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Architectural Development of the 1990s
The Architectural Development of the 1990s in Hong Kong
Socio-economic, Environmental and Technological Context
by Kevin K K Manuel, Lecturer
Division of Building Science and Technology, City University of Hong Kong
Heading towards the next millennium, Hong Kong architecture in the 1990s should be reviewed so that this Special Administrative Region's accomplishments can be appreciated by more people in Hong Kong and China, and its achievements may even be echoed by the international communities. This appreciation, along with constructive criticism in this article, may help encourage and stimulate more exciting, sympathetic and sensitive built forms to be generated in the next decade.
Hong Kong architecture has experienced a dramatic boom in the past thirty years. It expanded in the 1970s and mushroomed in the 1980s and 1990s. One may observe the change of our urbanscape from traditional Chinese architecture to Colonial architecture after 1841, and to a maturity of modern architecture in the 1970s and 1980s. During this period many buildings were erected in modern architectural styles, such as the cleanliness of the curtain wall-clad Admiralty Centre, the boldness of reinforced concrete technology of the Landmark and the Jardine House, and the honest expression of Louis Kahn's "servant and served" concept and institutionalised image of the former brick faced Hong Kong Polytechnic complex. Modern architectural styles, globally place strong emphasis on a rather universal form, clear geometrical expressions, functional treatments, integration of advanced building technology, the exploration of optimising views, and the manipulation of natural lighting and ventilation systems. In terms of architectural identity, one can also notice a subtle transformation from a merely international style to a more distinct east-west integrated style from the 1980s to 1990s.
The rise of post-modernism in the western world in the late 1960s and 1970s had greatly influenced the philosophy and approach of architectural design of Hong Kong in the 1980s. The re-thinking of incorporating traditional styles, pluralism, multiple and ambiguous expression have formed the approaches and pattern language of built form. The expression of oriental culture with modern technology can be seen in the examples of Che Kung Temple in Shatin, Hong Kong Technical College in Tsing Yi, Lingnan College in Tuen Mun and Hong Kong Baptist University extension in Kowloon. The deep considerations of environmental issues such as energy saving, greening of architecture, recycling and renewal are becoming a trend. This article attempts to illustrate the various design approaches, principles and technologies in the 1990s and to highlight some of the key examples for illustration purposes.
To mark its international significance and to secure its status as a financial, business and tourist centre of the world, Hong Kong requires examples of world class architecture to promote its image and to re-affirm its stake in the international community. Many landmark buildings have completed in the 1990s, including the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre Extension (HKCECE) by Wong & Ouyang (HK) Ltd and SOM, the new Peak Tower by Terry Farrell and Partners and the Chek Lap Kok Airport terminal by Foster (Asia) Architects. These buildings were designed to promote a strong city identity and to express advanced technology in terms of structural systems, energy-efficient design and the selection of materials. Both the HKCECE and the new Airport Terminal Building place strong emphasis upon high-tech design and have fabulous curved metal roofs with strong geometric forms.
HKCECE, which possesses a strong symbolic image in its flying curving roof, represents a bird spreading out its wings and heading towards the north. It offers a polite gesture to celebrate the return of sovereignty to Mainland China. The Extension is the second largest public building in Hong Kong. It has the largest curved roof in the world, the one of the largest curtain wall systems and also one of the largest single floor dining areas in the world. The complex has a total internal exhibition area of more than 28,000 sq m with 16m headroom and spans ranging from 26m to 81m. Its multiple tiers of metal curved roofs, which have an area of 40,000 sq m, is one-of-a-kind for Hong Kong. Circulation problems have been resolved by a common atrium space which also acts a common lobby and hence makes the various huge floors recognisable on every level.
