimposed interior world, made up of tangles of pedestrian overpasses, footbridges, escalators, elevated infrastructures and public transport networks, has added extra layers to the city. New artificial grounds have been stacked on top of each other, thus obliterating the traditional figure/ground relationships. Hong Kong’s urban spaces seem to deal more with the sky than with the ground. Nevertheless, I think that the city is enacting a sort of updated and reloaded hyper-version of Nolli’s map. Its urban spaces – regardless of the public or private nature of their stakeholders - form a continuum of collectively used spaces which link urban routes and new interiors of social life. If seen from this perspective, even the shopping malls unexpectedly emerge as public rather than as corporative spaces. In Hong Kong, privately owned collective spaces – mostly controlled and occupied by corporations – seem to enhance the individual awareness and experience of surroundings by provoking individual responses. Air and atmosphere design - achieved by intensifying the awareness of the thresholds either sharpening (through materials, interior finishes, lights, scale) or almost blurring them (through sounds, smells, humidity, density, going beyond physical enclosures) - help to recognise the (double) conditions of a space (and its image/representation).

Urban spaces in Hanoi are undergoing a horizontal intensification, which is somehow potentiating existing spatial conditions in built form. Hanoi seems to be continuously under construction, reassembling fragments of traditional urban environment within the framework of its own version of modernity. A general shortage of formally designed public spaces is compensated by their informal counterpart, thus generating conflicts between public uses and private appropriation of public spaces. While in Hong Kong traditionally collective outdoor spaces have been turned into (private or public) indoor spaces, in Hanoi sidewalks and street spaces – which are part of a traditionally exterior and public urban network of spaces – are used for private activities (such as cooking or washing), characterized by spatial proximity and the synchronic coexistence of different temporalities. Users and inhabitants are continuously attempting to privatize these spaces, turning them into an expanded interior domestic space.

Interestingly, the Vietnamese language has two terms for public space; the first term refers to a two-dimensional space and has a quantitative connotation, being used above all in planning documents. The second term refers rather to a three-dimensional space and to the activities it accommodates. This duplicity of meaning calls to mind Lefebvre’s [1] distinction between representations of space - a “conceptualized space, the space of scientists, planners, urbanists, technocratic subdividers and social engineers” [2] – and space of representation- which is a space “directly lived through its associated images and symbols, and hence the space of ‘inhabitants’ and ‘users’.” [3]

Which one might be seen as a model for the future?


[1] see: Henri Lefebvre, The Production of space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 33
[2] Ibid., 38
[3] Ibid., 39

Amoroso, S. “Interior urbanism in two Asia Pacific cities: spatial intensifications in Hong Kong and Hanoi.” MONU 21 (2014): 72-77. ISSN 1860-3211

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