• LWK + PARTNERS Director Gregory Leong shares planning & urban design strategies

    17 September 2020
    Gregory Leong, recently appointed Director at LWK + PARTNERS to oversee the Planning & Urban Design Team

    There is a fundamental difference between ticking all the boxes off a planning guideline and designing a liveable city.

    “Meeting planning requirements is important,” said Gregory Leong, recently appointed as Director at LWK + PARTNERS to oversee its Planning & Urban Design Team.  “But urban design goes further than the structural arrangement of buildings and land parcels.”

    The US-licensed architect has over 20 years working in Hong Kong, Macau, mainland China, Southeast Asia, and the US, and his expertise ranges from masterplanning, urban design, adaptive redevelopment planning and resort planning to architectural and landscape design.

    “Great urban design is about thinking what a city and its people really need. It involves striking a balance between policy objectives and human experience.”

    Achieving that balance requires both experience and intuition. Here he outlines four key strategies:

    Begin with an ‘urban image’

    When approaching a project, Greg always starts with the question ‘What kind of urban image do we envision for this city or district?’

    This image, rather than land parcelisation and infrastructure, will define the characteristics of the place and its spatial quality, and must be drawn from the city’s historical background, natural surroundings, geographical location, economic development and socio-demographics. The design blueprint is then conjured by curating a mix of landscapes, waterscapes, buildings of various heights and coverages, colours, materials, and so on, to form a distinctive style and impression for the project.

    “There is a delicate balance between planning, which is structured, and design, which is creative and requires thinking out of the box,” said Greg, “sometimes we have to break our own rules in order to achieve the best effect, because the rules cannot be catered to all situations. For instance, a common approach is to have a descending building height towards the water, but a taller, prominent landmark on the waterfront amid lower buildings may create a more interesting skyline, and a sense of identity. We must stay open to the options and be mindful of our choices.”

    The best urban designs came from balancing structured planning and creative design. Above, a rendering of Comprehensive Transportation Hub at Universiade Station, Shenzhen, China.

    Vitalise activity with mixed-use zoning

    “We need to think beyond economic and civic functions. As mixed-use schemes are fast becoming the default mode of development, land use zoning must keep up with the trend to allow flexibility, choice and diversity,” Greg explained.

    Commercial, institutional and recreational facilities are to be interpolated within residential clusters. Cities and communities that encourage local employment, creative solutions for the public realm, retail experiences that cater to all, spaces for pleasant evening runs, outdoor activities, street performances and sitting around with friends, are good responses to people’s increasing demand for a healthy lifestyle and their need to socialise with each other. The breadth of human activity should not be limited by pre-defined land uses.

    Land use zoning must keep up with the mixed-use trend. Above, a rendering of Zhongshan OCT Harbour in Zhongshan, China.

    Make places accessible and links efficient

    Commuting is a big part of urban life. Ensuring that people, regardless of age, background or bodily or mental states, carry out their everyday life with ease is necessary for building a world-class city.

    Urban efficiency is two-fold. Mixed-use neighbourhoods reduce the demand for commuting while greener transport leads to better environmental quality, which is why transit-oriented development (TOD) is at the centre of the movement towards liveable cities.

    TOD is at the centre of the move towards liveability. Above, a rendering of Comprehensive Transportation Hub at Universiade Station, Shenzhen, China.

    “TOD deals with railways and metro,” said Greg, “but the essence of our design is how to enrich peoples’ lives along the journey. In our projects we use underground spaces, sunken plazas, elevated cycleways and extensive pedestrian networks to facilitate and guide them for a richer urban experience. It’s also about encouraging people to live actively for health and wellbeing.”

    Today’s urban experience is increasingly defined by the time people spend on the street. “Walkability is vital for creating happy, healthy communities. This includes building comfortably wide sidewalks, designating car-free or car-light zones, and lining our streets with pleasing greenery,” said Greg.

    The essence of designing TODs is how to enrich people’s lives along the journey. Above, a rendering of Comprehensive Transportation Hub at Universiade Station, Shenzhen, China.

    Respect local culture, history and social relations

    Streetscapes and public spaces in particular must be designed according to local customs, culture, demographics and social relations.

