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Longest Outdoor Escalator in the World

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

Opening in 1993, The Central–Mid-Levels escalator in Hong Kong is the longest outdoor escalator in the world, covering over 800 m and standing at 135 m tall. This system provides pedestrians with a much faster way to ascend the hill. Before, people had to ride or walk up long roads to get up the hill, as the steep terrain made it difficult to construct roads that went straight up, but now it is much more efficient and convenient. It now serves around 80,000 people every single day. It was first proposed to deal with the traffic problem, which it certainly solved. It is also a tourist attraction, as restaurants, bars, and shops are lined up beside it. Architects and students come to observe this architectural landmark, marvelling at its purpose and construction.

There are 18 escalators and 3 inclined moving walkways. As stated before, the terrain was hard to build on, so some parts of the system sits on an elevated concrete structure, while other parts are constructed at ground level. All walkways are covered, to shield from any rain. It was designed by Maunsell Consultants Asia, an engineering consultant based in Hong Kong.

What did I learn from this?

Even though this is not the most glamorous or most innovative work of architecture out there, I still learned from it. This system solved a lot of people's simple, but important problems. It is one of those issues where it does not seem very big, but once it is dealt with, it makes life a lot easier. Its fame has risen mostly because of its ground breaking length, but I think its function should be mentioned more.

This makes me think of American architect Louis Sullivan's iconic phrase: "Form follows function". He first mentioned this idea in his paper "Sullivan's Tall Office Building Artistically Considered", where he suggests that the exterior design of a skyscraper should reflect its interior functions. In short, he believes that the function of a building always influences the form that follows, function always comes first.

This relates to The Central–Mid-Levels escalator because function is definitely what is prioritised the most. Its purpose and intention was not to create a beautiful and influential design, but to create an effective and useful system to help with everyday life. The architects did not put a lot of thought on the form as oppose to the function, they did put a few plants and selected appropriate and good looking materials, but at the end of the day, function was the most important part of the project.

What I take away from this is that architecture is not always about designing great looking buildings that change the city skyline or brighten up a neighbourhood, but it is to solve problems. Even the simplest idea, like an escalator, can change the day to day lives of a lot of people. Sometimes I find that more fulfilling. This greatly will affect my design process, I normally start with drawing out a few designs, but now, I will always list out what I want my building to achieve, what problems I want my building to solve, THEN I will start designing. Most of the time, people do start with the exterior design, as that is what everyone sees on the outside, and impressing people with those designs are tempting. But the greatest architects saw the function first.

An example of this is Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Wright did not start right away with drawing the cylinder type form, but he recognised its function, which was to display artwork. With what the building had to achieve mapped out, Wright moved to designing. He came up with the revolutionary design because he wanted visitors to feel disconnected with reality, with everyday life, and get consumed in this sort of surreal environment to enjoy the art. Artwork is a very creative field, so feeling like "you're out of this world" is quite fitting, and Wright certainly nailed it.

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