The good life at Union Square

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2007, 12:00am

People living or working in the area taking shape above Kowloon Station are on the cusp of a new era with the ICC Tower its icon. When viewed from the sky and at sea level, the ICC will be one of two monuments to finance that will form a visual gateway to Victoria Harbour.

While Hong Kong's skyline will no doubt gain a glorious addition, communities constitute people with their feet firmly on the ground.

Penthouses and luxury duplexes have already been sold in projects ranging from The Arch and Sorrento to HarbourView and One SilverSea, so residents are already in Union Square as builders toil below and - soon enough - above them as the ICC reaches for the sky.

Architects and planners are always keen to avoid repeating some of the flaws in earlier projects and look to other financial districts when guiding the plans for West Kowloon. Financial districts such as the City of London have been described as soulless when the last pinstripe has left for home, or the Friday night pub happy hour evaporates.

So architect Paul Katz's vision for West Kowloon seems a hopeful one as he describes the appeal of the waterfront city. It is one which would attract 'intellectual capital' to live and work, he said, and believed Union Square and other parts of West Kowloon should strive to meet the needs of such pools of talent.

Though he seems sceptical about West Kowloon's merits as a cultural hub, saying the Central waterfront should be left open to the public with arts facilities developed there, his argument about the merits of skyscraper living would be welcome in urban Hong Kong. But with this comes his point about developing such concepts as livable cities, with retail, leisure and public transport nearby.

For Katz this is the environmentally friendly way to go in Union Square. One in which people shun the car and take public transport, whether it is the MTR to Central, the bus to the proposed West Kowloon cultural district nearby or a late-night taxi to a restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui. Wishful thinking, perhaps, in a city where the latest Mercedes-Benz or BMW is an essential status symbol.

Union Square is going some way to create a sense of atmosphere with the Elements deluxe mall forming the centrepiece of the Kowloon Station complex development. It will have, after all, 1,700 parking spaces in what is being billed as Hong Kong's first 'park and shop' concept. Perhaps it is here where one would find the neighbourhood bar, that essential ingredient of communities, at least in the west.

Elements will also feature a 700,000 sqft landscaped garden on its roof deck, hopefully giving Union Square some precious greenery. The marketing mantra of '6,000 families earning 10 times the Hong Kong monthly household average' residing in the surrounding luxury apartments should be able to lure retailers and restaurants.

Katz's vision of an attractive environment for professionals to set up home, shop and golf tee looks like one that can be made a reality. Developers have been given ample opportunity with profitable projects, so maybe it is time to reach for another vision by giving West Kowloon another icon of distinction in the form of world-class cultural facilities.

Consider another view this time from a blog writer working in London's traditional finance hub - the square mile known as the City - home to the London Stock Exchange. 'Every community gathers together at 'watering holes' to exchange information of mutual interest. A jungle riverbank, a desert oasis, a City of London pub - each provides a focus for the tribe to gather for gossip.

'We may consider our lifestyle 'sophisticated' but our needs and motivations are basic to the human species. The first priority when planning a world financial centre is to nurture the 'watering holes' and cultivate the gossip networks.'

Some in marketing circles have been coy about the term 'Union Square'. It is said that corporate face is being saved by playing down the title, even though it is up in great fonts outside one of the residencies.

But it has a nice feel to it - even though it may smack of the civil war for American cities - and it is time both sides of Victoria Harbour ceased squaring off and embraced the new neighbourhood, however elitist some may deem it to be. With Hong Kong's centre of world finance already established, now is also the time to nurture the watering holes and cultivate a range of other networks - such as those of a cultural bent.

Tall storey

Height in floors of the ICC Tower when completed, which will make it Hong Kong's tallest building and the third- tallest in the world (in usable floors): 118

See forever

The floor at which there will be an observation point for the public, who will be conveyed there by a

high-speed lift: 100th

Star quality

The number of stars The Ritz-Carlton in the ICC Tower will boast: 6

Power house

Number of executives developers expect will be working at ICC Tower: 30,000

Shop shop shop

The square footage of the Elements shopping centre: 1m

Guangzhou in one hour

Number of minutes it will take to reach Guangzhou when the proposed rail link to the mainland network is built: 60

Let there be light

Area in square feet of skylights at Elements shopping centre - giving it more natural daylight than

any other mall in Hong Kong: 40,000