By Bert Bulthuis
The Hong Kong harbourfront is a well-known and important place for most citizens of Hong Kong. It is obvious that in recent years some major changes have taken place to make the waterfront more accessible.
In fact, the park at Tamar has become a much used public space and further plans are underway to connect the Central waterfront to that of Wan Chai. A 2011 masterplan study of the HK SAR Government gives future perspective on this area between the Central Ferry Piers and the Wan Chai Convention Center. As a citizen of Hong Kong I have enjoyed this upgraded accessibility a lot, which has extended my ambles to the Sun Yat Sen Park in Sai Ying Pun and, hopefully at a later stage, on to Kennedy Town.
One of the core locations within the waterfront development is the area between Statue Square and Jardine House to the south, the IFC to the west and the ferry piers to the north, now known as, ‘Location 3’.
The Location 3 lot includes the Central Post Office and the car park at Connaught Road Central, both of which will be demolished, according to the development brief of the government. While the Central Post Office is not a monument, it is very much a valued part of the Hong Kong collective memory. The five-storey building was erected in 1976 to replace Hong Kong Post’s previous Edwardian-era headquarters at the junction of Des Voeux Road Central and Pedder Street. Though less of a ‘wow’ building than its predecessor, its high ceilings and airy spaciousnedss make it a rarity here. People’s love of the building has activated this faction to strive for the integration of the old building within the new rather than erasing the past altogether. My personal opinion is that it would be wonderful to integrate the Central Post Office because mixing the old with the new provides a city with more ‘time-layers’, and as such, a city becomes more diverse and interesting.
Central Post Office at the edge of Location 3
Empty space at Location 3
To integrate or not to integrate was one of the talking points at the ULI (Urban Land Institute) Asia Pacific and ULI Hong Kong-organized summit from 5-7 June, when, on the last day of the summit, a closed workshop was organized on the development of Location 3. The main objective was to brainstorm on the development process and come up with recommendations to the Government on how to add a clearer benchmark of quality to the development brief. This involved looking at different mechanisms for the land tender to trigger the highest guarantees for urban and architectural quality.
The Dutch Chamber received an invitation to participate in the high profile symposium and Muriel Moorrees, General Manager of the Dutch Chamber, proposed me to be present among the group of urban planners, real estate developers, project managers and representatives of official organisations such as the Chambers of Commerce.
Tom Murphy: Case Studies
The Hong Kong workshop took place at the Standard Chartered Bank Building in Central and counted some 45 attendees. City planners, real estate developers, project managers and architects from all over the world were present at the informal yet professional event. Following in-depth introductions on the location by David Faulkner of Colliers International and a presentation of global case studies by Tom Murphy of ULI Washington, the general planning brief of Location 3 was discussed among the group as a whole. Two of the main conclusions of the case studies were generally accepted by the group. The first was that adding an incentive system for quality public space within the development would be a great tool to guarantee urban quality (Case study, Hudson Yards, New York).
Hudson Yards, New York
The second conclusion was that using a Master Plan Framework (MPF) would be beneficial. That is, a framework in which all the potentials of the location would be intensely researched and described before any bidding process were to take place (Case study, Barangaroo, Sydney). This would establish a quality benchmark before the bidding, as well as a tool for developers to create a design and bid, perfectly suited to the high potential location. The public consultation is best begun while the MPF is underway.
Four panels were formed to deliver specific recommendations for the location and the process. As an architect and representative of the Dutch Chamber, I was assigned to the group guiding principles for design and development. The discussion was lively and we came up with some possible additions to the development brief, aimed to guarantee greater urban and architectural quality from the outset. These included:
– Specifying the public access and amenity requirements, thus defining an open space goal and guarantee of public access.
The quality of public space is very important in city building and particularly so in a space such as Hong Kong. My firm, Sitec Studio is a big advocate of the design of public space as a context for buildings, and, only then, the design of public space as part of a building (for instance, the IFC). I would prefer the location to be cut in two or three parts and organised around designed public space. However this is not the perspective of the developers of Location 3 who prefer a ‘one-location approach’.
– Specifying mixed use requirements to include hotels and serviced apartments.
Mixed use of the location will guarantee 24-hour city activity and ensure that the area really be part of the city.
– Requiring that the process looks beyond the lines of the exact location to guarantee great connectivity to the rest of the harbourfront and adjoining properties.
A city’s quality depends on the whole fabric in which a development can play a connective part.
– Developing a bonus system/incentive system to promote public amenities including social housing.
This mechanism would create additional value to the development, streaming a small part of the profit back into improving the city’s quality of life including building much needed social housing and special needs group housing in other areas of Hong Kong.
– Creating an incentive to the developer on sustainability measures including seawater cooling.
A high level of sustainability is the basis, though the aim should be for maximum circularity and sustainability. By creating an incentive for this aim, we hope to create a beautiful example of sustainability and circularity in the heart of the city.
The recommendations of the four groups were shared among all attendees and will shortly be summarized and published by the Urban Land Institute Hong Kong.
The June summit was a worthwhile discussion of a high profile location with specialists from around the world giving their input to the HK SAR government. Together we will be able to say that we built this city.
Bert Bulthuis is the founder and chief architect at Sitec Studio Hong Kong and member of the Dutch Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong.