• Influencer Q & A with Simon Fallon

    30 October 2020


    What is the key advantage of repurposing Hong Kong’s old building stock?

    Since the 1950’s Hong Kong has generally renewed its buildings almost every 50-60 years. With ever increasing demand for space and scale of modern commercial and residential developments, new developments can have adverse impacts both on the local built context, the heritage character and how it engages with the community of an area. The advantages of repurposing are both in retaining familiarity, being sustainable and also adding value back to a district or neighbourhood.

    If buildings have served their purpose why don’t we just pull them down and start again?

    “if it isn’t broken then don’t fix it’ is a well-established saying from T. Bert (Thomas Bertram) Lance, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget in Jimmy Carter’s 1977 administration. Although we cannot always as preserve all buildings due to being less suitable for their proposed needs, we need to reconsider the need for total demolition as technically they may not really be ‘broke’. With latest structural innovations, old structures can be renewed and strengthened to take considerably more floors. Greenland Development has done this in the former Water Board building in Sydney adding a further 30 storeys to an existing 32 level steel tower structure.

    If the land was of higher value would there still be a case to retain old industrial buildings?

    This depends on the developer’s overall goals. Yes, they could be retained depending on their character, age and what they might bring to the locality. Renovations of older industrial buildings can be achieved in less time and therefore the return on investment can be sooner rather than later with smaller impacts to the community and environment. However, if the zoning of an area/ district changes over time from say, residential to commercial, and the structure of the building is not suitable for this purpose then this is a perfect opportunity to restart and add a new landmark to the area.

    If the Government is so keen to repurpose the city’s old factories, why is there so much red tape involved?

    Hong Kong is very tricky when it comes to planning. Many observers call it the ‘ugly beautiful’ city where pragmatism and practicality can far outweigh aesthetics and what many see as common sense. Also, many older warehouse buildings may not fit within the Urban Renewal Authority master pans that require maximum usage of the site’s potential. This can then causes issued and delays in adapting these buildings. It also depends on their usage. Converting deep floor plates for some typical warehouses may not meet current planning guidelines for residential of commercial areas and therefor full-scale redevelopment is necessary.

    Apart from replacing the building services what are the major challenges in repurposing old industrial buildings?

    Making sure it meets the criteria for the latest planning and change of use requirements. Larger spaces may require additional fire egress, vertical transport (lifts) and fire proofing. Also access to natural light and ventilation. However, with broader thinking and good planning, old or new larger scale industrial spaces can become the greatest and most agile spaces for continuous adaptive reuse.

    What are some significant factors in adaptive reuse projects and what skill sets are required for these sorts of projects?

    Some of the biggest differences both to investors, architects and their tenants is the knowledge that the building has had a new lease on life, its purpose is renewed and adapted and hopefully with careful planning, can be adaptable to meet another 50 years of use.

    The skillsets required are a real understanding in the site’s context, its heritage and development restrictions and of course urban planning issues. Most importantly it’s to ‘Think before you draw’ by engaging with a creative team to explore the building’s real potential through creative idea sharing and collaboration.

    Through adaptive reuse can old buildings rival new towers in providing high quality commercial spaces?

    New towers have their place, both in new and brown field development sites and supporting urban regeneration. They don’t need to rival each other in quality space but what they can to is complement each other as integrated mixed developments that take both the old and the new together. This can support both the human needs for familiarity of area along with the growing needs for sustainability and urban renewal.

    “Today’s society is looking for more than the new building, they are looking for
    sustainability, mindfulness, provenance and within an identifiable community.”

    What are the business sectors that might benefit the most from repurposing old building stock?

    There are various types of sectors that can benefit depending on their overall business goals and spatial requirements. Examples are real-estate investments trusts that perhaps focus on more boutique commercial or hospitality offers, commercial developers and retail investment funds as well as residential developers who are looking for value added management as opposed to clean slate developments that are sold off.

    Can Hong Kong’s creative industries find a way to thrive in the city’s old industrial buildings and what is preventing this from happening?

    The creation of large-scale multi-use space is fundamental for the creative industries. Urban warehouse space has been a long standing back drop for these events. This does not necessarily mean we need to reuse all old buildings. These can also be created as new with multiple uses in mind. The 1111 Lincoln Road Car park in Miami Florida by Herzog & De Meuron demonstrates that a simply designed multi-use building can be both practical, iconic and be seriously cool by providing a stage set presence at night whilst alleviating the city’s traffic and parking issues during the day time. This gives the space a real 24-hour usage and increased life time. Developers need to engage architects and designers to think beyond the current purpose of the site and see where real long-term value can be added to ensure full usage and efficiency.

    Are there any examples of successful adaptive reuse projects in Hong Kong?

