Downtown Athletic Club HK | Architecture Upside-Down:
Towards vertical topographies

Related Staff : Christian Lange

Students: Chan Yin Ching, Chan Yin Fung Jacky, Cheung Yin Ngai Anselm, Ho Hiu Suen Cheryl, Ho Yuen Hin Sonia, Lai Ka Leung Isaac, Lau Julian Tsun Lim, Nie Pan, Tong Chun Kit Eric, Zhu Shenhan Sophia, Chau Hoai-chun Stephane, Cavelti Ria

In 1853 American inventor Elisha Otis presented at Manhattan’s first World’s Fair a tiny but important addition to his invention of the elevator. A simple add on, the automated brake prevented elevator platforms from crashing. With this discovery the typology of the modern high-rise was born and its development and success unstoppable. With this technology, it was now possible to access easily all repeated planes of the original plot and new skyrocketing heights started to occur that were unthinkable before. Triggered by technology and a prosperous economy the high-rise became the building type of choice for any investor in the major cities in the US, and architects, engineers and film directors rendered a whole new utopic world on the canvas with vertical gardens and cities in the air.

Today high-rise buildings shape many of the global metropolises around the world, and even more so the fast developing cities in Asia. In Shanghai alone more than 3000 buildings labelled as tall were build in the past 25 years. With many urbanization projects on the horizon Chinese cities will soon be dominated by this typology. Though high-rise buildings have developed over time and structural evolution has made them higher and higher, the early visionary promises were seldom realized. In most cases today they are single programmed entities disassociated from the horizontally dominated urban context, making them at times rather a problem than a solution for the quality of urban life.

Nowadays architects, engineers and contractors have a whole new set of technologies at hand to render, calculate and construct high rise buildings. While many new shapes have occurred in recent years, in most cases the logic of the typology has rarely been challenged and is merely old wine in new skins. – In essence the studio had two main objectives. On one hand it was a hands-on investigation on how new technologies in the design industry can trigger innovative approaches for architecture, on the other hand the studio developed alternative manifestoes for high density urban structures that have the capacity to translate vibrant urban qualities of a horizontal user surface into the vertical domain and challenge the limitations of generic tower typologies of today.

The site for the project was in Hong Kong, a city that through its limitations of land supply has been for long a testing ground for towers. Until today it’s still the place with the largest agglomeration of high-rise buildings in the world. As a point of departure and a programmatic source, the studio took on one of histories most iconic and programmatically diverse high rise structures, the downtown athletic club, “one of the rare 20th century buildings that is truly revolutionary, … a masterpiece of the Culture of Congestion.” (Rem Koolhaas)