Secret Slums: Ramshackle Rooftop Villages of Hong Kong

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[ By WebUrbanist in Global & Travel & Places. ]

roof tops hong kong

These hidden shanty towns, often invisible from the streets below, sprawl like surrealist suburbs across the roofs of one of the most densely-populated and expensive cities in the world.

rooftop dwelling book cover

The book Portraits From Above meticulously documents a series of such informal micro-villages in Hong Kong with photographs, detailed diagrams and stories of life inside these illicit rooftop communities.

rooftop villages china distance

While the dwellings are unconventional in shape, the book’s drawings are almost deceptively refined, capturing the chaos in clean black-on-white architectural lines.

rooftop interior diagram drawing

Ad hoc architecture at its strangest, these structures are not governed by building codes or compliance issues. Found materials from sheet metal and scrap wood to discarded plastic and broken brick shape home walls and the narrow halls between homes.

rooftop shanty entry way

rooftop black white interior

Naturally, one downside of such unplanned habitats are the series of power and waste management issues that go with the territory.

rooftop community village diagram

rooftop shack aerial view

Despite living on the fringes – or perhaps because their shared connection – there are strong social ties between rooftop dwellers, and they were welcoming to the authors of this book, Stefan Canham and Rufina Wu, who sought to learn more about how people live in such offbeat accommodations. In many ways, too, these mini-cities are like smaller expressions of larger-scale phenomenon like the nearby but now-demolished Kowloon Walled City.


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Panoramic Rainbow: Circular Space Spans Color Spectrum

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[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Public & Institutional. ]

rainbow panoramic walkway design

Rainbows on the horizon are impossible to approach, let alone pass through – they flicker and fade like phantoms, except in the case of this iconic space.

rainbow museum roof path

Your Rainbow Panorama by Olafur Eliasson is an enclosed circular walkway that sits atop the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum in Denmark. Its colored glass spans from floor to ceiling and rotates visitors through five hundred feet of color, looping them through a rainbow of panoramic city views.

rainbow roof red orane

rainbow roof blue teal

rainbow roof green yellow

The experience of walking along this 500-foot path is at once reductive and complex. At each step, the city outside becomes a monochromatic landscape, filtered through the lens of single slices of color that rotate as you move.

rainbow rooftop viewing platform

From outside, the raised structure forms a bright beacon within the city, a recognizable icon thanks to its combination of round shape and vibrant color. As this project illustrates, powerful architecture can be about more than structure, building and void – it is also about shaping experience through color and light.

rainbow spectrum walking experience

According to its Danish-Icelandic designer, it is “a space which virtually erases the boundaries between inside and outside – where people become a little uncertain as to whether they have stepped into a work or into part of the museum. This uncertainty is important to me, as it encourages people to think and sense beyond the limits within which they are accustomed to moving.”  In the end, is it an gallery space, a viewing platform, a permanent art installation … or does it perhaps span a spectrum of spatial definitions as well as colors?

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Tall Temple: Bizarre Rooftop Palace on Chinese Skyscraper

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[ By Steph in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

Illegal Rooftop Temple China 1

The man who built his very own luxury mountain palace atop a condo tower in China – illegally – is hardly alone in his endeavors. A Chinese microblogger spotted what looks like another unsanctioned resort on the roof of a 21-story luxury apartment complex in Shenzhen, complete with lush landscaping and a temple.

Illegal Rooftop Temple China 2

While it’s clear that the stone penthouse was built without permission, this particular rooftop paradise is shrouded in mystery. It has been situated on top of the apartment building for at least three years, but nobody knows who it belongs to, or why it appears to be under such tight security, including cameras, guard dogs and a fingerprint scanner.

A video taken from a helicopter gives us a glimpse at the complex, which appears to include gardens and a pond as well as the gold-tiled temple itself. Tenants fear the suspected illegal construction could jeopardize the structural integrity of the entire building. Neighbors report that golden sheets of joss paper, which is burned to honor ancestors, occasionally floats down from the temple’s perch, leading them to believe it’s used for traditional Chinese religious practices.

Illegal Rooftop Temple China 3

According to the South China Morning Post, a local property owner told reporters that the person responsible for the temple might be the director of Nanshan district’s Residential Property Management Office, a man named Xiong. “We once had a meeting [regarding the temple] and required it to be demolished. We put up notifications. But [Xiong] installed a security door and refused to let demolition people near [the structure.] The [problem] has still yet to be resolved.”

