Freddie Hai, Ian Fong, Carl Cheng Conversation | Opening this difficult book called the cities

Space is poetry & rhythm

Cheng: I observe my city through my own life. My interest in the city is not only physical. The installation art pieces I create may be physical objects, but I want them to say something beyond that. How do you look at cities through your academic training?

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Hai: It’s like building a model. Three-dimensional perspective is the most important thing. Let’s not talk about beauty for the moment, but what kind of feeling space can elicit in people.

 

What do architectural designs try to bring out within the confines of the physical? I remember a book I really liked called The Poetics of Space. Space, it said, moves people. It is actually like poetry in space and structure. For example, the feeling of opening up at the end of a narrow passageway.

 

To some extent, other than dealing with tangible objects, our training in the past has always been about creating feelings through space. For instance, there is a pretty interesting guy named Jean Nouvel. He enjoys movies and sees architecture like movie sets. When viewed at a certain angle, his buildings have a somewhat cinematic quality to them which leads the viewer inside, where they will find even more surprisingly dramatic things. That is to say, architects will steal ideas from different realms – especially from literature – and then clash them together, subvert the context, and create something new. I don’t know if this is a good thing or not, but quite often it is about trying new things. I have seen many architects enter other realms to look for ideas.

 

Fong: This has a lot to do with the relationship between a person and his activities within that space. With The Poetics of Space in mind, it is like the sense of serenity while reading poetry or getting lost in a poem. When we were kids, those literati swirled our heads around when we were reading poems. That is the linear motion of poetry and it has been flowing all the time.

 

Hai: You are right. For instance, there is a staircase with a bookshelf immediately behind it. You could say that one is walking right next to the books. The movement of the body while walking creates a dynamic relationship with the books. One can pull out a book, open it, turn around and read it while sitting on the stairs.

 

Fong: This is very important inside a library. It has a lot to do with ergonomics and space, but it also subverts the latter. What was just a passageway has now been turned into a temporary rest area, a very special space to appreciate or read a book, just because of human action and the fact that the books are right there. Ideas like these are what architects like to explore and play with. Hong Kong is an exception – you can’t do this and you can’t do that. In other countries with less paternalistic management, these ideas are more commonplace.

 

Fong: French sociologist Lefebvre wrote a book called Production of Space. He said that whether a place has a rhythm of life (he specialises in rhythm analysis in the United States) is determined by the combination of people, locales, time and energy. This sense of rhythm is to locate oneself inside this space in order to form a relationship with the space and the people there. This is the process of creating a community. The birth of a community will in turn draw people to care about the place as a resident and not as a user. The aforementioned staircase, leads you to do certain things, and your activity in turns shapes it into a space for reading, especially if the staircase is made of warmer materials such as wood and brick rather than steel and glass. German philosopher Walter Benjamin used kneading clay as an example – you transfer your own warmth and the lines on your hand onto the clay. Thinking along these lines, I really like the feel of wood. If a lot of people use a certain piece of wood or a wooden table, the shape of it will change. Touching it is like being in contact with all those who have been there before.

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Hai: Moreover, the colour of wood darkens with use. It is steeped in history – you have never met nor have you touched this person physically, and yet you make some kind of indirect connection through this object. Therefore you are right: physicality is very important to an architect.

 

Fong: That is why I am very disappointed with the selection of a lot of materials. It tends to be lazy. Ease of care comes first, and therefore steel is used for the railings of staircases. The government does not use cast-iron doors or wooden doors but stainless steel ones. I find this very lazy, and it makes the whole space so cold that deprives you of any feeling. When it gets old, people just throw it out. However, if it were a wooden or iron one, the rust becomes the growth you share with that place. When it ages before your eyes and you age with it, there is a sentiment as a result of a construct through the material and the space. That is to say, the material causes the construct of space, and when people and the environment bond together, there is a thickness…

 

Hai: That reminds me of Billie Tsien, an American-Chinese architect who has built a wall inside a building in India. You know that copper cutlery used for Indian food? If you look closely, you will find grooves on them. He knocked a pattern into the wall using the same technique. It is just that simple. It is a beautiful piece with lighting – not because it is luxurious, but because it is thoughtful.

 

Loitering

Cheng: In June of 2012 I went to Singapore, a place I had not visited for more than a decade. My friends there brought me to some tourist attractions. But where were the people? There were so few people in the streets. This caused me to think, ‘why don’t people in Hong Kong like to stay at home? Do they really need to loiter in the streets?’ Perhaps it’s because…

 

Hai: Someone once told me that Hong Kong people like to loiter in the street because their homes are too small.

 

Cheng: Definitely. Especially for the young people – when they cannot stand their parents, they would rather hang around outside. There’s nowhere for them to hide, since not everybody can have their own room.

 

Fong: But hanging around in the street is not what it used to be. In the old days, you could find everything on the street, be it a bowl of cart noodles to all kinds of items from street vendors. But living in Tseung Kwan O, I really don’t want to go outside because there is nothing out there. It doesn’t even feel like a street.

 

Cheng: That is why everybody goes to Mong Kok.

 

Fong: But Mong Kok is not fun anymore. There are only jewellery stores, pharmacies and watch boutiques. These aren’t any places to just wander into. When I lived in Wan Chai, I would go home and change after school, then walk around to grab a bite, look around or play some arcade games. These are what you need in life. It was a lot of fun. However, the community facilities in Tseung Kwan O, Tung Chung and Tin Shui Wai are all the same. There is nothing to do other than living under the flyover.

 

Hai: I feel that mechanical reproduction is the cause of boredom in our lives. Say, why does everything look the same? Because the workload is greater if one does not follow an accepted specification. Hong Kong is such a bustling city. Economic benefit is taken into consideration for a lot of matters. Specialisation and mass production are inevitable. The consequence is a lack of variety. All that is left is ‘copy-and-paste’. Mechanical reproduction makes our lives increasingly boring.

 

Fong: And increasingly smooth. Gothic art, like those gothic cathedrals, has a certain rough texture to it. There is feeling in the coarseness.

