After a three-year facelift, Hong Kong's Avenue of Stars is ready for its close-up. It's the perfect location for lights, cameras and alternative energy
Since its opening, the Avenue of Stars along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront has been one of Hong Kong's most popular tourist destinations. Running behind the InterContinental Hong Kong hotel and the new Victoria Dockside to TST East, the nearly 500-metre promenade was deteriorating, felt outdated, and was lacking in amenities and shade. It had been due a facelift for some time.
In 2015, the Avenue was set for much-needed redevelopment which was led by Manhattan's High Line designer James Corner
The Victoria Harbour-facing promenade was originally built by New World Development in 1982 and the Avenue of Stars added in 2004 to honour the city's cinematic heritage. At the time, it was also handed back to the government to manage as public realm. Viewing the statues of screen legends Anita Mui and Bruce Lee quickly became a pilgrimage for many film buffs, as was the nearby large-scale rendition of the Hong Kong Film Awards statuette. In 2015, the Avenue was set for much-needed redevelopment (controversially, by New World, without a public tender), which was ultimately led by Manhattan's High Line designer James Corner, chief executive of James Corner Field Operations. It was the Avenue's singular context that convinced him to take on the project. "Sometimes, and this was one of the occasions, you get invited to look at a site that's just so spectacular to begin with. And what's special about this project is its context."The new Avenue of Stars is one of Hong Kong's most modern public regenerations, incorporating contemporary design, sustainability initiatives and even ethical retailing. Corner saw the Avenue as a 24-hour location that could become a dynamic landmark rivalling any place on the globe – and New World's executive vice-chair and general manager, Adrian Cheng, agreed. Corner argues that New World's commitment to art and heritage helped shape the final design. "If you extrapolate that to the out-of-doors, you realise it can't be just about buildings," he says. "It has to be about the connective tissue and the adjacent streets. Most developers are focused on the building, about finding tenants. [Here] it's about programming the building but also looking for ways for the public realm to be curated – to be spectacular and welcoming and inclusive. And in turn that investment adds value to the building." The building in question is the towering Victoria Dockside.The process of redesigning came with its share of challenges, among them rigid standards about how much of the water could be built over (none), eliminating early concepts for widening the pathway, cantilevered viewing decks or floating platforms, as well as multiple stakeholders each with their own concerns. Public-realm work often eliminates a single client. "In this case we did have one – K11," explains Corner. "But they recognised this was a public project. There were many government agencies, community groups and other property owners that all had to be engaged." Agreeing on a bold design, approving reviews and rolling in feedback that reflected input from across the spectrum took time. "But having said that, we found it relatively easy. Everyone at all levels was all very positive… and in many ways the project got better because of the process," he adds.
Among the Avenue's new features are its Harbour Kiosk, designed by local studio LAAB, which combines food vending with the electrical and mechanical needs of the Avenue, and its seven complementing mobile carts, powered by solar panels; wave-inspired low-glare concrete rail cladding that brings the water closer to visitors; new multi-function light fixtures by London-based Speirs + Major, which illuminate the water and pedestrian decking from within the cladding and boast LED lamp posts with Wi-Fi signals, power and security cameras; trellises with vertical plantings that will eventually yield shade and reduce heat on the path; increased water-facing seating for groups, couples and singles; and a Hong Kong and China- first – a wave generator creating enough power to charge up to 20 mobile phones. The generator is an experiment designed to raise awareness of alternative energies among the public. The film-star handprints were returned to the Avenue – along the undulating railings – and the original sculptures were relocated to the TST East end of the promenade as a way to reduce crowd clustering."We wanted to use solar panels from the start, and on this site solar panels are the most effective choice for sustainability options. There's over 10 hours of daylight," says CK Wong of LAAB. The mobile carts have opening and closing mechanisms that capture and store solar power for usage, and they also recall Hong Kong's heritage. The carts' wavy metal surfaces reflect the water and give the series the impression of animation, while the Harbour Kiosk recalls a traditional market stall and doubles as a refreshment stand and E&M room. Local brands will occupy the carts and plastic bottles will not be on sale.
"When we worked on the initial concept for the kiosks we thought about how we could relate to the culture and the movie culture of Hong Kong… in one of the most prominent locations in the city," says Wong. "So, we thought about how the architecture might resonate, like waves on water or pay tribute to the movie culture of
Hong Kong. The up-and-down movement references making waves, and we tried to include some very Hong Kong particular symbols, which is the market stall. Hopefully they blend with the master plan."
Lighting the Avenue was also a challenge. Speirs + Major principal Keith Bradshaw recalls his initial visit to Hong Kong and discovering first-hand just how bright the city is, day and night. "That's something we thought about a lot. The first time I arrived I remember realising just how much light there was on the island, and on the water," he explains. "We've done some other projects in Hong Kong and without any specific requirements for the project they're already too bright. What we had to be very careful about was not overcompensating, or fighting the light that was already there." As Bradshaw sees it, the problem with a great deal of lighting in the SAR is in the temptation to push it farther, and be brighter than the ambient city."We did the complete opposite; the levels we're starting with here are relatively low. Given that it's a public space and there are literally thousands of people there at any given time, it's still very calming, and we're very proud of that. In a sense, we were very restrained. That was the conversation from the get-go – not to overdo it. There are no coloured lights, there's one temperature of light and it's very warm." Much of Speirs + Major's LED lighting comes from within the cladding, providing gentle illumination without glare. The night view is both quietly romantic and broadly welcoming.
Given that it's a public space and there are literally thousands of people there at any given time, it's still very calming, and we're very proud of that
Despite the proximity to the water that sets it apart, Corner is constantly asked about how designing the Avenue of Stars compares to working on the High Line, perhaps the project he's best known for, and what he applied to the former from the latter. "I think everybody wants to relate the High Line to everything," he begins, conceding only that both are contextually unique and both are promenades. The High Line has an intimacy to it that the Avenue, as an expansive space, does not.
"We kept arguing that the romance, serenity and charm of a beautiful walk, in the context of a garden in Manhattan, would blow people's minds. It took a lot of persuasion and a lot of good faith. I can say the same thing [happened] here too. It'll be easy to look at our design and ask 'Are we doing enough? Could we do more? '" says Corner. "The context of the Hong Kong skyline is so amazing that just letting it sink in and giving it space to breathe is enough."