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Cities Without Ground

Digital image of a map of Admiralty, Hong Kong, in which only the streets, walkways, stairs, escalators, cars on the roads, building floors, and trees are visible. The map is made up of multiple layers. The base layer shows the roads and tramways on ground level. Above it are layers of interconnected walkways and footbridges. Notable buildings and places are labelled.

Commissioned by M+, Hong Kong, 2020. Photo: M+, Hong Kong


If you know Hong Kong well, then this striking installation might seem strangely familiar to you. It’s called ‘Cities Without Ground’, and it represents the unique urban infrastructure of the city—those covered walkways, bridges, and escalators which give people a way of getting around without ever having to touch the ground or go outside. Take a look around, and you’ll see many of these thoroughfares in the video display above the piece.  

All these scenes show the daily, lived experience of millions of people, and are taken from films which perfectly capture the ebb and flow of these walkways. Among them, you may spot a sequence of the Central Mid-Levels escalator, shot by Christopher Doyle, a renowned cinematographer who has lived in Hong Kong for decades. We spoke to him to find out what his thoughts were on these networked walkways.  


It's this astonishing view of the passage of life. I think that there are many spaces in Hong Kong where the pleasure of people passing gives you some kind of confirmation of life, you know, and, and they're all different and they're all doing different things. But I think that of course is also the pleasure of filmmaking that is to observe, is to celebrate.


Ever since the Mid-Levels escalator took centre stage in one of his earliest films, Chungking Express, Christopher has felt that these pedestrian routes are the beating heart of the city.  


And it's such a metaphor for Hong Kong, it’s like the bloodline that runs through the city. It is a bloodline, but it's also, is it an artery or vein, because it comes and goes. And that's when I just happened to move into an apartment right beside the escalator. And I said, wait, hey, this is the biggest metaphor we've ever made. You know? This is really what Hong Kong is about. This is the vein and the artery. This is the West and the East. This is the conflict. And then their collusion. 


Cities Without Ground is an installation work created by Adam Snow Frampton, Cyrus Penarroyo, Jonathan D. Solomon, and Clara Wong in 2020. The work is made of aluminium plates, silver rods, and 3D–printed white plastic modules. It is about the height of an average adult’s waist, and the overall installation measures 360 centimetres wide and 260 centimetres deep.

The work consists of two parts, including a base plate and a raised network of walkways. The base plate shows the aerial map of the area from Sheung Wan to Admiralty on Hong Kong Island. Raised above the map is an interconnected assembly of 3D pedestrian walkways, escalators, staircases, and footbridges that connect different buildings. The buildings are not shown.

The base map is made of 6 square aluminium plates that are connected together. Carved on the plate surface are roads, names of the areas, and landmarks from Shun Tak Centre in Sheung Wan to Pacific Place in Admiralty. Erected on the map are thin aluminium rods of different heights, ranging from 86 to 115 centimetres, that support the 3D–printed white modules, which are in the shape of irregular walkways. With a variation of strips that are straight or curved, thick or thin, the modules resemble the actual network of walkways in the city. The comprehensive network includes countless intersections and junction points that connect private, commercial, and public spaces.

The work is set on the floor. Visitors may look down at the map and the walkway network or look from the side at the network’s configuration. The network extends outwards in different directions, with walkways layering over each other and linking different spaces, just like the human circulatory system in which there are extensive blood vessels reaching all parts of the body.