The new 1.2 km long Airport Passenger Terminal Building at Chek Lap Kok has been named as one of the greatest landmarks and masterpieces in the 20th Century. Construction started in January 1995 and completed in July 1997. It is planned to accommodate 35 million passengers in the 21st century and has an aircraft processing rate of 40 per hour. Every aircraft stand is sized for the 747-400 series and four stands are allowed to accommodate 92m wingspan aircraft in the future. It is the largest single roof megastructure in the world, covering an area of 490,000 sq m. With a total floor area of 515,000 sq m and a full 1.8 km length measured along its central axis, two main design themes of the new building are initiated by the architect: flexibility and energy-efficiency. Flexibility means the ease for future expansion, the change of space organisation, adaptation to future technological and social development and the convenience for maintenance. Energy efficiency means the saving of energy by means of optimising daily lighting, simplicity of design, light-eight materials for construction and efficient transport, circulation and servicing systems.
The most distinguished part of the building is the steel roof made up of 129 modules, having a total weight of about 120 tonnes. Every standard module is 36m by 36m by 5m. The well-insulated, barrel vault roof was assembled on site and prefabricated with more than 100,000 components imported from the UK, China and Singapore. This innovative wave-form roof symbolises the flight of the airplanes. Internally, owing to the cleanliness of the roof finish, no suspended ceiling system is needed. Instead, a line of continuous skylights that occupies more than five per cent of the roof area can provide sufficient natural lighting through the roof in normal, clear weather. The wall comprises a full-height, translucent glass cladding system. The use of a special low-E window glass enables a balance of natural lighting and intake of solar energy. The circulation pattern is distinguished by two major modes of flow: the passenger and pedestrian movement on the east side and the aircraft movement on the west side. However, in order to make the building more humanised, more considerations of interior landscape should be taken to enhance the neutral gray and white colour scheme in the interiors. The exterior appearance of the terminal building and the HKCECE, with their modern and international image, however, may not fully express their identity and speciality in terms of fitting into local context. The hi-tech approach becomes a common and universal solution to a complex, interacted task in contemporary "modern" architecture.
High-rise and commercial development
Hong Kong has been famous for its high-rise building technology. This can be proven by its many class-A office skyscrapers and commercial facilities, such as the Bank of China Building, Central Plaza, Cheung Kong Center, Lippo Centre, Pacific Place and the Hongkong Bank. With these corporate towers, business and financing institutions have been boldly woven into the urban fabric. Indeed, Hong Kong's skyline is dressed up and protruded with corporate skyscrapers, narrating the success of the business realm.
The 80-storey The Center in Central, which adopts a very high-tech approach and expresses an overwhelming gesture over its neighbourhood, sits on a site area of 8,816 sq m. It is the first steel high-rise without an inner reinforced concrete core wall that takes the shear force induced by lateral wind load. In order to provide rigidity and stability, a detailed steel bracing system was employed. A simple unitised curtain wall system is used to reduce the time and hassle of site production. It provides interesting illumination at night and becomes a dominant member of the corporate landmarks in the city. A heavy duty raised floor system for services, return-air ceiling as a means to reduce the air duct space and an internal dry wall system for most internal walls are the special features of the design. The splendid, transparent glass systems in the podium and lobby areas greatly reduce the extensive use of artificial illumination during the days. The form of the building is composed of two squares interlocking together. Elegant lobbies and grand interior finishes decorated with marble, granite, special lighting effects and water features make the building even more elegant.
The Peak Galleria on the Peak over Central, which has placed strong emphasis upon the treatment of exterior place and good integration of interior and exterior spaces, is a combination of parks, shopping arcades and playgrounds. Its strong geometric layout with a north-south skylit spine and a continuing, curvilinear skylight provide the two main circulation arteries of the complex, permit more natural lighting and enable a much more open design. The 12,500 sq m mall with its stepping-up circular form is nested comfortably in the hill. The various dissected, ascending sectors of the circular form permit spectacular views of The Peak and its surroundings. The internal pedestrian mall, shopping arcades and dining facilities have added the flavour of leisure and joyful shopping and touring to the area. A palette of landscape elements, including natural stone, planters, trellises, sitting areas, courts, terraces and a playground, creates relaxed, robust and warm components for the mall. A clear and distinguished entrance plaza and circulation patterns also generate an inviting and welcoming atmosphere for visitors and local patrons. This care of detailed design for pedestrian movement is highly applauded. The rich colour tone of the complex and building elements with appropriate human touches are also some of the design achievements of the project.