 

Fong: Modern steel doors and conventional wooden doors are as different as night and day. There is no architecture, but only specimens. Someone defined architecture as buildings with ornaments. We have lost the ornaments.

 

Hai: Yes, you are right. A lot of things are specialised. The extra cost of doing something different turns people away.

 

Fong: And so we have lost craftsmanship.

 

Opening a difficult book on the city

Cheng: How do you look at cities in terms of literature and cultural studies?

 

Fong: Personally, I read cities like books. Walking, for instance, is like going from line to line on a page. The process of walking is like opening a book. The humanity, community and history are all there, hidden within the symbols.

 

Hai: And the dark side as well.

 

Fong: Hmm… opening that up gradually as one trods along. But these are in fact small paths, not the main thoroughfare. The main road is a boring straight without any variations.

 

Cheng: You get to the end of the highway in no time.

 

Fong: An American named Jane Jacobs wrote a book called The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She said small paths and shops are what good community life is made of. Local stores in particular are where tips and gossip are collected. Corner shops, especially, are where people gather and chat. Hong Kong is the same, where corner sshops are for mahjong playing and chatting.

 

This is how feelings are nurtured. Walking through a city is like reading a book. The shops record the change and development of a community. There is this statement in the middle of Xi Xi’s novel My City: ‘There are things in this city gradually fading away, slowly disappearing’. We are too fast in many ways…

 

Hai: A Polish contemporary musician who performs classical music goes for very slow music, just like church music. The idea is to allow every note the time to fade away naturally. As a result, his music is extremely slow. But it brings a sense of serenity and calm as if you were in a church.

 

Fong: This is like strolling in a city. When we slow down, the past will come back to us through what we see, smell and touch.

 

Cheng: Hong Kong is not good for strolling. The streets are narrow with too much traffic and people.

 

Fong: People cannot walk at street level. There are only shopping malls.

 

Cheng: Footbridges only. Very boring and goal-oriented.

 

Hai: There is nothing to stimulate the senses in the process. In short, one simply walks. There is nothing else but walking. But if you walk in Wan Chai, a lot of things can happen.

 

Cheng: Central, Sheung Wan, Wan Chai and…

 

Fong: The back streets, like those behind Queen’s Road… not Hennessy Road, I think.

 

Hai: Hennessy Road is all about cars. There is nothing other than buying cars. Not Hennessy Road but Gloucester Road. Those are not good for walking.

 

Fong: But I really like the small streets. Like what you were talking about – a turn on a narrow path opens up a totally different scene. I think streets that turn make people happy because you cannot tell what will happen after the turn.

 

Hai: Or like you have said, if there is a store on the street where people mingle, then from another vantage point some of these shops have character. We will associate this street with the shops. This will give you the feeling like ‘ah, I’m back’.

 

Cheng: Yes, in fact there are many streets like this in big cities such as Paris, New York, London…

 

Hai: It does not mean you have to buy a lot of expensive brand names. Simply because, say, if I go to Chun Yuen Street, I will associate it with the famous Golden Phoenix where eggrolls can be found.

 

Cheng: Assume we are in Jordan. There is a Yue Hwa.

 

Fong: Hence, landmarks. Correct?

 

Hai: It is a landmark, but not in an architectural sense.

 

Cheng: Right, it is about living.

 

Hai: Community landmarks.

 

Cheng: Community living.

 

Hai: Frequently, developers claim they are creating a ‘landmark’. Every architect claims his oddball design is a ‘landmark’. But what makes a building a landmark is not only its unusual design, but what is planned for the inside. We always tell the owners that a great exterior is useless if they don’t have a plan for the inside.

 

Fong: It has to have a relationship with the location.

 

Hai: Correct.

 

Fong: For example, the Water Cube was built for the Beijing Olympics, but it has nothing to do with its surroundings. Well, this… it is a landmark. Yet instead of hanging around, you would probably leave once you have finished looking at it. Life in this place has been stripped away by the Water Cube. The entire community is finished.

 

Hai: I think people in Hong Kong are accustomed to how tiny this community and this society have always been. We like to have a place like Beverly Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui which you have to access through a narrow alleyway. This shopping centre in this particular location has become a well-known landmark. It is an oddball sort of a place selling funky stuff, not to mention tattoo services.

 

Fong: Landmarks simply cannot be artificially created.

 

Hai: Agreed.

 

Fong: But now everything is artificially created and that is why the city has become so dull.

 

Hai: That is definitely not a landmark. Nothing is up to standard. Yet in reality it has become a landmark.

 

Cheng: Like what has been said before, we read a city like an open book. This book of Hong Kong still has some interesting things in it, though parts of it are not so good.

 

Fong: What about it is not good to look at?

 

Cheng: Like what you two have said before, one flip and you are done.

 

Fong: Then it is no longer a book.

 

Hai: Unfortunately there are many who do not look at it this way. Those people would think it does not look good only because they have flipped it open to Portland Street. Man, these are no good!

 

Fong: This is what the Hong Kong government does not want to see.

 

Hai: Like flipping open to Ladies’ Street and you will see a mess. This is what some people do not want to see. Portland Street, on the other hand, is a pretty interesting ecosystem.

 

Cheng: I grew up in Yau Ma Tei and I think Portland Street, Shanghai Street, Reclamation Street and Temple Street are all fun in their own way.

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Hai: I used to like Reclamation Street because of all the unusual kitchen utensils there. The ones we use to cook with every day are very common, but Reclamation Street has the most unusual things. For instance, every stove has a reason why it has to be in a particular way, and why some are described as only suitable for Hong Kong-style cafes (cha chan ting). I love to go there just to look at all the utensils. Fascinating stuff.

 

Fong: But everything would be different if these streets became Mega Box in Kowloon Bay. Be it for political or economical reasons or government planning, confining everything in one box is not the same as having it on the streets.

 

Hai: Is it the result of being obsessed with efficiency?

 

Fong: Exactly, easy to manage comes first.

 

Hai: There has got to be a little dirt, a little excess and a little something totally unnecessary to make things interesting.

 

Fong: The middle class is very mysophobic. But if everything is spotless, highly efficient and precise, it will be very boring.

