Perspective celebrated another year of its 40 Under 40 awards, recognising the best young talents from the world of art and design. Before the ceremony got underway, a debate was held about the future of the Hong Kong harbourfront
At the annual 40 Under 40 Awards held in May at The Annex in Sheung Wan, Perspective magazine – a long-time champion of emerging talent – crowned 40 young creatives from across Asia-Pacific for their outstanding achievement in their respective fields of architecture, interior design, product design and art. A forum on how the Hong Kong harbourfront could be improved preceded the awards ceremony and created much lively debate. Panellists had numerous suggestions, and lamented the fact that implementing them would face many obstacles.
"We all have an impression of Hong Kong's harbour that is really very idealistic," said art critic and curator John Batten. "Foreigners, visitors and even people who've never been to Hong Kong know our harbour because it's so iconic. The view is fabulous! But get into that view, go down to ground level, and that feeling is lost: you're on a road that's very polluted, in an area that's full of people. It can be very stifling."
He highlighted several ways in which the Hong Kong harbourfront has recently been degraded, including the cutting down of palm trees at the Kowloon City Ferry Pier, and the dilution of plans for West Kowloon: the original scheme for a verdant forest has become little more than another forest of buildings, he said.
In Hong Kong, public space is given to commercial developments. If we leave it to current narrative in Hong Kong, we'll have no outdoor food and beverage in the whole 73km
Paul Zimmerman, Southern District Councillor and Founder of Designing Hong Kong, said some 50km of Victoria Harbour's 73km waterfront will be accessible via a connected promenade. He highlighted examples of successful waterfront areas around Hong Kong, including the Tsing Yi and Discovery Bay boardwalks.
"In some places we get really exciting waterfronts," he said. "But there is a problem – that the discretion of the district councils around Victoria Harbour prohibits this from happening. In Hong Kong, public space is given to commercial developments. If we leave it to current narrative in Hong Kong, we'll have no outdoor food and beverage in the whole 73km."
Architect Barrie Ho shared Zimmerman's sentiments about navigating government hurdles. "If you ask why Hong Kong harbour can't be Sydney, New York, Shanghai, the simple reason is bureaucracy," he said. "The land often belongs to the Lands Department, the Transport Department or the LCSD [Leisure and Cultural Services Department]. Sometimes these people do not allow us to have creative ideas about the seashore. They allow you to do whatever you like within site boundary but not to reach out to the sea. The government does not think holistically about the harbour, just about individual parcels of land."
Simon Bee, Managing Director of Benoy, presented several ideas for Site 3, the first phase of the government's Central harbourfront development project, all of which stressed connectivity between land and sea. The site, he said, "doesn't even touch the water at the moment, which is clearly not right. You cannot see this in isolation. It's part of a great district of this city, and there are some major things that need connecting." His suggestions included raised walkways to link commercial buildings with the waterfront and, in one case, even a low-rise landscaped residential waterfront neighbourhood.
Christine Lam, Global Design Principal of Aedas, also presented a vision for the harbourfront, specifically focusing on Tsim Sha Tsui and West Kowloon. "What if we can connect these two promenades?" she said. "Then there will be a 5km-long open public route, looking south to the dramatic Hong Kong Island waterfront. There are so many possibilities of stitching it all into one route and making it an experience."
She compared the idea to Singapore's Marina Bay, with its extensive pleasant 4.3km-waterfront promenade, and central Sydney's 6km equivalent. She stressed the need to connect with public transport and provide leisure and commercial synergies en route.
Perhaps the most ambitious idea of the evening was presented by David Buffonge, Co-founder & Executive Director of Lead 8: a 23km walking and cycle path around the harbour. "We see the harbour as a central park," he said. "There's lots of derelict land around it, and we're hoping to stitch it together. It becomes part of a greater network of transport routes."
Along with pods along the route featuring cycle rental and storage, the plan, he said, would allow up to 1.7 million people to walk or cycle to work.
Perhaps the most ambitious idea of the evening was presented by David Buffonge, Co-founder & Executive Director of Lead 8: a 23km walking and cycle path around the harbour
But the perhaps most pertinent question of the day was posed by the moderator of the discussion, Professor Nasrine Seraji, Head of the Department of Architecture at The University of Hong Kong: she asked panellists how these plans might be realised.
Bee said the best hope was for a visionary individual in charge, citing the example of former French President François Mitterrand in office at the time of the 1989 construction of The Louvre Pyramid in Paris. "That guy was the champion of that building; he wanted IM Pei to do that, and it got done. We need a President Mitterrand for all these projects in Hong Kong. It's not a committee; it needs to be a single-minded person."
Buffonge highlighted an example from overseas that Hong Kong would do well to copy. "Much of what's built in Hong Kong is actually based on maths; you plug in the numbers and you get a building," he said. "In Singapore, they have a Designer Advisory Panel for key sites in the city, which involves all sorts of people – not just government. If it makes the city better, they allow you to break the rules."