Har­bor­ing great de­sign ideas

Land­scape de­sign is be­gin­ning to come of age in HK, open­ing up vis­tas of a whole new range of ex­pe­ri­ences for the city’s peo­ple to try out. Chi­tralekha Basu re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CULTURE | HK - Con­tact the writer at [email protected]­nadai­lyhk.com

De­spite the wide­spread skep­ti­cism about gov­ern­ment-led de­vel­op­ment projects tak­ing for­ever and a day to com­plete, Hong Kong’s wa­ter­fronts are poised for a sea change, lit­er­ally. Some of the world’s lead­ing names in land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture are keen to give the city’s har­bor­fronts — also the lo­ca­tions of Hong Kong’s most generic land­scapes — a top spin. At least one of these makeover ideas has al­ready ma­te­ri­al­ized, one or two others will soon make it to the im­ple­men­ta­tion stage and there are yet others that haven’t pro­gressed much be­yond the ar­chi­tect’s draw­ing board. How­ever, a new en­ergy is pal­pa­ble in the way peo­ple are re­spond­ing to the trans­for­ma­tion of Hong Kong’s most defin­ing coast­lines, even when they are no more than an artist’s ren­di­tion.

In Septem­ber, the United King­dom-head­quar­tered de­sign stu­dio Benoy re­leased their vi­sion for a re­de­vel­oped Cen­tral Har­bourfront Site 3 — a project which has been in the works since at least 2011 when the Plan­ning Depart­ment re­leased the de­vel­op­ment guide­lines. The idea was to trig­ger di­a­logue and de­bate on the fu­ture of the 157,000-square-me­ter prime land lin­ing the crest of Hong Kong’s cen­tral business dis­trict. Benoy’s gor­geous de­signs — gleam­ing with an abun­dance of ter­raced and ver­ti­cal gardens — sparked both hope and frus­tra­tion. Peo­ple com­plained about the slug­gish pace at which pub­lic projects move in this city. Some others were ap­pre­hen­sive that Site 3, orig­i­nally in­tended as a gift of clean air and breath­tak­ing views for the city’s pub­lic, would prob­a­bly lose its hu­man­i­tar­ian fo­cus once ten­ders were in­vited and the plot sold out to the mighty com­mer­cial in­ter­ests.

Benoy’s de­signs for Cen­tral Har­bourfront Site 3 — cre­ated with­out any as­sur­ance of get­ting the com­mis­sion — achieved what they were meant to do: en­gage the pub­lic and cre­ate a space for free ex­change of views on gov­ern­ment poli­cies, sus­tain­abil­ity, her­itage con­ser­va­tion, pub­lic wel­fare and a whole host of themes that help il­lu­mi­nate the way peo­ple live in this city.

Plat­form of so­cial in­ter­face

In­tel­li­gent land­scape de­sign can do much to cre­ate such in­ter­faces be­tween peo­ple and ideas, peo­ple and their so­cial re­al­i­ties, peo­ple and fine art, peo­ple and peo­ple. This was espe­cially ev­i­dent ear­lier this month when Sal­is­bury Gar­den was opened to the pub­lic in a spiffy new repack­aged avatar. Lo­cated next to the Hong Kong Mu­seum of Art along the wa­ters of Tsim Sha Tsui, the gar­den is spread out across 1,782 square me­ters and now sports a range of eye­catch­ing, value-added fea­tures. These in­clude an ex­pan­sive and gen­tly slop­ing el­lip­ti­cal lawn, a trel­lised arch over a wooden plat­form with steps lead­ing to the sea and walls with plants grow­ing out of their con­crete crocks, cre­at­ing a ver­ti­cal cur­tain of green.

The few thou­sand peo­ple who walked into the premises on the open­ing day re­sponded spon­ta­neously to the new mul­ti­me­dia ex­pe­ri­ence laid out for them to en­joy. Soon enough they had fig­ured out the func­tions of the up­right metal­lic discs and rings in­stalled on the ground, hap­pily watch­ing them­selves ap­pear up­side down or frac­tured into sev­eral pieces as a hid­den cam­era cap­tured their images and pro­jected these on the cir­cu­lar LED screens. Down by the wa­ters, some of them got to put on VR glasses to en­joy a 360-de­gree view of the har­bor­front scenery, which soon mor­phed into images of other prom­e­nades of the city, from Wan Chai to Cen­tral.