 

Cheng: I once lived in a complex for a short time, and it was very comfortable. Yet I really hated being in the lift. We lived in the same place but we were strangers to one another.

 

Hai: Right. That is a pretty bad feeling.

 

Cheng: I never developed a sense of belonging there even though it was very comfortable. I was like… ‘why am I here?’

 

Hai: I do not like this feeling either. My wife has been saying we should move because we are in a 30-something year-old building, one of those which do without a clubhouse or anything. But what I enjoy is exactly the neighbourliness you were talking about. I know my neighbours well. Their kids come over and play with my son all the time.

 

Cheng: Good neighbours are hard to come by.

 

Hai: There was a city planner in Britain called Bill Hillier. He had a theory called space syntax. He said that vertical residences are not suitable for the working class. The long corridors of Hong Kong’s So Uk Estate immediately came to my mind. Working class people need to look out for one another. You take care of my son today and I watch over your stove the next – that kind of thing. This is all out of necessity. Vertical residences are for people who are very independent, who do not need to be in touch with others at all. I am not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg in Hong Kong – is it because some people do not need others and thus move into vertical residences, or is it because we no longer need one another after we have moved into these high-rises? But the situation in a high-rise development is quite common in Hong Kong. It is not far-fetched to say that no-one in the entire building knows anyone else there because there just isn’t the need to.

 

Fong: Because one just uses the space.

 

Hai: Especially… those who live in the Sorrento development. They do not need to know anyone. I live in my own space. Why would I want to know you? Some may even think that it is better for others to know nothing about them.

 

Cheng: They will only get acquainted with those they want to know.

 

Fong: If that’s the case, all the relationships are very functional, and that’s the feeling I have toward the middle class. They will sell their place if the property price has appreciated. They are users, not residents. They have no desire to build any relationship with the place and will simply sell their flats when the prices get high. Look at those names. They are so superficial. It’s all about being seen as ‘classy’. These people live in a set, not a home. This is exactly how the communists think. They want packaging and good-looking things. The entire society is a spectacle to impress others.

 

Hai: Even as a spectacle, it is still very shallow. Unlike in England where people will ask: ‘Where do you live?’ ‘In which estate?’ ‘Oh, that’s from the 17th century’. That is a very different spectacle.

 

Fong: What we have now is a fake 17th century lifestyle. This is consumerism. There is no depth, so we pretend. Void of content, typical for a parvenu.

 

Cheng: I do not think property developers think like communists. On the contrary, their modus operandi is extremely capitalistic. They find something showy, because they know people look for larger-than-life and impressive things. They just magnify it. Now everything is named ‘Imperial’…

 

Fong: Therefore all these places have luxury but no life. These are show flats, and there are show flats in every district.

 

Capitalist greed

Cheng: We have talked about being mechanical, repetitive… I still think this is the problem of Babel in the Bible. Tracing it further back, Cain even built a city and named it after his son, Enoch. City, in fact, is very human. It seems that this behaviour has risen to a height that we have never seen before. The need for more is insatiable.

 

Fong: The metaphor of Babel is very meaningful.

 

Cheng: This is the main focus of my research. Looking back though, what the Bible said was a distant past, but even to this day the phenomenon has never ceased.

 

Fong: This is the greed of capitalism. In the biblical perspective, it may be human pride.

 

Cheng: Like Burj Khalifa of our time, it is truly twisted.

 

Fong: The entire thing is perverted, and not only because of its height, but if interpreted sexually, it is a masculine expression. The structure is a penis impaling the body of the mother. The land is country and it is feminine because of its purpose of nurturing life.

 

Cheng: If the owner is female, would she think the same way?

 

Fong: If this is the fact, it is very disturbing. This woman must have the mind of a man. Think about this. The same can be said about the United States, a very masculine society. After the twin towers were destroyed, Bush announced immediately that he would go into war in God’s name, all actually for the sake of pride. He was like one who had just been castrated and lost his phallic power. He felt the need to send his troops to tell others that he still possessed that power. Cities in the Mainland are the same. Every city is the same.

 

Cheng: True. Buildings on the Mainland are very tall these days.

 

Fong: Every city is trying to build the tallest building, as if they are trying to tell us that they possess the economic power, the phallic power. They want to prove their power through visual expressions. Actually, only those who are not really powerful need to prove themselves able. Those who are able need no proof.

 

Cheng: This I feel is a little different in Hong Kong. To some extent, there is a functional and practical need to build skyscrapers here.

 

Fong: To me, though, in this kind of environment, people develop desires. The environment will trigger a psychological phenomenon.

 

Cheng: This is capitalism.

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Fong: Every city has its own characteristics and lifestyle that we need to respect. Just like Shanghai has her own Shanghainese lifestyle. However, if everywhere becomes like Pudong, it will be very boring. The lifestyle of Puxi is a lot closer to Shanghai. But Pudong has no alleys (hutong) and balconies. This is not the lifestyle of common folk.

 

Cheng: It won’t, because they are all seeking to be urbanised. I went to Beijing a few years ago and it felt very unfamiliar. The third time I went there I felt it had lost its character.

 

Hai: Let me share this with you. Have you ever been to Chengdu? For a while I had to travel back and forth from Chengdu for work. Chengdu is a new city, but it was actually the ancient capital of Shu back in the Three Kingdoms period, so it has history. Yet all the buildings you find there are new. Their style and quality are good in the context of modern architecture, and it even feels more like Singapore than Hong Kong. That tells you how good the construction quality is. But it also feels very odd. You begin to ask yourself if you really are in Chengdu. Where are the buildings from the Three Kingdoms period? All gone. Perhaps there was no sense of preservation of historical artifacts, so they were all destroyed. Now they are regretting it, of course, but it is too late. What I want to say is, no matter how well modern architecture is done, planning the development of a city like this makes things really bland and boring. I consider software to be even more crucial than hardware.