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Leisure in the Sky: 13 Elevated Railway + Rooftop Parks

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[ By Steph in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

Elevated Parks Main

In cities where highways and high-rises have taken up virtually every square foot of real estate there is to be had, lush parks, pedestrian walkways and bike paths can be hard to come by. That’s why, in many cities, supporters of public green space are starting to look up, and they’re reclaiming and rehabilitating abandoned infrastructure in the process. New York City’s The High Line has inspired cities across the world to consider disused railways and viaducts as elevated parks, and rooftop recreation spots are increasing in popularity, too.

The High Line, New York City

Elevated Parks High Line NYC

A rail track that was decommissioned in 1980, standing in disrepair as an eyesore for decades, is now one of New York City’s most popular attractions after its transformation into an elevated park. The High Line is a one-mile section of the former New York Central Railroad spur called The West Side, running along the lower west side of Manhattan, offering views of the city and the Hudson River along with walkways, naturalist plantings, and spots to rest. Its revitalization has spurred development in neighborhoods that lie alongside it.

Namba Parks, Osaka

Elevated Parks Osaka

Eight levels of sloping parks full of trees, cliffs, boulders, lawns, streams, waterfalls and outdoor terraces gradually wind up the rooftop of a lifestyle center adjacent to a 30-story tower in Osaka, Japan. Namba Parks provides greenery and recreation space in a city full of concrete, where nature can be difficult to access. Spaces carved from this rooftop space down to the bottom level of the building create artificial ‘canyons’ for natural lighting.

Promenade Plantee, Paris

Elevated Parks Paris

Promenade Plantee is the elevated park that started it all, predating the High Line by nearly twenty years. It was built along Paris’ elevated Viaduct des Arts, which supported the Vincennes Railway from 1859 to 1969. The arcades under the viaduct were converted into art galleries and artisan workshops.

QueensWay Park on the Long Island Railroad, New York

Elevated Parks Queensway

The QueensWay project has been a controversial proposal, because although additional public green space would be a great thing for the residents of the Queens borough of New York City, many people feel that restoring the rail line to underserved areas would be even more beneficial. Nonetheless, the plan is moving forward, with a 3.5-mile section of decommissioned railway set to become a park.

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Penthouse Mountain: Stone Villa Tops Chinese Condo Tower

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[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]

mountain on condo tower

Over six years, one dedicated man has constructed his dream house, complete with boulders, trees, gardens, pools and ponds. It is the kind of luxury home you might expect expect to set into the side of an actual mountain … rather than perched atop an urban apartment building.

mountaintop penthouse on roof

The Daily Mail  reports that Chinese eccentric Zhang Lin slowly assembled this structure in Beijing despite disruptions and dangers caused to those residents below, apparently without planning permission and in defiance of zoning laws (not to mention common sense). The many tons of material required were hauled up the building, then transformed into a faux mountaintop. In turn, the industrious top-floor owner tucked his unique private penthouse retreat into the resulting rock face.

mountain rock condo sprawl

A number of residents have complained about the noise from construction, and one has experienced flooding, either from fake mountain pools and ponds above their place, broken drainage due to displaced infrastructure, or perhaps both.

mountain condo in context

Meanwhile, the penthouse – originally slated to be a small shack added to the top – has sprawled in all kinds of creative and (to those below, at least) unexpected ways. There are various outdoor decks, viewing platforms and winding paths that make their way through and around the stone mountaintop and its outgrowths of greenery.

mountain shaped carved apartment

And what comes next? Well, no one in the city has stopped the project so far, but as complaints mount from other residents, and as the weight loaded on the roof grows, one has to wonder what will happen first: government intervention or a tragic structural collapse.

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Urban Suburbs: 4 McMansions Atop Chinese Shopping Mall

[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Offices & Commercial. ]

It sounds like a hoax at best, an architectural student thesis gone wrong at worst … yet it is entirely real: a series of conventional-looking, a-frame abodes atop a gigantic mega-block shopping center. And it only makes more sense the more you think about it.

After all, views command a premium, yards are a rare luxury, and stand-alone houses in cities in China are almost unheard of, so this four-home development can command some of the highest prices on the market.

Located stories above the sidewalks of Zhuzhou (Hunan province), the homes are spared street noise and have a surprising degree of privacy, being significantly set  back from the streets (images by China Foto Press/Barcroft Media).