Housing Hong Kong
One of the key factors which has contributed to the commercial success of Hong Kong is the industrious and adaptable people of Hong Kong, who have been, or need to be, housed in an area of about 1,200 sq km. Residential development started at a rapid pace after a tragic fire broke out in Shek Kip Mei on Christmas Eve of 1953. Since Governor Sir Murray MacLehose announced the ten-year housing scheme in 1971, Hong Kong's public housing standards have been improved. Housing changed from a merely short-term "emergency sheltering" strategy, to long-term, massive supply of rental housing stock and Home Ownership stock to improve health, privacy, natural lighting and ventilation. Since the end of 1980s an emphasis has been placed on upgrading and improving living quality. The revision of design standards by increasing the dimensions of kitchen, living and sleeping areas has become one of the top priorities of housing design. The sophisticated selection of materials and improvement of comprehensive planning by providing all-round daily, social and community services has also been achieved in the 1990s. In terms of residential area per person, the density target has improved from 2.2 sq m in the 1950s to more than 7.5 sq m per person in the 1990s.
Public Housing programmes can be echoed by the development of new towns. Among the various new town developments in the 1990s, Tin Shui Wai and Tseung Kwun O are the representatives. Tin Shui Wai, as an example, occupies more than 433 ha of space and houses more than 315,000 people. It is the only new town which does not provide for industrial zoning. Currently there are three large occupied public estates, five HOS and PSPS housings and one large private development occupied. The private development, Kingswood Villas, is composed of six residential neighbourhoods and one major commercial complex covering an area of 39 hectares. Tin Shui Wai has a large and splendid central park which occupies an area of 15 hectares. The integrated approach between private and public development can be seen as a major success in large-scale modern housing development in the world. The extensive and spacious provisions of recreational facilities in the post-modern age, such as a splendid clubhouse and play courts for various types of ball games can be seen in Kingswood Villas. This new town is also planned with the concept of self-containment, with respect to facilities and amenities, services and infrastructural support. However, emphasis could have been placed on enhancing the housing block and district identity in terms of colour schemes and entrance forms which could have been incorporated into the design schemes prior to construction. In addition the central district park could have been integrated into the existing natural fishing pond as an ecological park for education and recreation purposes. It could have been a "reservoir" of learning, including a ecological and conservation centre which provided great opportunity for Primary and Secondary students to appreciate the ecological system and bio-system of Hong Kong's countryside. This concept will clearly support the current and vital concept of sustainable development.
Harmony blocks, which were developed at the end of 1980s, were based on a module and system design, with the optimisation of prefabrication techniques and a fully-computerised drawing approach. A number of basic module units were designed in the 1980s to form various schemes of flexible combinations. The aim was to allow for a better flexibility in the design and living pattern, permitting more spacious living and service spaces for post-modern living. There are three prototypes of Harmony Block, namely the Type I, II and III. Type I is similar to a cruciform block with a 38 storey height. Unit areas range from 56 to 78 sq m. Type Two is a modified "Y-"type with 36 storeys and unit areas ranging from 58 to 85 sq m. The "Y"-type III has about 20 to 26 storeys. By allowing rotation to one of the three wings, Type III can be very flexible to further expansion and can adjust to fit into different site situations and requirements.
In the period from 1995 to 1996, residents' survey findings produced by the Department of Architecture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong summarised a number of key concerns from the residents, such as the provision of more simple and basic design to allow for the creative work and design of the individual families, and for permitting a more personal living style and preferences. Harmony blocks have provided a better quality of housing and are able to cater for different needs of residents. It has to be continuously modified to suit the different needs of residents. Indeed, a new prototype of the Concord block has been designed for better provision of facilities and layout. However, the relative higher cost of production will further limit the expansion of this type of housing in the future.