 

Cheng: This is also the problem found in a competitive society. In terms of fluidity, my view is that living in the city inevitably ties us to capitalism. Capitalism encourages consumption, so much so that even social strata and luxury itself are consumable. Houses have become a commodity, easily exchangeable and no longer a residence. This has become a unifying force dominating our lives. Transportation, vacation, travel and leisure are all under its influence. If we do not want to be controlled by it, then stop consuming when it is possible, although that might be a little extreme. But life is still full of choices beyond consumption, such as hiking.

 

Fong: Uniformed and complanate[compliant???].

 

Cheng: Not three-dimensional and diverse.

 

Fong: Technology is one of the culprits of making things two-dimensional. Not everything is on a screen for swiping. I think this is a very bad movement because this kind of contact does not respect the objects.

 

Everything comes and goes too fast and we do not treasure them. Information can be found by searching on the internet instead of a painstaking search in the library and treasuring it when found. The process allows a tactile relationship with the objects which is not the same as reading a book separated by a pane of glass. Reading a book is to actually touch the book, hear the sound of a page being turned, feel the sensation when our fingers touch the page. The relationship between things and people has now changed with the intervention of technology. Back in our generation we still used all five senses. Now it is eye-dominated.

 

Cheng: A tangible book has memory. You may remember whom you read it with; there may be a bookmark in between the pages. You don’t get that on Kindle.

 

Fong: The way this generation gets to know the world is very shallow.

 

Cheng: They do not observe but rely on being visually stimulated.

 

Fong: The word ‘gaze’ is spot on – controlled by the eyes, being very self-centred. Gazing is very masculine. Listening is far more humble. To gaze is to challenge and be complacent.

 

The death of street culture

Cheng: The journey of life is magnificent, but we are losing this lustre. Flyovers can take you directly from A-to-B, resulting in only destinations. There are times when I enjoy the convenience, but frankly it’s no fun. I don’t like the new towns like Tseung Kwan O and Tin Shui Wai. Although there are not many flyovers in the latter, the roads there seem to go on forever, and there are only schools and housing developments en route. They look all the same. I used to be afraid of Taikoo Shing as well. I had school friends who lived there and I dared not go there. For someone growing up in Yau Ma Tei, Taikoo Shing is like a maze. I really could not make head or tail of it. Streets that turn corners, like reading a book, are fabulous.

 

Fong: Every turn has its charm. But there are only straight roads in Tin Shui Wai and Tseung Kwan O.

 

Hai: You can see your destination from miles away.

 

Cheng: It seems nearby, but…

 

Fong: There is absolutely nothing else but walking. Blank.

 

Hai: I remember when I was a freshman at university – majoring in architecture. We studied the urban planning of cities, and Paris was a place we looked into every now and then.

 

Fong: Instead of being straight, a street that has twists and turns – a rhythm.

 

Cheng: Because the streets have lost the shops, they have lost the power to create their own distinctiveness. Even Sham Shui Po has its own set-up – that is, the shops and people’s lives… Every district could have its own culture, but this is not the case with our new towns. Why? Because they were developed at the peak of our economic development. We began to develop new towns when our economy matured.

 

Hai: Very uniform. There are always problems with uniformity.

 

Fong: The designs were all very lazy. No heart was put into them. A few sketches, and then loads of people were settled in them…

 

Cheng: Are street level shops the key here?

 

Fong: There is a similar ice-cold feeling in the large residential developments around Olympic Station. There is nothing much to see. It may even be life-threatening at night. That deserted sensation…

 

Cheng: And very little walking is on the ground. The MTR is directly connected to the shopping malls. Actually the MTR is worth talking about. Many big residential developments are connected to MTR stations.

 

Fong: This is a very arbitrary design.

 

Hai: It is convenient. Very convenient, like cutting away all the excess.

 

Fong: Randomly slapping together some buildings and roads, and call it a ‘community’.

 

Cheng: Combined with that ice-cold feeling, it’s the perfect match.

 

Fong: It is ice-cold in all directions, both vertical and horizontal.

 

Cheng: It has to do with people movement, which I will talk a little more about later. Assuming I live in Olympic and work in Central or Sheung Wan, I would never even need to walk on ground level. Starting from the MTR station, going underground, up onto the bridge, and follow along, and then… well, I’m there.

 

Fong: This does not respect people. Taking a view from above, people look just like ants walking in formation.

 

Cheng: Basically, people only look at the electronic gadgets in their hands, paying no attention to their surroundings. They do not even greet others next to them.

 

Fong: But in your own living zones, one can come and go from anywhere. It is possible to get lost, which is something exciting.

 

Cheng: That’s street culture.

 

Hai: There used to be people selling newspapers. It seems that they had their own territory. You don’t see this much anymore.

 

Fong: Street vendors were selling fishballs and egg waffles. That was a lot of fun.

 

Cheng: You definitely won’t find that in the new districts. There won’t be any business there. You can still find newsstands in the old districts, but not in the new ones. It simply lacks people movement there. People do not walk by.

 

Hai: I think everything starts with ease of management in mind. Everything has been polished. The rough edges have been sanded down and it becomes exceedingly boring. I think people in Hong Kong equate convenience with excellence.

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空間是詩,是韻律

 

鄭:我從自己的生活觀察城市,對城市感興趣的並非單是物質上的事情。

 

我做裝置藝術給人看可能「很物質」,其實我想說的是背後的一些東西。你們的學術訓練怎樣看城市呢?