Ev­i­dently, the vis­i­tors were not only ea­ger to par­take in the new range of ex­pe­ri­ences that the re­vamped gar­den now had to of­fer but felt a sense of en­ti­tle­ment to­ward the lawn, the wa­ters and the an­i­mated at­mos­phere around these.

James Cor­ner, who de­signed the new-look Sal­is­bury Gar­den, is prob­a­bly best known for turning a de­funct light rail­way line in New York into an el­e­vated park. Cor­ner said the lessons of the High Line ex­pe­ri­ence were use­ful for the Sal­is­bury Gar­den project. “With the High Line, we were able to dra­ma­tize what it means to prom­e­nade or to stroll, how you can work with seat­ing in a way that pro­motes in­ter­ac­tiv­ity. And we brought a lot of those lessons here,” said Cor­ner, point­ing out how at Sal­is­bury Gar­den the ex­pe­ri­ence is pre­sented in stages to a vis­i­tor walk­ing down to­ward the wa­ters. “These open spa­ces are use­ful be­cause they of­fer a lot of flex­i­bil­ity. The lawn is a soft space and the big stage with the trel­lis in front is a very the­atri­cal space with lots of seat­ing that is ori­ented to the views of the har­bor.”

He was happy with the in­stal­la­tion on the freshly sculpted lawn. The huge metal­lic discs and rings erected on the patch of oval grass res­onated well with the soft, curvi­lin­ear fea­tures in Cor­ner’s land­scape de­sign. “Cur­va­tures help dra­ma­tize how views un­fold and how se­quences of land­scapes un­fold,” said Cor­ner, pleased that Cir­cu­lar Re­flec­tions, the mul­ti­me­dia and per­for­mance art-based com­pos­ite show de­signed by Hung Ke­ung and Alex Che­ung, played up the the­atri­cal po­ten­tial built into the land­scape, uti­liz­ing its slopes, steps and palm trees to the hilt.

Cor­ner’s theme of find­ing dif­fer­ence and di­ver­sity in suc­ces­sive stages res­onates with city ar­chi­tect Rocco Yim’s de­signs for the Hong Kong edi­tion of Bei­jing’s Palace Mu­seum, planned as a part of the West Kowloon Cul­tural Dis­trict. At the just-con­cluded Business of De­sign Week (BODW), Yim talked about in­cor­po­rat­ing a sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion re­warded by dis­cov­ery in his de­sign. For ex­am­ple, the atrium on each floor of the up­com­ing Hong Kong Palace Mu­seum is ori­ented in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion, of­fer­ing views of land­scaped green­ery, fol­lowed by the Vic­to­ria Har­bour and fi­nally Lan­tau Is­land as one goes up. The idea of mask­ing and re­veal­ing by turns is, of course, bor­rowed from the lay­out of the For­bid­den City in Bei­jing — the epit­ome of the spirit of hor­i­zon­tal pro­gres­sion and dis­cov­ery in tra­di­tional Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­ture. What bet­ter way to pay a trib­ute to clas­si­cal Chi­nese art her­itage of which the orig­i­nal Palace Mu­seum in Bei­jing is the big­gest repos­i­tory?

Un­in­ter­rupted sight­lines

What Yim and Cor­ner have in com­mon is a pref­er­ence for cre­at­ing un­in­ter­rupted vis­tas, of­ten start­ing from the most densely built and in­tensely peo­pled ar­eas in the city, con­tin­u­ing all the way to the wa­ter­front.

Yim’s de­sign of the Hong Kong gov­ern­ment head­quar­ters com­plex makes for a fine ex­am­ple of the above. It’s a wide, con­tin­u­ous pas­sage, off­set by lush green­ery, con­nect­ing the dense, mul­ti­far­i­ous as­sort­ment of shop­ping mall, bus and un­der­ground rail­way sta­tion at the heart of town in Ad­mi­ralty with the wa­ter­front in one sweep, pass­ing right through the ad­min­is­tra­tive block, in be­tween two wings of the gov­ern­ment of­fices. A sky-bridge con­nects the two build­ings way above, cre­at­ing the im­age of an open door. It was as if the gov­ern­ment head­quar­ters was turning its heart out for the pub­lic to see, said Yim at BODW re­cently.

