What Hong Kong waterfront needs is a maritime centre

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 June, 2010, 12:00am

Secretary of Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's letter in support of the Maritime Museum's relocation to Pier 8 ('Maritime Museum will be part of vibrant waterfront at Central', May 19) again raises serious questions about the government's approach to planning the Central waterfront.

In drafting a concept for the Central waterfront two years ago, I inventoried the 'anchors' found at other waterfronts - major uses that could help brand our waterfront and generate essential visitation. The list was short, once I eliminated uses committed to West Kowloon Cultural District (museums and performance venues) and uses that don't fit our circumstances, such as a stadium and a theme park.

I published a draft concept (at www.queenspier.com) that was principally anchored by the inner harbour and restaurant complexes that drive the benchmark waterfronts in Singapore, Sydney and Baltimore. A relocated and expanded maritime museum figured prominently in the concept.

So, what's wrong with relocating the Maritime Museum to Pier 8?

First, the scheme isn't sufficiently ambitious. The current museum collection, moved to Pier 8, might draw tourist traffic from the Star Ferry, but it is hard to imagine it attracting a large audience. Installing the existing collection would squander one of our few remaining anchor alternatives.

I toured the significant museums in Sydney and Baltimore and spoke to managers about the challenge of finding an audience in an age spoiled with entertainment choices.

At their suggestion, I replaced a maritime museum with a maritime centre that could include other elements aimed at broadening its appeal.

For example, my draft imagined a collection of docked ships (about which I interviewed Stephen Davies, director of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum). It illustrated one notion of the icon the building could become, by capping it with a must-see attraction - an enormous moving sculpture, formed from a working crane and shipping containers.

Second, the museum's relocation is premature. The government doesn't have a serious concept for the Central waterfront.

Worse yet, it has proceeded with filling in what could have been its strongest anchor (an inner harbour), crating off what could have been its signature element (Queen's Pier, set on that inner harbour), and leading with an act waterfront experts would universally condemn by introducing a major road.

Anchors have special design requirements.

They need to be planned and positioned so they achieve a critical mass that draws people to the waterfront, then, pulls them along it. So far, the government has conducted a piecemeal process that will yield a whole less than the sum of its meagre parts. Mrs Lam's letter closed with the word 'vision'. Stephen Davies and the museum would be well advised to wait until the government develops one.

Dick Groves, Wan Chai