 

解:像砌模型一樣,最主要是看三維空間的空間感。先不要說美不美,是說空間感可以帶給人一種什麼感覺。

 

建築設計在物質的限制裏要帶出什麼東西呢?記得以前我有一本很喜歡的書《空間詩學》(The Poetics of Space),它說到空間如何令人有一種感動的感覺。那就像空間結構裏的詩,例如通過一條很窄的通道,突然豁然開朗。

 

我覺得某程度上,我們過去的訓練一直都是除了一些實質的東西外,如何讓空間帶出一種感覺。例如,有一個人我覺得挺有趣的,他叫讓.努維爾(Jean Nouvel)。他喜歡電影,覺得建築就好像電影佈景那樣,從某些角度看上去,有一種電影的質感,會帶領觀者一層一層進入其中,以及有一些很戲劇性的東西是很意想不到的。也就是說,很多時候建築的人會在其他地方──尤其是文學──偷取一些意念,把東西撞(clash)在一起,顛覆它的脈絡,撞一些未接觸過的東西出來。我不知道這到底好不好,不過很多時候都是去嘗試新事物。我看見許多建築師都是從周遭的不同領域尋找意念,放在建築上。

 

方:這跟一個人如何在空間裏活動很有關係。以《空間詩學》為例,就是為何看詩時會突然覺得人平和了,或是有一種把自己融入詩中的感覺。小時候我們讀詩,會發覺一些文人讀詩時搖頭晃腦的,原因是詩本來就是一種線性運動── 一直在動的。

 

解:你說得對。你說的時候我剛好想到──比如說,有一條樓梯,而樓梯旁緊貼着的是書架,那就是說在樓梯上走動的時候隔鄰就是書。人行走的時候,身體自然的動作也就跟書本有一個關係──動作的關係。隨手拿出一本書,翻開,轉過身,已經可以坐在樓梯上看。

 

方:這個在圖書館裏很重要。

 

這其實是人體工學──即手長腳短這些很有關係,真的很有空間性。但有空間性之餘,它顛覆了空間。本來樓梯是一條通道,但因為他這個動作,以及旁邊有這樣的東西,它變成了暫時可閒坐的地方,可以在一個很特殊的地方欣賞一本書,或是讀一本書。這些意念是建築師很喜歡去探索去玩味的。香港比較特殊,這樣不行,那樣也不可以,但在外國,在少一點家長式管治的地方,這種想法就會多一點、常見一點,能讓大家看得到。

 

方:法國社會學家列斐伏爾(Lefebvre)有一本書叫Production of Space。他說,一個地方有rhythm of life的原因──他在美國做的是rhythm analysis──其實是人、地方和時間,還有能量,幾種元素組合在一起,令生活有節奏感。這種節奏感就是把自己置於空間裏,跟空間建立關係、跟人建立關係,而這個過程就是社區的誕生。這種社區的誕生會令人愛惜這個地方,因為你是一個居民,不是用戶。至於建築的形態,用之前提及的樓梯為例,因為那個地方促成你去做一些事,而你自己的活動影響那個地方的氣場,令它成為一個讀書的地方;尤其是當那裏有一些較為溫暖的物料,像是木和磚,而不是鋼和玻璃等。 德國哲學家Walter Benjamin(班雅明)有一個搓泥的例子,就是你會把自己的熱力和手紋傳遞到陶瓷裏。從這方面去想的話,其實我很喜歡木的感覺,因為要是有許多人用那塊木,又或是那張枱,它就會因為那些人的使用,令其形態也有所不同。而觸摸的感覺就像是和前人接觸。

 

解:而且,因為觸摸得多,顏色也會變深,這其中包含了歷史。你和那個人本不認識,或是完全沒有物理上的接觸,但是通過一個如此間接的物件,卻又好像有了某種關連。你說得對,物質性對一個建築師而言是很重要的東西。

 

方:所以現在我覺得很失望,很多東西的物料都很「懶惰」,以方便打理為先……

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於是扶手樓梯就用鋼;政府用的門不是鐵門,不是木門,而是不鏽鋼。我覺得這樣很懶惰,整個地方變得很冰冷,你不會跟它有任何感情,它舊了,就丟了它。但如果那是木造的門,或者鐵造的閘,那麼生鏽就是你與那個地方一起成長。你看見它老,自己也老的時候,那種情懷是通過這些物料,以及空間的建構而生。物料影響空間建構,而人和環境一起融和的時候,就有了那個厚度感。

 

解:這令我想起一個叫Billie Tsien的美籍華人建築師,他為印度一個建築物的室內設計了一幅牆。吃印度食物不是有些銅的餐具嗎?細心留意那些銅餐具,是有一個個凹陷小坑的,他那幅牆就是用同一種技巧,弄了一個圖案出來,就是那麼簡單。打了燈以後那是很漂亮的作品,那種美不是因為它名貴,而是有人投放了很多心思。

 

*                                      *                                      *

遊蕩

 

鄭:我在二○一二年六月去了十幾年沒去過的新加坡。新加坡朋友帶我去一些旅遊景點,但竟然都只有很少的人,在很多街道我也覺得只有很少人。於是我反思,香港人是否不喜歡在家生活呢?是不是一定要逛街呢?那也很有可能……

 

解:有人這樣說,香港人特別喜歡逛街是因為香港的居住環境太小了。

 

鄭:絕對是。特別是青少年,受不了父母的時候,當然會在街上遊蕩。因為家裏沒有地方可以讓自己躲藏,並不是每個人都有自己的房間。

 

方:但以前的遊蕩跟現在的遊蕩是很不一樣的。以前在街上,什麼都能玩,什麼都有。在街邊吃一碗車仔麵,在街邊買東西,不過如果住在將軍澳,就真的不想逛街,因為街上很悶,甚至沒有街道的感覺。

 

鄭:所以全部到旺角去了。

 

方:但現在旺角也不好玩,現在只有金舖、藥房、錶舖,這些地方都不是隨意逛街時去的。我以前住在灣仔的時候,放學後換了校服,然後就一定去逛街。一來可以吃,二來有很多東西看,又可以打機,都是生活所需,那種感覺很過癮的。但將軍澳、東涌、天水圍這些社區的建設全都一式一樣,根本逛不了街,只是在天橋下生活。

 

解:我覺得機械複製是導致現在的生活那麼悶的一個原因。為什麼東西會一式一樣呢?試想像如果不是指定一些能指定的東西,付出的工作量要大多少?香港是一個步伐如此急促的城市,很多事情可能都要考慮經濟效益,很多東西就照着製造,所以那些東西的變化越來越小,甚至開始倒模。機械複製令我們的生活變得越來越悶。

 

方:許多東西都越來越平滑了。從前的哥德式藝術、那些哥德式教堂……那時不用砂紙磨東西的,全部都是很粗糙的感覺。粗糙的感覺令它有種內在的情懷。

 

方:現在的鋼門和從前的木門相距很大。現在沒有建築,只有標本。有人定義說建築就是有裝飾建築物,而現在我們失去了裝飾的東西。

 

解:是的,你說得對,現在很多東西都要專門。造一些並非所謂「行貨」的東西,要付出額外的工夫,很多人就寧願算了吧。

 

方:那就沒有了手藝。

 

*                     *                     *

 

打開城市這本難讀的書

 

鄭:話說回來,你從文學和文化研究的角度,是怎樣看城市的?