Verbena Heights -- a subsidised public housing development -- is a very interesting built form designed by Anthony Ng Architects; a private architectural firm contracted by the Housing Society. The environmentally-friendly theme of the housing development is one of a kind in Hong Kong. The building mass is stepped down from north to south to permit the south wind to enter into as many units as possible. Simultaneously, the built form steps down from east to west to reduce the number of units which are vulnerable to the nuisance of traffic noise on the west side of Po Hong Road. Also, due to the fact that a portion of upper housing units are still affected by traffic noise from the Tseung Kwan O Tunnel Road, tilted horizontal acoustic screens are installed for the residents of those units. Exterior sun shading devices, with longer projections on the west side are erected. The installation of solar panels on roofs allows for water heating. However, if the temperature drops below certain degrees, gas heating can be provided. Wind tunnel all0eys and hallways are incorporated into the design and interesting colour schemes are added to create greater block identity and interest. Low energy materials such as the use of low-flush toilets, recycled waste water, photovoltaic cells for landscape lighting and fountains with changeable water-jet heights are innovative ways to link the 1990s generation of housing and the next millenium.
In order to provide the adequate human power for society and to nurture a cohort of literates, professionals and technicians, centres of research, places of teaching and facilities for academic interactions and exchange need to be expanded. Many outstanding education projects have been built in the 1990s, the Open University, Hong Kong Baptist University Extension, Tsing Yi Technical College, Lingnan College, and the former City Polytechnic of Hong Kong expansion. Lingnan College adopted a similar campus layout as its mother school in Guangzhou. The architectural form has incorporated an external wall that adopts a transformation of a city wall from ancient cities. The school's logo of "he mountain and waters" can be reflected in the campus design. The central axis with its open and closed concepts and the hierarchy of places from entrance to courtyard and garden, is carefully designed. Public hallways, stairwells, gardens, courtyards and plazas are integrated into a hierarchy of learning and gathering spaces. Integration of the buildings into nature and a high quality of natural lighting and ventilation can also be seen in this project.
The Tsing Yi Technical College is another outstanding project, featuring a theme of green architecture successfully executed in the design. The masterplan incorporated a central theme by placing an academic plaza in the centre and flanking it with two courtyards; one at the north and at the south. The open campus planning with its wings, courtyards and plazas are well integrated to form different spatial identities. A cosy microclimate is also generated by a system of efficient cross ventilation. For instance, the use of natural cross ventilation is encouraged in many spaces including the open stairs and courtyards, open link bridge and normal classrooms. Indeed, the encouragement of staff and student interactions in the open stairs and link bridge can be regarded as a post-modern interpretation of the "rain and wind" bridge of the "Tong" tribe in Guangxi Province. Moreover, reduction and reflection of solar rays by means of appropriate building orientation, massing of building blocks, the use of external metallic-coated glazed tile and recessed windows have made the College a better piece of "green" architecture. External stairs and public spaces are designed for evoking public interactions and generating more activities. The use of distinct colour themes for different departments is also highly praised.
In addition to educational facilities, the nineties also experienced the further expansion of institutional services. Numerous and significant institutional projects include Castle Peak Hospital, Wong Chuk Hang Complex, and the redevelopment of Hong Kong Stadium. Other significant developments are the Central Library in Causeway Bay, Sai Wan Ho Clinic, a number of Urban Council Complexes, and a number of police and fire stations.
Wong Chuk Hang Complex, which is located at Aberdeen, holds a predominant position over Wong Chuk Hang Road. Simon Kwan & Associates, engaged by the Architectural Services Department in 1989, undertook the design. It is a long-stay home for the elderly and it combines both functions of a hospital and social welfare accommodation. The design philosophy by the architect was to create an informal and non-institutional atmosphere. One of the design approaches is the use of smaller, domesticised spaces which have many different communal spaces, such as club rooms, dining rooms, common rooms and bedrooms with each not exceeding six persons. Some of the interior curvilinear ceiling spaces and interesting floor patterns help break the dullness of institutionalised space. Another major consideration is that the Care and Attention Home and the Long Stay Home are designed with balconies for social interactions and for those who are not able to go down and use the gardens and courtyards. Moreover, covered circulation walkways are provided without vehicular interventions and efforts are made to integrate into landscape and public spaces as much as possible. Separate colour schemes are manipulated for different floors, details and accent bands. That is why although the building exterior is dressed up with grey and white, green is used for the sunshade and the roof is covered with yellow to make the building special and to build up its identity.
