The renovation of Hong Kong City Hall is an opportunity to update the surrounding landscape. Columnist John Batten explains
At the recent Perspective forum held before the presentation ceremony of the 40 Under 40 Awards, there was discussion about the design of Site 3 of the Central reclamation, a parcel of land centred around the site of the current General Post Office. The new buildings that will occupy Site 3 will dominate the edge of the Central business district and be a critical viewpoint from Tsim Sha Tsui. Site 3 is also adjacent to one of Hong Kong's modernist masterpieces: the City Hall complex and Edinburgh Place. This is an opportunity for good holistic planning, to ensure the site and the larger Central reclamation complements the landscape design of the immediate surroundings of City Hall.
It is an opportune time to discuss the area's landscape design as Hong Kong City Hall will soon close for a three-year renovation. Its core facilities should not be much touched – the wooden interiors of the concert hall and theatre are beautiful; they are uniquely patterned and have excellent view-lines and acoustics. However, the back-stage facilities and air-conditioning (which is pumped from another building hundreds of metres away) will rightly be upgraded in the coming renovation. City Hall's lobby was renovated a decade ago, but the lobby area should return to its original minimal design with comfortable seating and iconic light fittings. Hong Kong City Hall is what it is; it can't be radically changed – an architectural gem with great cultural facilities.
This is an opportunity for good holistic planning, to ensure the site and the larger Central reclamation complements the landscape design of the immediate surroundings of City Hall
However, the complex's surrounding environment offers great opportunities to improve the overall amenities of the area by integrating its interior facilities with an improved immediate outdoor landscape. The complex has lost its waterfront location, so introducing trees, a lawn, and shaded seating amid flexible recreation spaces (such as ping-pong tables, half-sized practice basketball courts, an open-air performance area) is necessary. Also, pavilions offering shade and shelter and outdoor cafe facilities should be built. I have always thought that Queen's Pier – currently in storage since its dismantling in 2008 – should be reassembled again next to the sea.
But it is possibly better to return it to its old location directly in front of City Hall and be one of the pavilions offering shelter. The new ugly road running in front of the buildings will need to screened-off and the Hong Kong Infrastructure Gallery – a much underused exhibition space – should be placed under the management of the hall to offer more public cultural facilities. City Hall is isolated at the moment, but with a sensitive renovation that retains its modernist features, and introduces brave and innovative outdoor architecture and landscape design to complement the revamped, comfortable interiors, it will easily continue to be Hong Kong Island's preeminent cultural meeting point.