 

方:這只是我個人的感受。我通常會把城市當作一本書來看。比如說走路,那就像在一本書裏逐行逐行的走。在走的過程裏,好像在翻開那本書,並且通過一些符號,去發掘符號背後隱藏的人情味、社區的建立、過去的歷史……

 

解:還有黑暗面。

 

方:嗯,通過走路漸漸翻開它。但這些路其實是一些小路,而不是一些大路。

因為大路是一條直路的,那樣很悶,沒有變化。

 

鄭:一下子就到了結局的高速公路。

 

方:有位美國人叫Jane Jacobs(珍.雅各),她寫過一本書叫《美國大城市的生與死》(The Death and Life of Great American Cities)。她說一個社區讓人生活得很好,是因為有很多小路,以及有很多小的店舖,尤其「士多」是一個很重要的蒐集情報的地方。如果舖位是在角落的話,那就是人們會來聚集、聊天的地方。香港也是如此,人們會在「士多」打麻將和談天。

 

這就是感情的建立。當你走過去,就像是在看一本書,店舖就是在記錄這個社區的變遷和發展。讀西西的《我城》,小說的中間部分有一句:「有些東西在這個城市裏面,漸漸隱去──慢慢消失。」因為我們太快了,有很多東西……

 

解:有一位波蘭的現代音樂家是演奏古典音樂的,他的音樂非常的慢,就像church music一樣。他的概念是每一個音符都要給它時間,待它自然消失,因此他的音樂非常的慢。但這種音樂給我們的心靈帶來很寧靜、祥和的感覺,像是去了教堂般。

 

方:這就像在城市裏散步一樣。當人放慢步伐行走的時候,過去的事情就會通過你看到的、嗅到的、觸摸到的東西,喚你回到過去。

 

鄭:香港不是走路的好地方──街道窄,汽車多,人也多。

 

方:沒得甚麼可走路的地面,全都是商場。

 

鄭:只是在天橋上走而已,其實是很悶的,而且都以目標為本。

 

解:那個過程沒有什麼官能上或是其他的啟發,總之就是在走路。除此以外,什麼都沒有。不過在灣仔走的話,還是有很多事情會發生。

 

鄭:中環、上環、灣仔那些……

 

方:後街。就是皇后大道後面那一些……不是軒尼詩道。

 

解:軒尼詩道全都是賣車的,在那裏除了買車就沒有什麼可買的。不是軒尼詩道,是告士打道。那些都是不好走的。

 

方:但我很喜歡走小路。就像你剛剛說的,走一條窄路,一轉彎,突然有了第二種環境。我想,能夠轉彎的街,讓人有種很開心的感覺,因為不知道轉過去以後會發生什麼事。

 

解:又或是那條街道有某些店舖。像你剛才說的,一間「士多」是聚腳的地方,從另一個角度來看就是某些店舖很有個性,我們聯想到那條街和那些店舖有關係,這種感覺就令人覺得……啊,我又回來了。

 

鄭:是的,在大城市像巴黎、紐約、倫敦等,都有很多這樣的街道。

 

解:不一定代表要買很多名牌或昂貴的東西,不是這個原因,純粹是因為……比如說起春園街,很自然就想到賣蛋捲的金鳳。

 

鄭:假設我們在佐敦,佐敦道有裕華。

 

方:就是地標,對嗎?

 

解:它是一種地標……但並非建築質素的地標。

 

鄭:對,那是一種生活。

 

解:是社區的地標。

 

鄭:社區的生活。

 

解:很多時候,發展商都說要成為地標。建築師把設計弄得古靈精怪,也說自己是要令建築物成為地標。但其實除了在外型上古靈精怪,很多時候能否成為地標取決於內裏的計劃是什麼。我們經常對業主說,如果想不好裏面的計劃,我們在外型上弄得多好也沒什麼用處。

 

方:而且要跟地方有關係。

 

解:對。

 

方:例如北京奧運建了水立方,但水立方和四周的環境並無關係。這就……不錯是成為地標了,但我們到了那裏,看完就走了,不會再流連。那麼這個地方其實就是沒有生命,整個地方都被水立方破壞到遍體鱗傷,然後整個社區就完了。

 

解:我想,香港人可能因為習慣了這個社區,社會空間一直都很小。大家喜歡像是尖沙咀的金百利商場,有一條小巷轉進去,進去以後有這樣的一個商場。這個商場在那個位置竟然可以成為一個地標,家傳戶曉。商場裏有些古靈精怪的東西售賣,還有人為顧客紋身,這地方就是這麼奇怪的。

 

方:地標是不能營造的。

 

解:是啊。

 

方:但現在所有東西都是營造出來的,城市就變得很沉悶。

 

解:那個絕對不是地標,沒有一樣東西能做到地標的標準,但它事實上又是個地標。

 

鄭:剛才說就用一本翻開的書那個角度看,其實「香港」這本書有些地方是好看的,但也有些地方真的不大好看。

 

方:是什麼不好看呢?

 

鄭:像剛才大家說過的,一翻就到終點了。

 

方:那已經不是一本書了。

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解:很不幸,有些人並非這樣理解的。他會覺得不好看,是因為你一翻就翻到了砵蘭街。啊,這些不行啊。

 

方:這就是香港政府不想看見的東西。

 

解:就好像你一翻就看到女人街很亂,有些人會覺得這些是他不想看見的東西。但其實砵蘭街有一種生態,挺有趣的。

 

鄭:我在油麻地長大,我覺得油麻地無論是砵蘭街、上海街、新填地街,又或廟街,都各有趣味。

 

解:我以前很喜歡逛新填地街,那裏有很多古靈精怪的廚房用具。

 

我很喜歡到那裏的原因是平日在家裏煮食,用的都是常用的廚具,但那裏有非一般的廚具──像每一個爐具為什麼會是那個樣子,都有一個具體的原因;又會很具體地說明這個爐可能只能焗餅,全部是賣給茶餐廳的。我很喜歡到那裏去看各種各樣的煮食爐具。很有趣。

 

方:要是這變成九龍灣的Mega Box就不同了。無論是政治原因也好,經濟原因也好,又或是政府規劃的原因,只要把這些限制在一個「箱」裏發生,就再不是一條街道了。

 

解:這會不會是過分追求效率的後果呢?

