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Scratching the Surface of Building Density

Building density is not a new topic in architecture or architectural photography. However, there is a certain appeal to capturing a close-up shot of tall buildings, filling the frame edge to edge with windows and the defining characteristics that delineate the building and its context.


Having had the opportunity to live in Macao, visit Hong Kong, and reside in New York City, it would be a missed opportunity not to juxtapose these three cities to study their differences and similarities.


Macao - Density of the Old Island

I was born in Macao and left the country (now a city part of China) in 1989. Since then, I have visited a few times in my adult life and also had the opportunity to teach at the University of Saint Joseph for two semesters until COVID hit.


One thing I've noticed during my trips to Macao is the city's history of development is quite divided in terms of location. The "old Macao" remains on the main island, while new developments are proceeding at full speed on newly filled manmade land that has almost doubled the main island's size.


The residential tower closing in on the older "metal skin" residence
The residential tower closing in on the older "metal skin" residence

Hong Kong - Resident Villages

It's fair to say that most people can locate the general proximity of Hong Kong on a map. It is renowned as the financial and export hub of Asia during the British Colonial Era, with development continuing after the handover to China in 1997.


While Hong Kong Island is the residence of many international companies, Kowloon Island is home to numerous residential "villages" consisting of multiple towers that form these communities. Some of the older ones lack maintenance, particularly in lower-income neighborhoods, and are fenced off for possible demolition.


Fenced off residential buildings in Shek Kip Mei
Fenced off residential buildings in Shek Kip Mei

New York - Zoning Law

The skyline of New York City never gets old. I often view it from afar, more frequently from across the East River. Rarely do I get an elevated view from within the city itself. Walking on the Manhattan Bridge gives me a glimpse of observing the buildings as I did in Hong Kong and Macao, both of which have a large number of pedestrian bridges.


The varying heights of the buildings are due to different zoning laws enacted during various periods. Like the other two cities, it's interesting to observe the diverse architectural styles of these towers.

Various residential buildings in Chinatown with Downtown in the background
Various residential buildings in Chinatown with Downtown in the background





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