The increasing number of psychiatric patients and the aged caused a redevelopment of two 3-storey blocks with a total of 725 psychiatric beds at Castle Peak Hospital Redevelopment Phase I, located in Tuen Mun. It is another playful building designed with a post-modern style. Each "U" or horseshoe-shaped complex has identical, 10 ward wings on each side, equipped with different sized dormitories, nurse stations, day rooms, dining rooms and other typical hospital facilities. The colourful, polychrome and impressive building facade helps make the formal, symmetrical institutional image less overwhelming and creates a relaxed, homely setting for patients and users. The complex blends in well with its surroundings and low gardens. Major trees are retained as part of the natural landscape. The building mass is stepped backward to allow for garden and open terrace spaces for occupants. A clear main entrance and centralised axis for service, traffic and patient orientation also form major design features. The design offers better natural ventilation, fine quality of natural lighting and more green areas for users to generate a more tranquil environment for patients.
Hong Kong has become a hub for international wisdom to be assembled and fully developed in the architectural field. Much design input comes from top international architects and their firms. A number of international firms have established a strong foothold here. Indeed the involvement of foreign architectural practices commenced in the beginning of the colonial era, in which many European architects, particularly British architects, were involved in the design of many public buildings. These can be seen in the development of a number of Christian churches and institutional buildings, including the legislative building by A. Webb and E. Bell and the former Governor's House by C. Cleverly. This promoted a very high standard of architectural design and enabled Hong Kong to become a metropolitan city and the hub of the Asia-Pacific region. In the 1990s, we can see more and more local architectural projects designed by local architects and firms and many of these projects certainly reach a high international standard.
Despite the great successes of the 1990s, there are a few challenges and issues that I would like to raise here, so as to arouse further discussions which Hong Kong architects certainly have to confront. Firstly, how to strive for new concepts without sacrificing some functional and practical concerns of the users is a true responsibility of the architect and a key issue of the building profession. As in the case of Verbena Heights, although the design is innovative, the calculations of Gross Floor Areas of each floors should have been correct before these units were sold to residents. Secondly, whether lowest price tender should be entertained and be awarded in large-scale projects, such as Tin Chung Court in Tin Shui Wai, which might have led to the malpractice of a very few building trades. It is not possible for the architect and other professionals to have 100 per cent on-site supervision and quality assurance on every item.
Thirdly, how to recuperate through this economic downturn partly resulting from the financial turmoil in the final quarter of 1997; how to strive in a buyer's market and an overbuilt office stock and tougher market environment are major challenges. Fourthly, should we take this opportunity of economic recession to reafirm the architect's role and his position as a key project leader and an innovator, and a so-called "saviour"of the built environment, as mentioned by the great architectural critic, Charles Jencks. Of course, there are ample questions that need to be further addressed and discussed. However, no matter how tough the journey ahead is, the various professionals ought to ponder prudently and related issues should be mutually and publicly discussed among building practitioners. Hopefully a set of optimum solutions will be derived in the next decade and these solutions should be sympathetic with the local conditions and be sensitive to public needs and concerns.
Architecture of the 1990s has attempted to make a breakthrough in terms of new technological and environmental advancement to echo the world slogan of Sustainability, as addressed by the Brundtland Report in 1987, to try the best to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs? The new century will place tremendous challenges on architects and other building professionals. Hong Kong architecture has become more diversified and specialised. Many different building types such as architecture for the elderly, heritage and historical museums, field study centers, and rehabilitation centres are generated. The openness and innovative policy of the Government, the security of business investment and the desire to search for better quality and excellence are necessary for a better Hong Kong. In addition, the co-operation and collaboration of various political parties, community groups and organisations may help in providing more public input into design and planning matters of our city. The ongoing strive for innovative technology, the care to conserve our living environment and the realisation of the concept of sustainability will be the major objectives of architectural design in the beginning of the next millennium.
Kevin Manuel received his M.Arch's degree in 1989 and M.Sc (Urban Planning)'s degree in 1995. He has been a lecturer at the City University of Hong Kong since 1991. Having been in construction practice since 1976 and architectural practice since 1985, Kevin has undertaken a number of architectural and panning research studies.