Architecture of Density, Michael Wolf's photography

Michael Wolf Architecture of Density

aod #45, Hong Kong, 2006.

aod 32, Hong Kong, 2006.

aod 12, Hong Kong, 2005.

aod 39, Hong Kong, 2005.

aod 20, Hong Kong, 2006.

aod 43, Hong Kong, 2007.

aod 77, Hong Kong, 2008.

aod 52, Hong Kong, 2006.

aod 116, Hong Kong, 2009.

aod 111, Hong Kong, 2006.

Artist's Statement

One of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the world, Hong Kong has an overall density of nearly 6,700 people per square kilometer. The majority of its citizens live in flats in high-rise buildings, whose units can house as many as 10,000 people.

In Architecture of Density, Michael investigates these enormous city blocks, finding a mesmerizing abstraction in the buildings’ facades. The structures in the series are photographed without reference to the context of sky or ground, and many buildings are seen in a state of repair or construction: their walls covered with a grid of scaffolding or the soft coloured curtains that protect the streets below from falling debris. From a distance, such elements become a part of an intricate design. Upon closer inspection of each photograph, the anonymous public face of the city is full of rewarding detail – public space is private space, large swatches of colour give way to smaller pieces of people’s lives. The trappings of the people are still visible here: their days inform the detail of these buildings. Bits of laundry and hanging plants pepper the tiny rectangles of windows- the only irregularities in this orderly design. The images of Architecture of Density give one an inkling of what our cities could look like if grown continues unchecked.

About the photographer


1954, Munich, Germany



About Michael Wolf

Michael Wolf was born in 1954 in Munich, Germany. He grew up in the United States, Europe and Canada, and studied at UC Berkeley and at the Folkwang School in Essen, Germany. In 1995 Michael Wolf moved to Hong Kong, where he studied Chinese cultural identity and the complex urban architectural structure. He has published 5 photo books to date. These include the 2001 publication China im Wandel (Frederking und Thaler),  Sitting in China (Steidl), Chinese Propaganda Posters (Taschen), Hong Kong Front Door Back Door (Thames and Hudson), Hong Kong Inside Outside (Peperoni Press/Asia One Publishing).

Exhibitions Museums/Institutions:

  • 2010 Architecture of Density and 100 x 100 Venice Biennial for Architecture
  • 2009 Transparent City, November 7 – January 27, Aperture Gallery, New York
  • 2007-2008 Pieces of China – A Retrospective of Michael Wolf’s China Projects, Museum Center Vapriikki. Tampere, Finnland. June 15, 2007 – January 6, 2008
  • 2008 The Real Toy Story and Architecture of Density, the Victoria and Albert Museum's China Design Now, London, March 15 – May 23.
  • 2006 The Real Toy Story Museum for Work, Hamburg, Germany, September 21 – November 24

Michael Wolf’s main focus in Asia has been the city and its architectural structures. In Hong Kong, he directed the camera towards strikingly formalistic and severe buildings and the result seen for instance in Hong Kong Inside Outside was almost abstract. The interest in people and human interaction grew when Michael Wolf by accident blew up a detail from the glass buildings he had been photographing in Chicago. Transparent City (Aperture 2008) juxtaposes images from the buildings and pixelated details, blown-up details from the life within.

The curiosity over accidentally captured human situations grew, and Michael Wolf started to work with the immense image archive of Google Street Views. With great precision, he isolates scenes from the streets of Paris. Michael Wolf helps us discover the small details by framing and directing our gaze. The images capture the humour, beauty and absurdity of daily life but also raises questions about the constant surveillance in public spaces.

Michael Wolf won first prize in the World Press Photo Award Competition twice. Once in 2004 (Contemporary Issues Series) and 2010 (Daily Life Single) both with topics photographed in Asia.