Time to give us the buildings we need

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 June, 2012, 12:00am


Debate among architects about whether buildings should be 'interesting' or 'good' is long-running and heated. Japan's Arata Isozaki, who is helping revitalise the historic Central Market, has weighed in by contending that Hong Kong has more than enough iconic structures. Our city is firmly on the architectural map, he argues, and we should put greater thought into building with the everyday needs of people in mind. With recent governments prone to making grand - and pricey - statements with public infrastructure projects, it is a matter incoming chief executive Leung Chun-ying's administration would do well to consider.

Hong Kong's skyline is famed for its stand-out buildings, the Bank of China Tower, the International Finance Centre and HSBC's headquarters among them. Which is the most iconic is a matter of preference, but there is no argument that each enhances our city's international recognition. No government planning was involved beyond zoning. The process was organic, driven by companies wishing to project their strength and image. They reflect the good economic times, for the firms behind them and for Hong Kong, and there is no reason why such signature buildings should not continue to go up.

Successive governments have nonetheless wanted to get involved. Leading architects were brought in to design the airport and West Kowloon arts district. While each serves a functional need, the designs were also chosen with Hong Kong's brand in mind. Buildings meant to make a statement also come with a corresponding price tag - the airport's Terminal 1 cost HK$10 billion and the arts hub, still under construction, is budgeted at HK$21.6 billion with more funding sought.

Iconic buildings turn architects into celebrity chefs. When confronted by mouth-watering delights, they feel compelled to whip up even greater dishes. Isozaki has made plain this is not his intention with the market, which he insists should meet needs. It is a philosophy the new government has to embrace as it plans for our future.