• Megaloposis and Architecture

    21 November 2011

    In November a conference was organised by the Hong Kong Institute of Architects (HKIA) as one of the signature events to celebrate its 55th anniversary. The all-day event, entitled Megalopolis and Architecture, was held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and attended by more than 600 professionals, academics and tertiary students who were attracted to the latest thinking on the future development of city planning and the role of architecture in such a context.

    Acknowledging the phenomenon of “megalopolis,” defined as a clustered network of roughly adjacent metropolitan areas, a group of 20 local and overseas experts shared their insights on what could be done to achieve a well-balanced living environment in the face of unprecedented growth in population and urbanisation. 

    Foreseeing Hong Kong as part of the “megalopolis” in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region, Chief Executive, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen opened the conference with a welcome speech addressing the urgent need to link up more closely and more effectively with nearby cities. He cited from United Nations-Habitat’s estimation that the population of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong-Macao-Zhuhai currently stands at around 150 million people, in a region that would become one of of the most competitive in the world by 2020 according to the Chinese government. Recognizing Hong Kong’s many strengths, he says the PRD  “is a relatively wealthy one with a dynamic manufacturing base. It is also quickly transforming into a global hotbed for ideas, innovation and creativity.”

    Mr Tsang acknowledged the role and contribution that the architects’ have made to building modern Hong Kong stating: “Great architecture not only has to look great, it also to be great for the environment, great for the end-users, great for business and great for our cultural heritage.” Aware of the bigger challenges ahead, he says “one of our most pressing challenges is cross-boundary connectivity”, which demands long-term development of our region by facilitating transportation, economic and social integration within the PRD.

    Keynote speakers included Secretary for Development, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Secretary for Transport and Housing, Eva Cheng, Urban Renewal Authority Chairman, Barry Cheung, as well as renowned architects such as Rocco SK Yim, Professor KS Wong, Paul Katz, Daniel Libeskind, Keith Griffiths and Rem Koolhaas (via video simulcast).

    Addressing the conference, Secretary for Development, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor shared her firsthand observations and insights about “What Makes Cities Great”, illustrated with a Powerpoint presentation that showed photos of her overseas trips to cities like London, New York, Paris and Singapore. Lam noted that Hong Kong is a unique city where rapid urbanisation and nature co-exist, but suffers from many problems such as pollution, urban decay, loss of street life and monopolistic shopping malls. Quoting American urban activist Jane Jacobs, Lam stressed that these city problems are caused by success, rather than failure, and for a city to be successful, it needs strong leadership and executive ability, public and private partnership, a commitment to a long-term planning,  as well as shared vision by Government, business and community.

    Taking cues from successful cities, Lam disclosed the government’s plans for the future, including the development of more waterfront promenades in urban areas like Hung Hom and Kwun Tong and turning Kowloon East (Kai Tak, Kwun Tong and Kowloon Bay) into Hong Kong’s second CBD after Central. She drew laughter from the audience when she corrected Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s mistake of referring to the area as “East Kowloon” in his policy address. “That’s lousy in terms of branding,” she says.

    Daniel Libeskind from New York delivered a passionate speech about the philosophical aspects of architecture by addressing its intangible qualities. According to him, architecture is a language of the unknown, not just a postcard image of a city. Without it, megalopolis will collapse into an anonymous non-entity. Also, Libeskind was fascinated by the emotional power of architecture, saying it provokes people’s emotions and vulnerability, especially traditional and historical architecture, which is often implied and felt in the inexplicable. However, he advised that “copying old things into contemporary spaces won’t work,” and urged architects to learn from traditions and to come up with something original that creates an emotional link with users.

    On the other hand, Rocco Yim puts his priority on how architecture can improve the lives of those using it, as he believes architecture is the art of problem solving that brings about environmental and spiritual well-being and that this ultimately contributes to the larger common good.  By showing design plans of his previous projects as case studies, Yim takes into serious consideration the humane and functional aspects of buildings. For example, the new Legislative Council complex at Tamar features sidewalks built on gentle slopes to guarantee pedestrians a view of the harbour. He concluded that the questions of “looking good or doing good?” would be one of the most pertinent questions for architects to reflect upon in this age of the megalopolis.

    Paul Katz, designer of some of Asia’s tallest skyscrapers, explained why urban density is key to a sustainable future. Drawing on his previous experiences with projects such as KPF high-rise buildings in the Pearl River Delta and Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, as well as current mixed-use projects in New York City and in London, Katz argued that density is a crucial way to grow cities rather than sprawl, for it has proven to be better for increasing human interaction and connectivity and it’s increasingly important for high-rise buildings to serve multiple purposes, such as retail, cultural and environmental.

    Katz also stated that Europeans’ attitudes towards high-rise buildings are changing. He said, “They thought it was awfully egotistical,” without realizing that the economic power of a city can be enhanced by increased urban density. Thus, it’s an architect’s social responsibility to start putting inspiration and magic back into high-rise buildings, where as once they were under-appreciated as mere objects of real estate developments. “We saw a great opportunity in high-rise buildings as a way to improve the city through our response to human needs,” he says, adding that architects play a vital role in the process and scientists and engineers wouldn’t be able to deal with the problems that take on an artistic and cultural dimension.

    Video

    PRC Magazine - The Centenary 100th Issue


    Asia's Most Iconic Buildings 2000 - 2020 were nominated by the readers of PRC Magazine. 100 projects were selected and put to a public vote from 21 Oct to 08 Dec 2019. The Top 25 projects were revealed at the PRC Magazine Centenary 100th Issue Launch Party & Cocktail Event, held on 19 December at The CODE.

     
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