Your insider’s guide to Hong Kong

Elevated Experience

It’s possible to navigate much of Central while barely setting foot on the street

Words: Janice Leung Hayes
Photos: William Furniss

Elevated walkways connect buildings, alleviate street level congestion and bring foot traffic to quieter areas

There’s little argument that Hong Kong is a vertical city. We don’t blink an eye when told a restaurant is on the 7th floor, or that someone lives on the 52nd. In fact, it wouldn’t be strange if a Hongkonger didn’t set foot on a street-level pavement for an entire day.

Nowhere is this more evident than Central, where bridges connect to podium gardens that morph into lobbies, underground public transit stations and entire neighbourhoods. There are people, shops and services on every level imaginable.

Architects Jonathan D. Solomon, Clara Wong and Adam Frampton noticed this phenomenon, and in late 2012, published a unique guidebook to Hong Kong called Cities Without Ground, providing a fascinating look at the many layers – literally and figuratively – of life lived amidst the many planes.

Navigating the labyrinth of elevated and underground walkways through Central is a daily occurrence for many, but to visitors, it can be both disorienting and mesmerising. One can experience new visual perspectives on the city, while finding shortcuts between landmarks and experiencing differences in sights, smells, temperatures and more.

As the authors note, off-ground passages are a mishmash of public and private construction, built not only to efficiently connect one building to the next, but to alleviate congestion on street level, and bring foot traffic into previously neglected areas.

Aerial photo by William Furniss, courtesy of Hongkong Land

Clockwise from top: aerial view of Central’s walkways; the Central–Mid-Levels escalator; walkway to IFC

One of the most iconic examples of this is the Central–Mid-Levels escalator and walkway system, a vital piece of Central’s above-ground architecture. The longest outdoor covered escalator in the world, it was built by the Hong Kong government in 1993 to create an easier commute between Central and the Mid-Levels, a steep, hilly residential area. However, apart from being a great way to travel, the Central–Mid-Levels escalator (known simply as “The Escalator” by locals) also led to the rise of new, vibrant neighbourhoods such as SoHo (South of Hollywood Road), which is now known for its lively congregation of bars and restaurants.

The elevated walkways in Central can even lead you out to Victoria Harbour, where you can take the Star Ferry across to Tsim Sha Tsui, still without ever setting foot on the street. From The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, walk into the Landmark mall and follow the signs to Chater House. When you come out of Chater House, you’ll be on an elevated walkway leading to the IFC (International Finance Centre) and the harbour. Along the walkway, you will notice buildings such as Jardine House, with its distinctive circular windows, as well as the General Post Office. It’s interesting to note that everything beyond this point was built on reclaimed land. Continue straight, and soon you’ll notice an entrance to IFC, also above ground, and the Hong Kong Observation Wheel and Star Ferry Pier further ahead.

If you choose to do this stroll on a Sunday, you’ll get a glimpse of Hong Kong life that wouldn’t be as evident any other day of the week: the colossal army of foreign domestic helpers that run many of Hong Kong’s homes. Sunday is their day off, and many will make use of the public spaces afforded by elevated walkways to sit, chat, eat, dance and even set-up ad-hoc hair salons, showing once again that life without ground is for people from all walks of life.


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