    There are many. The Tung Fat building in Kennedy town is a good example of seeing the potential of a residential structure whist maintaining and updating the character. Of course, the Tai Kwun development in Central has been a pioneering success through strong narrative, respect and consideration to the heritage architecture and new contemporary insertions into the site to adapt the space to the modern needs. We also completed the conversion of 1960’s Tong Lau in 379 Queens Road, Central by using the building’s framework to be readapted to meet modern lifestyle needs.

    Are there examples from overseas that Hong Kong could learn from?

    Hong Kong is quite unique in its tight urban form and land usage. It would be difficult to compare to other cities as space is really the issue. There is a growing trend for retention and transformation of existing structures to create new and innovative spaces that can be tailored to the discerning tenants who might want provenance and character. An example would be the relocated Central St Martins college in London, UK. They took series of large derelict heritage warehouses and created new contemporary architectural insertions to adapt the spaces to their needs. This approach was both respectful to the areas past and was an inspirational trigger for the rejuvenation a once very derelict area of London.

    About Simon Fallon

    Simon Fallon is the Hong Kong based Practice Director for PMDL architecture + Design, an International multi-disciplinary architecture and interior design practice with studios in Australia and Hong Kong.

    He has an extensive range of international experience across many sectors, having worked and lived across Europe, Australia and Asia during his career.

    More Features
    World Interior of the Year inspires new living in Taipei
    Building a future on the foundations of the past Born and raised in Taiwan, award-winning designer and architect Johnny Chiu is the founder of JC Architecture (JCA) in Taipei. A graduate from Columbia University he has lived, worked, and taught in New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Japan and the US. He believes that good design should be inspired by the needs of the individual, and that society [...]
    Designing for a contemporary generation
    Grand Gateway 66 is a flagship commercial mixed-use development located in Xijiahui, Shanghai, developed by Hang Lung Properties. (按此瀏覽中文版) The revitalisation project undertaken by Elena Galli Giallini Ltd., as design architect and interior designer, has involved the rejuvenation of the existing retail complex through a complete transformation of the 20- year old North building [...]
    Modern contemporary design by LW
    Since 1999, LW Design Group has established itself as a leading figure in modern contemporary interior design across the globe. PRC spoke to founding partner and CEO, Jesper Godsk about bringing Scandinavian flair to the forefront of hospitality venues. (按此瀏覽中文版) As the group celebrates its 20th anniversary this year by being awarded Interior Design Firm of the Year at the [...]
    Vertical Creative City Redefines the Commerical Workplace
    K11 ATELIER King’s Road, a new iconic mixed-use office complex in Island East, is opened for operations.  Even before opening its doors, it has attracted some of the world’s most prestigious global companies and top brands to take up tenancy. Spanning a gross floor area of 440,000-square feet, K11 ATELIER King’s Road stands on 728 King’s Road in Quarry Bay next to the Quarry Bay [...]
    Substantially Urban
    URBAN PROJECTS: a boutique architectural practice working on a large scale throughout Southeast Asia and beyond. Founded in 2003 and headquartered in Hong Kong’s Central Business District, the practice has delivered multiple projects since inception covering commercial, hospitality, cultural & residential typologies. (按此浏览简体中文版) The practice directors honed their [...]
    A Bookworm’s Dream
    An award-winning studio JATO Design transforms an ordinary bookstore into a modern haven for book lovers at Shenyang Jiuwu Cultural City, China (按此浏览简体中文版) For the Shenyang Jiuwu Cultural City renovation project in 2015, JATO Design was tasked with transforming a traditional bookstore into a dynamic, multi-use space – to be not only a shopping mall but also a cultural hub [...]
    Complex Facade Specialists – Permasteelisa Group
    Permasteelisa Group is a leading global contractor in the design, engineering, project management, manufacture, installation and after-sales service of architectural envelopes and interiors. Present in four continents, with a network of around 50 companies in 30 countries and 10 production plants, the Group generates a total turnover of around 1.1 billion euro a year. The Group brings its [...]
    Landmark 81 – A National Architectural Icon
    Landmark 81 tower is the tallest building in Vietnam and the 13th tallest tower in the world. (按此浏览简体中文版) Designed by Atkins for Vingroup, the largest developer in Vietnam, Landmark 81 is the centrepiece of their Vinhomes Central Park development located to the north of the city centre beside the Saigon River. Landmark 81 was originally conceived to uplift the profile of the [...]
    Magnum House – The Peak of Natural Design
    Jointly developed by Wing Tai Properties and Manhattan Group, La Vetta, located at the peak of Kau To Shan close to Shatin, is an example of a low-density luxury residential project making headlines in the Hong Kong property sector. (按此浏览简体中文版) Featuring 68 individual houses and eight towers of one to four-bedroom low-rise apartments, La Vetta is a masterpiece of [...]