Hong Kong Looks Beautifully Uncanny When Seen From the Sky

By Adam Clark Estes on at

Few cities represent the remarkable 20th century trend of skyscraper-filled, obscenely dense cities better than Hong Kong. At its height, The Kowloon Walled City, which was demolished in 1993, was perhaps the most dystopian portrait of urban living. And according to photographer Andy Yeung, 21st-century Hong Kong isn’t all that different.

Yeung recently published his latest project, “Walled City,” to express this idea. Shot with a DJI Phantom 4, the photos are equal parts uncanny and familiar. Anyone who’s ever switched to satellite mode when exploring a big city in Google Maps will immediately recognise the grid-like layout and unique glimpse down dark alleyways in these aerial photos of Hong Kong. But there’s something strange going on, too.

Photo: Andy Yeung

The tightly packed towers have some courtyards that appear to reach towards the centre of the Earth, endless pits of darkness. Some of the apartments look like they might not see the sunlight at all. Then there are the endless amenities: tennis courts, luxurious lap pools, carefully manicured parks. There’s also possibly a large yacht in the middle of some other buildings in one photo? It’s all so weird and alluring.

Photo: Andy Yeung

Then again, so was the Kowloon Walled City at the height of its obscenely dense and crime-ridden history. Following a massive population boom after World War II, the 6.4-acre patch of land became a haven for gangs and drug lords, an almost lawless sliver of Earth where you could walk around the entire city, using improvised staircases to sky-high walkways, without ever touching the ground. Author and photographer Ian Lambot called it the City of Darkness, because with alleyways no wider than six feet, residents almost never saw the sky.

Photo: Andy Yeung

“If you look hard enough, you will notice that the [Kowloon Walled City] is not dead,” Yeung said in an artists’ statement. “Part of it still exists in many of current high density housing apartments where the only view out the window is neighbour’s window. I hope this series can get people to think about claustrophobic living in Hong Kong from a new perspective.”

All photos: Andy Yeung

As a point of comparison, here’s an aerial photograph of the Kowloon Walled City in 1989, just four years before it was demolished and turned into a park. This was taken by Ian Lambot, author of City of Darkness.

Photo: Wikicommons / Ian Lambot

It was the inspiration for endless science fiction stories, but the Kowloon Walled City was a real place. According to Yeung, it still is. [Andy Yeung]