Sim­i­larly, Cor­ner wanted to lib­er­ate Sal­is­bury Gar­den from the clus­ter of trees block­ing the view to the har­bor. “When we be­gan the project, it was a very overly en­closed, in­te­rior gar­den. We wanted to open the space up and cel­e­brate the views to Hong Kong. Now we have very wide view cor­ri­dors from Sal­is­bury Road and Nathan Road that shoot all the way out to the har­bor,” Cor­ner said.

Benoy’s de­signs for a re­vi­tal­ized Cen­tral Har­bourfront Site 3 also seem to is­sue out of a de­sire to re­con­nect city folk with the wa­ters and the green­ery through con­tin­u­ous path­ways. “We are sug­gest­ing a se­ries of com­pre­hen­sive, el­e­vated land­scaped link­ages which tie to­gether the in­di­vid­ual plots over the roads,” says Si­mon Bee, Benoy’s global de­sign di­rec­tor. “This means that we cre­ate a seam­less con­nec­tion from Ped­der Street, Con­naught Road Cen­tral and In­ter­na­tional Fi­nance Cen­tre right through to the wa­ter­front and the Star Ferry Pier.”

Benoy would have liked the space to be a car-free zone. This does not seem likely, given that the cur­rent plan­ning brief sug­gests re­tain­ing the ex­ist­ing road lay­out around the site. Since cars can­not be ruled out, Benoy has pro­posed in­cor­po­rat­ing “land­scaped decks” into the scene. These could, po­ten­tially, sup­port “amaz­ing view­ing ter­races for fu­ture races (like the an­nual For­mula-E race) and other events down by the wa­ter­side”. Be­ing sur­rounded by an abun­dance of plant life will prob­a­bly help neu­tral­ize the green­house gas emis­sions.

Pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship

Sal­is­bury Gar­den is a charm­ing ex­am­ple of what pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship can achieve for the land­scap­ing and de­vel­op­ment of pub­lic spa­ces in Hong Kong. While the gar­den is owned by Hong Kong’s Leisure and Cul­tural Ser­vices Depart­ment, its re­vi­tal­iza­tion was com­mis­sioned and sup­ported by New World De­vel­op­ment. The re­sult is a wel­come de­par­ture from the typ­i­cal pub­lic parks of yesteryears. Lee Hoyin, who heads the ar­chi­tec­tural con­ser­va­tion pro­gram at the Univer­sity of Hong Kong, says these ear­lier ex­am­ples of­ten suf­fer from “low in­vest­ment, easy main­te­nance and zero vi­sion”, of­ten com­pro­mis­ing the orig­i­nal de­sign in­tent. “These spa­ces and the ar­chi­tec­ture in them would look aes­thet­i­cally dated, leave no last­ing im­pres­sion, and even gen­er­ate pub­lic hos­til­ity,” adds Lee.

How­ever, Lee gives a thumbs up to the de­signs for both Sal­is­bury Gar­den and Cen­tral Har­bourfront Site 3 by Benoy, say­ing that they would score well when put to the Kevin Lynch test. In his sem­i­nal book The Im­age of the City, Lynch, a US ur­ban de­signer and the­o­rist, in­tro­duced the term “im­age­abil­ity”, mean­ing, es­sen­tially, a de­sign that lingers in the mind. Lee feels such “high vis­ual-qual­ity place-mak­ing that leaves a mem­o­rable im­pres­sion on peo­ple” won’t be hard to achieve with Cor­ner’s de­sign of Sal­is­bury Gar­den and Benoy’s of Cen­tral Har­bor­front Site 3, espe­cially given their “green, soft and friendly” ap­pear­ance and prime lo­ca­tions — on “two highly open and vis­i­ble har­bor­front sites”.

The progress on re­design­ing Hong Kong’s har­bor land­scapes may be a tardy one, but it looks like the first step has just been taken.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Ini­tial de­sign ideas for Cen­tral Har­bor­front Site 3 floated by Benoy fea­ture land­scaped decks with mag­nif­i­cent views all the way from Jar­dine House to the ferry piers.

The green­ery

Rocco Yim’s

A trel­lised arch on this wooden plat­form, with steps lead­ing to the har­bor­front in Tsim Sha Tsui, would make any show staged here more spec­tac­u­lar. James Cor­ner, who de­signed Sal­is­bury Gar­den, said he wanted to dra­ma­tize the ex­pe­ri­ence of strolling and...

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