Admiring Foster's humanist outlook

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 March, 2002, 12:00am

I refer to the report headlined 'Tower's Sunday service is domestic bliss for architect' (South China Morning Post, March 16).

As one of the architects of Hong Kong Station and co-author of the book of the same name, I have long been concerned about the livelihood of public architecture in Hong Kong. I believe that the role of urban architecture, in both the public and private sectors, must extend to the civic-minded service of the community-at-large. How refreshing it was, therefore, to read that Lord Norman Foster expressed delight at his HSBC headquarters plaza being put to public use every Sunday afternoon, as the Filipino community enjoys this unique urban space.

The architect conceived of the bank's headquarters as stacked micro-communities, the lowest of which would belong to the people.

Through this and other gestures, Lord Foster's superb creation brilliantly illustrates the noble aims of public architecture which can enrich a city.

The HSBC building reveals the humanist roots that characterise Lord Foster's work and reaffirms modern architecture's fulfilment of fundamentally democratic goals. But such aims are futile without the goodwill of a building's owners.

HSBC has admirably embraced its civic role by endorsing public use of its property, playing host to the heart-warming ritual played out each week beneath its glass underbelly. Here, a financial institution has liberated one of its greatest assets into the public realm, to the street life of Hong Kong where it belongs.

The bank's willingness to welcome, without prejudice, the public domain on its doorstep is to be commended and should serve as a role model for some of its less hospitable neighbours, who reveal their underlying mean-spiritedness as they erect barriers to prevent Sunday gatherings.

Such landlords should feel negligent in failing to accept their civic duty.

Meanwhile, the public can take heart that some architects and their more enlightened clients will continue to see modern, socially-responsible, attractive architecture as the standard-bearer of urban civility.