    “In Chinese culture, for example,” said Greg, “The high street is the most natural and welcome form of public space. These traditionally vibrant places stimulate conversations, help local businesses thrive, provide dining spaces for family and kin to spend festive occasions together, and offer a nightlife entertainment hub. Large squares, on the other hand, are more of a western phenomenon, which is usually formed by churches and municipal buildings, to create relatively formal settings or serve commemorative purposes.”

    “Spatial relationships must be considered from both macro and micro perspectives,” said Greg, “Planning is top down and design is from the ground up. Our best result is somewhere in between. Functionality and spatial experience are equally important for any city, district or neighbourhood. Ultimately, we want our inhabitants to be proud of the place they live in.” 

    LWK + PARTNERS is a leading design architecture practice rooted in Hong Kong, with 1,000+ creative minds collaborating across a strong global network of 12 offices to deliver world-class solutions to the built environment.

    For further enquiries, please visit www.lwkp.com.

    More Opinion & Interviews
    Majority of Asia Pacific employees eyeing office return
    (12 August 2020, Hong Kong) Employees across Asia Pacific have adapted to extensive work from home arrangements, but most are eager to return to the office. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic across Asia Pacific, an average of 68% of employees surveyed regionally worked from home. According to JLL, 61% of the same respondents working remotely said they missed going to the office and would [...]
    Clean Air in a Covid crisis. But what next?
    Story originally featured in The Lighthouse Q2 2020 The Covid crisis has caused unprecedented disruption to society and the global economy. But the international call to action of widespread lockdown has provided an environmental silver lining. With industries shut down, pollution levels have been drastically reduced, with obvious signs of wildlife returning to places not seen for years, [...]
    Fly with light
    TINOKWAN Lighting Consultants celebrated its 40th anniversary at the end of last year and held the “Unity of Light” lighting design exhibition at the Hong Kong Art Centre. Company founder Tino Kwan showcased the company’s iconic projects and reviewed his outlook for the future, hoping to give the public a more detailed understanding of lighting design. (按此瀏覽中文版) “In my [...]
    Promote creative shared value
    (按此瀏覽中文版) What is New World Development’s vision for developing innovative new buildings? Every new project developed by New World Development (NWD) will always have some new concepts and designs. At the same time we try our best to include designs that reflect the characteristics of the district. The company also encourages the use of new-generation designers and [...]
    Hotel Design Reinvention
    (按此瀏覽中文版) What trends are changing the hotel experience in 2020/21?    Needless to say the Coronavirus Pandemic is the major game changer.   When hotels reopen guests will be looking at them with a much more critical eye on cleanliness, maintenance, social distancing etc.   Hotels will have to be designed with ease of cleaning a priority.  [...]
    Rising unemployment to weigh on housing prices
    (7 April 2020, Hong Kong) The unemployment rate and the JLL Mass Residential Capital Value Index have always shown a strong correlation, according to JLL’s Residential Market Monitor released today. Hong Kong’s unemployment rate has increased progressively to a nine-year high amid the COVID-19 pandemic and social tension. The rising unemployment rate in the city is putting pressure on [...]
    Hassell focuses on the value of design in a fast-changing world
    Globalisation, urbanisation, and digitisation present new opportunities and challenges for how we live. As the possibilities expand, people demand more memorable, personalised experiences. As the value of great places increases, so does the value of impactful design. International design practice Hassell has been invited to help reimagine the future of places and cities at forums including [...]
    Hong Kong remains the most expensive city for construction in Asia for third year running
    (8 May 2019, Hong Kong) Hong Kong remains the most expensive Asian city to build in, according to the International Construction Costs 2019 report published by Arcadis, the leading global Design & Consultancy for natural and built assets. Only four Asian cities rank within the global top 50 for high cost of construction with almost all other Asian cities being among the cheapest for [...]
    Reflecting on hospitality by design
      Like many of us I travel regularly, for both business and pleasure. When it comes to accommodation each trip presents a vast array of choice within a broad range of price points and hospitality offerings. Today’s market is much more than providing the potential guest with a bed, a place to wash, hang clothes and eat. (按此浏览简体中文版) On reflection, as I write this from [...]