 

方:是的,方便管理。

 

解:怎樣也要有少許污垢、少許多餘沒什麼必要的東西,才能令事物有趣起來。

 

方:中產是有潔癖的,但假如每樣東西都有潔癖,每樣東西都很高效、很精簡的話,真的是悶極了。

 

鄭:我住屋苑的時候──我曾經在屋苑住過很短時間──那個地方真的很舒適,但我很討厭在升降機裏。基本上大家住在同一個地方,但互不相識,很陌生的。

 

解:對,這種感覺是很糟的。

 

鄭:因為我在屋苑住的時候產生不了歸屬感,那個地方雖然很舒適,但我……為何會在這裏呢?

 

解:我也是不大喜歡這種環境。我妻子經常說要搬家,因為現在住的是已有三十多年的樓房──就是以前那種沒有會所、什麼都沒有的樓房。但我享受的是有你剛剛說的「鄰居」。我和鄰居很熟絡,他們的小孩經常走過來跟我兒子一起玩。

 

鄭:好鄰居很難找。

 

解:以前英國有一個做城市規劃的人Bill Hillier,他有個研究學說叫space syntax,就是空間也有自己的句法。他曾經說過,直立式的住宅是很不適合低下階層的。我立即聯想到香港蘇屋邨的長走廊,因為低下階層的人很需要大家守望相助,就是有時候你幫我照顧兒子,有時候我幫你看一下爐火的那種關係,大家有互相幫忙的必要。而直立式適合一些很獨立的人,完全不需要跟別人有任何接觸。我不知道香港是先有雞還是先有蛋,究竟是人們沒有需要所以才住直立式,還是因為住直立式才令人不再需要這些事物。但屋苑的那種情況在香港是挺平常的,就是說整棟大廈的人互不認識,因為沒有需要。

 

方:因為他是用這個地方。

 

解:尤其是……住擎天半島更加沒必要認識人。我住在自己的地方,為何要認識你?反而有一種心態,最好你不要知道我的事。

 

鄭:他們會結識一些自己想要認識的人,通常都是太太們互相認識。

 

方:如果是這樣的話,所有關係只是變得功利。中產的感覺就是功利。我住的地方如果樓價高的話就賣掉,我是使用者,不是一個居民,我和那個地方不需要建立感情,高價就賣掉。看看那些樓宇的名稱其實很虛浮,要別人看見我的氣派,這樣人們只不過是住在場面裏面,而不是家居。這就是共產黨的思考模式,我要裝潢,整個社會只有場面。

 

解:即使那是場面,也是很表面的,跟在英國的很不同。那邊人們問你住在哪裏?在哪個宅邸?啊,那是十七紀的。是的,那種場面跟這有很大的分別。

 

方:現在的是扮十七世紀的。這是一種消費模式,它沒有那個內涵,就要裝出來。暴發戶就是如此,沒有內涵。

 

鄭:我不覺得地產商是共產黨思維,反而是一個非常極端的資本主義營運模式,找來一些很浮誇的──因為他知道人們喜歡浮誇──越玩越大,現在的全都名為帝王……

 

方:所以那個地方只有豪華,而不會有生活。那是個示範單位,每一區都只有示範單位。

 

 

*                     *                     *

資本主義的貪婪

 

鄭:剛才提到的機械化、重複……我總覺得是聖經說巴別塔的問題。再追溯下去,原來該隱曾建造一個城,而那個城是以他兒子以諾為名的。其實城市是很「人」的,而這個很「人」的行為,似乎越來越要高、要誇耀,追求好像永不止息。

 

方:巴別塔的比喻很有意思。

 

鄭:這是我主要的研究課題。但回頭看,聖經所說的是已經久遠的事,但直到現在,這個現象還沒有停止。

 

方:這是資本主義的貪婪。用聖經的角度,這可能是人的高傲。

 

鄭:像是現今最高的杜拜塔,真的很變態。

 

方:它整個地方都是變態的,不只是……建得高。要是以性別的角度去理解,是一個雄性的表現。那一棟建築物就是一根陽具,插進母體裏。因為地方是國度,而大地就是屬於女性──孕育生命的。

 

鄭:如果業主是女性的話會不會也這樣想呢?

 

方:假如這樣就很可怕,那位女性有很雄性的思維。想想看,美國也是如此 ── 一個很雄性的社會,雙子塔一同被毀後,布殊立刻宣告,要以上帝之名打仗。其實只是為了一口氣而已,像是被人閹掉了一般,失去了自己的陽具(phallic power),他馬上要派兵告訴別人自己仍有那種力量。中國內地也是如此,每個城市都是一樣的。

 

鄭:對啊,現在的內地建築物也建得很高了。

 

方:現在每一個城市的建築物都在比高度,就是要告訴人家,她有經濟實力,有陽具似的力量。通過視覺的表現,要證明自己的能力。其實就是沒有能力才需要證明,有能力又何須證明?

