Architecture of Density: Michael Wolf lenses Hong Kong’s teeming urban sprawl

Hong Kong's crowded urban landscape
Currently on show at Flowers Gallery in London, German photographer Michael Wolf's series, 'Architecture of Density', captures Hong Kong's crowded urban landscape. Pictured is 'Architecture of Density #39'
(Image credit: Courtesy of Flowers Gallery © Michael Wolf)

When Michael Wolf's photographs first emerged in the 1990s they predated any online fascination with large scale photography and other-worldly architecture. Depicting the dense urban structure of Hong Kong - where Wolf went to live in 1994 - the 'Architecture of Density' series, currently on show at London's Flowers Gallery (opens in new tab), veers between the inhuman size and monolithic repetition of the city's apartment complexes and the intimate details of the lives lived within them.

We've become rather blasé about high-rise culture, but in the past three decades Hong Kong has consolidated its status as one of the densest - and dearest - urban centres on the planet. Wolf's project began with a strict focus on the relentless uniformity of the city's façades, their monotony barely alleviated by splashes of colour and only humanised through the initially imperceptible details - an open window, a string of washing.

At the same time, his camera captures the inevitable chaos that emerges from the order - the random installation of essential air conditioning units, for example. These are paired with smaller images of the everyday, be they shrines, street-side store cupboards or simply the evidence of daily life carrying on in between the seams.

photograph of city's dense urban structure

Wolf's large-scale photographs depict the city's dense urban structure, veering between the inhuman size and monolithic repetition of the city's apartment complexes and the intimate details of the lives lived within them

(Image credit: press)

dense urban structure of Hong Kong

Like with 'Architecture of Density #119', the images hone in on the relentless uniformity of the city's façades. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Flowers Gallery © Michael Wolf)

streetside assemblage

At the same time, Wolf's camera captures the inevitable chaos that emerges from the order, like the random streetside assemblage in 'My Favourite Thing #75'. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Flowers Gallery © Michael Wolf)

street-side store cupboards, decaying taxis

These are paired with smaller images of the everyday, be they shrines, street-side store cupboards, decaying taxis or simply the evidence of daily life carrying on in between the seams. Pictured is 'My Favourite Thing #90'. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Flowers Gallery © Michael Wolf)

Dense high rise buildings

'Architecture of Density Scout #61'

(Image credit: Courtesy of Flowers Gallery © Michael Wolf)

Hong Kong buildings

'Industrial #1'

(Image credit: Courtesy of Flowers Gallery © Michael Wolf)

colourful building

In 'Architecture of Density #75', the building's monotony is alleviated by splashes of colour. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Flowers Gallery © Michael Wolf)

Installation view of the 'Architecture of Density' exhibition

Installation view of the 'Architecture of Density' exhibition

(Image credit: press)

street side blue plastic

'My Favourite Thing #06'

(Image credit: Courtesy of Flowers Gallery © Michael Wolf)

pink gloves on hangers

'My Favourite Thing #21'

(Image credit: Courtesy of Flowers Gallery © Michael Wolf)

Hong Kong building under construction

In the past three decades Hong Kong has consolidated its status as one of the densest - and most expensive - urban centres on the planet. 'Architecture of Density Scout #36', shows a barely recognisable complex under construction.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Flowers Gallery © Michael Wolf)

Hong Kong apartments

The apartments in 'Architecture of Density Scout #22' are only humanised through the initially imperceptible details, such as an open window or a string of washing. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Flowers Gallery © Michael Wolf)

colourful threads

'My Favourite Thing #08'

(Image credit: Courtesy of Flowers Gallery © Michael Wolf)

street red cloth on wall

'Small God Big City #115'

(Image credit: Courtesy of Flowers Gallery © Michael Wolf)

High rise buildings

'Architecture of Density #13b'. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Flowers Gallery © Michael Wolf)

ADDRESS

Flowers Gallery (opens in new tab)
21 Cork Street
London W1S 3LZ

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Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.