Creative project sways judges

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 May, 2012, 12:00am


Environmental concepts, innovation and multiple functions were combined in one groundbreaking design that earned Rocco Design Architects the Medal of the Year for local achievement at the Hong Kong Institute of Architects' (HKIA) annual awards.

HKIA judges this year chose the firm's work on the new teaching hotel complex at Polytechnic University (PolyU) for special recognition. What impressed them was the 'three-in-one' design, with a relatively compact site in east Tsim Sha Tsui being redeveloped to accommodate the 262-room Hotel ICON, PolyU's school of hotel and tourism management, and residential quarters for senior university staff.

'The major challenge was having three distinct types of user in one building,' says Charles Kung, senior associate with Rocco Design Architects. 'We had to look very carefully at the best location for each function, the entrances, circulation patterns and operating hours. You need to separate but also allow for linkages, especially between the school and hotel.'

Kung explains that the form and orientation of the building were also determined by the urban context and the desire to 'explore a new architectural language of co-existence'. To this end, it made sense for the hotel entrance to face Science Museum Road to give guests easy access to tourist areas, transport, restaurant and the harbour front. Logically, the school's main entrance leads on to footbridges close to the main PolyU campus, and the staff quarters open on to a quiet, tree-lined garden.

Given the site's proximity to the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, environmental concerns were a key factor at every stage of the planning process. As a result, the vertical projections of the staff quarters' fa?ade were designed as acoustic fins to minimise the effects of noise. Also, all openable windows were angled away from the toll plaza, while the hotel's guest rooms were located at higher levels above all the neighbouring buildings.

'We have a set-back and open deck on the ninth floor, where there is a health club with spa, swimming pool and gym,' Kung says. 'This also helps to avoid a 'wall effect', while a large central portal opening allows both air and visual permeability for the neighbourhood. A glass box hotel entrance with a three-sided glass enclosure fills the lobby with natural light.

'The building's footprint is voluntarily and deliberately set back from the site boundary. This allows greater open space for the public and more greenery, which we felt were important considerations.

The overall result is an architectural expression that positively addresses the dynamics of contemporary urban lives and amalgamates seemingly conflicting uses into an integral whole.'

As day-to-day users of the building, the school's faculty members and hotel executives are quick to commend the design and functionality. They point to the immediate advantages of having the school and training hotel effectively under one roof and the opportunity that presents for hands-on experience, conducting research and testing out innovative concepts and technology in hotel management.

'This arrangement greatly enhances teaching, observation and communication,' says Dr Tony Tse, assistant professor and programme director for industry partnerships at the school of hotel and tourism management. 'The integration of the school and hotel is not just physical but [has an impact on] curriculum design as well. All hotel-related subjects have been revised to allow for greater use of the available facilities so that students can observe, participate in projects and learn about the hotel business in a real-world setting.'

About 160 students have undertaken internships of different durations in the hotel's first full year of operations. The original plan to target an upscale clientele looking for deluxe accommodation and high standards of service is proving successful, and both students and full-time hotel staff appreciate the chance to work in a building now regarded as iconic for its shape, structure and standout features including a 230-square-metre vertical garden.

'The architects have designed an environmentally sensitive building for different functions that enhances energy efficiency and user comfort,' says Richard Hatter, general manager of Hotel ICON and a PolyU adjunct professor. 'It is a stylish testament to Hong Kong's creative energy and vibrant art scene.'