 

鄭:我覺得這一點跟香港有些差別。某程度上,香港建高樓是有些功能、實際的需要。

 

方:但是對我而言,在那樣的環境,人就會有一種佔有的慾望。那種環境能夠讓人產生一種心理現象。

 

鄭:這是資本主義。

 

方:每個城市都有她的特質和生活方式,我們必須尊重,正如上海有上海的生活方式。但如果每一處都變得像浦東般,那會很悶。浦西的生活感覺很接近上海,但要是像浦東般,沒了胡同,沒了露台,那麼這種生活方式就不是一個平常人的生活方式。

 

鄭:現在他們全都在追求城市化。幾年前我去北京的時候已覺得那裏很陌生,第三次去的時候更覺得很沒有特色。

 

解:我想分享一件事,不知你們有沒有去過成都?我有一段時間因工作關係,經常來往成都。成都是一個新城市,但其實她是三國時代蜀的都城,設想是個古都。可是那裏所有建築都是新的,無論是建築風格還是質素在現代建築中都算是好的,甚至感覺接近新加坡多於香港──可想而知她的建築質素有多好。然而踏進這個城市,感覺非常陌生。你會問,這裏是成都?然後再問,那以前三國時代的古建築呢?全沒有了。可能是因為以前沒有文物保護意識,全毀了。現在他們當然很後悔,但已經太遲了。我要說的是,儘管現代建築做得好,但若然城市如此規劃的話,也是很沒趣的。我覺得軟件比硬件還重要。

 

鄭:這也是社會競爭會出現的問題。但對於流動,我自己是這樣想的,我們生活在城市裏,與資本主義很有關係。資本主義鼓吹消費,甚至連階層、奢華也可以消費。樓宇成為商品,而不是住所,是可以轉換的。這變得統一,支配着我們的生活;連同交通、旅遊,甚至休閒都受支配。如果不想受到支配,那就盡量不要消費。我不知道這是否太極端了,但其實即使不消費,仍然有不少生活上的選擇,例如行山等。

 

方:單一化、平面化。

 

鄭:很不立體、不多元化。

 

方:其實這種不立體,科技是其中一大兇手。所有東西都在螢幕上,不停地撥動。我覺得這是很差的一個動作,不尊重物件。

 

東西來得太快,不會懂得珍惜。任何資料都可以上網搜尋,而不是在圖書館尋書,然後找到需要的資料,再珍而重之對待。這個過程可以與物件有所接觸,但被玻璃隔開的關係與看書不一樣。看書是真的觸摸到書本,翻頁時會發出聲音,手和頁有接觸的感覺,人與物件的關係跟現在通過科技與物件去接觸有很大差別。我們那一代接觸是用五官,但現在是eye-dominated。

 

鄭:實體書是有回憶的,你可能會回憶跟誰一起看,可能書中夾了一張字條,但kindle沒有。

 

方:這一代對世界的認知變得很片面。

 

鄭:他們並非觀察,只停留在視覺刺激的層面。

 

方:其實廣東話的「𥄫」字正好形容,是用眼睛去操控,很自我,即gaze,是很雄性的。聽覺是謙虛很多。「𥄫」是很挑釁的,令人自我膨脹。

 

*                     *                     *

 

街道文化的消亡

鄭:人生旅程是很精彩的,但我們現在正正失去了這種精彩。一條天橋,由這裏走到那裏,只有目的地。當然某些時候我也喜歡這種方便,但其實這很沒趣。我很怕新市鎮,像將軍澳和天水圍。雖然天水圍沒有那麼多天橋,但她的路是不知何時才能走完的,途中不是學校就是屋苑,一模一樣。我以前也很怕太古城,有些同學的家在太古城,我不大敢去。我在油麻地長大,到了如迷宮的太古城,我根本不能分辨那一幢幢樓宇。街道迂迴曲折,就像看書一樣,那才精彩。

 

方:每一個轉彎都有一種魅力,但天水圍、將軍澳這些直路……

 

解:老遠已經看到了目標。

 

鄭:彷彿近在眼前,但……

 

方:只有走路,沒有任何東西,一片空白。

 

解:我記得自己在大學唸建築系一年級時,讀到建築的城市規劃,很多時候都要讀巴黎。

 

方:一條街不是直的,而是彎彎曲曲的,這正是有韻律的形狀。

 

鄭:正因為街道失去了店舖,就不能營造自己的特色。其實即使是深水埗,也有其獨特的格局,也就是店舖和人們的生活……可見每一區都可以有自己的文化,但新區就是沒有文化。為何新區沒有文化呢?那是我們發展得最好的時候發展的,我們在經濟上發展成熟了,便開始發展新市鎮……

 

解:很單一。總是單一的東西出現問題。

 

方:這個設計很懶惰,那個計劃很懶惰。沒有用心發展,只是隨隨便便弄出一些東西來,安排一群人去居住。

 

鄭:是否真的因為地舖的關係呢?

 

方:這種冷冰冰的感覺與奧運站附近的大型屋苑很接近。沒什麼能看的,甚至深夜可能會有危險。那種冷清的感覺……

 

鄭:而且很少在地面上走路──地鐵連接商場──地鐵也值得討論。很多大型屋苑都連接地鐵站。

 

方:這是很隨便的設計。

 

解:是方便,非常的方便,像要去蕪存菁。

 

方:隨便建成樓宇,有道路,便當作建設了社區。

 

鄭:結合稍前說過的冰冷感覺,完全渾然一體。

 

方:無論是向上發展還是橫向發展都是很冰冷的。

 

鄭:這與人的流動相關,也是我想待會兒再說說的。假設我住在奧運站旁,在中、上環上班,根本就不需要在地面上走路。從地鐵站開始走進地底後,上天橋,沿着天橋走便到達了。

 

方:這是很不尊重人的。從高空往下看,人就像螞蟻,跟隨隊伍直走。

 

鄭:基本上,看着手中的智能電子產品,沿途不用理會其他人,因為在地鐵不會與身旁的人打招呼。

 

方:但在你生活的區份,人在四方八面都能走,甚至會迷路的。然而那種迷路是很令人興奮的。

 

鄭:街道文化。

 

解:以前街道有人賣報紙,好像獨佔了一個角落,現在連這些都越來越少了。

 

方:街邊推車賣魚蛋、雞蛋仔,是很開心的一件事。

 

鄭:新區一定沒有了,根本沒有生意。舊區還有報攤,但新區一定沒有──因為人流的關係,那裏的人根本不會經過。

 

解:我想每件事情都以方便管理作為出發點,每件事物都經過打磨,磨滑了稜角,就會變得很悶。我想香港人以為便利與好是對等的文化。

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