Trivia(l) postscript: architecture buffs may remember the Postmodern-style Portland Building of the early 1980s – its original design featured a Greek temple-like structure to house rooftop HVAC systems (eventually discarded from the design due to cost). And speaking of HVAC … just how noisy will it be to live above a shopping mall alongside all of that mechanical? Only time and its residents can tell.


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The Fifth Facade: A Peek Inside NYC’s Hidden Rooftop World

[ By Delana in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

Even for native New Yorkers who are rarely surprised by the secrets offered up by their fascinating home, the hidden NYC that Alex MacLean captured might be something completely new. And if you have never lived in New York, you are sure to be blown away. The architect turned pilot turned photographer took to the skies in a helicopter to capture a world that very few ever get to see: the rooftop outdoor spaces that bring some urban dwellers right into suburbia.

(image via: Princeton Architectural Press)

Flipping through the pages of MacLean’s Up On the Roof (a copy of which was provided to WebUrbanist by the publisher), all of the trappings of suburban life are evident. The barbecues, picnic tables, gardens and swimming pools call to mind neighborhood backyard parties – only these are no backyards. These are the tops of tall buildings right in the middle of one of the most vibrant cities in the world.

(image via: Princeton Architectural Press)

MacLean became aware of this secret world almost by chance. An intriguing image he saw on Google Earth inspired the pilot to take a swing over Manhattan while out on a photography assignment. The initial reason for the detour was quickly forgotten when MacLean began to notice an entirely unexpected layer to the city far above the sidewalks. From then on, he began documenting those amazing rooftop spaces.

(image via: Princeton Architectural Press)

Just like suburban backyards, the roof spaces run the range from sparse and minimal to flawlessly manicured to absolutely chaotic. It is wonderfully mesmerizing to examine each page, leaning in close so as not to miss a single detail. These high-up spaces have been used for everything from playgrounds to restaurants to art exhibits to fully-functional urban farms and even golf courses. In one bizarre case, a replica of a World War I British fighter plane sits on a rooftop runway.

(image via: Princeton Architectural Press)

While many of the older buildings sport retro-fit rooftop spaces – added on many years after the buildings were constructed – some new buildings have rooftop living and recreational spaces built in. MacLean notes a particular new building in Williamsburg on which the roof space is segmented into many individual outdoor areas, to be sold later at a premium to residents.

(image via: Princeton Architectural Press)

The nearly 200 rooftops detailed in MacLean’s book are perfect examples of urban adaptivity. Even urbanites who wouldn’t dream of leaving the city crave an outdoor space in which to relax. Since rooftops account for one third of all impermeable surfaces in New York City, it only makes sense to put all of that space to use.

(image via: NY Mag)

It is interesting to note that, since rooftops have typically been used to house industrial objects like water towers, compressors, and ducts, these things now have to coexist with the rooftop living spaces. In some cases the solutions are remarkably elegant, such as enclosures that camouflage all of the mechanical things. In others, the spaces meant for people simply wind their way around the inconvenient objects.

(image via: NY Mag)

MacLean’s engrossing book can be enjoyed simply for its beautiful photography and glimpses into ordinarily-inaccessible places. But for urban enthusiasts, it also inspires a sort of giddy excitement over future possibilities. As more and more of the world’s population settles in densely-populated urban areas, more cities will start to resemble New York…and more urbanites will head to the roof for their daily dose of nature.


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Rooftop Riverboat House Unveiled: A Room for London

[ By Steph in Architecture & Design & Travel & Places. ]

Sailing through the clouds in a riverboat perched atop Queen Elizabeth Hall in London may sound like a strange and surreal dream, but some travelers are set to do just that as ‘A Room for London‘ opens to guests. The temporary boat-shaped apartment was commissioned by Living Architecture to celebrate the Olympic year of 2012.

The winner of a competition that saw entries from five hundred architects and artists from around the world, this design by David Kohn and Fiona Banner was inspired by the riverboat Roi des Belges, captained by Joseph Conrad in the Congo in 1890, which served as the basis of his novel Heart of Darkness.

A Room for London is “of no distinct era in terms of its style, neither recognizably modern nor old-fashioned,” Living Architecture notes. From its perch atop Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre, it proffers views of the Thames and will be a prime location from which to gaze out at the bustle of the city when the Summer Olympics start in June.

The riverboat room features an upper viewing deck and a striking magenta-and-turquoise interior including a double bedroom, kitchenette and library. The first run of bookings, which run through June, has already sold out, and the second run, for July through December, go on sale today, January 19th 2012.


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