Harbourfront Commission must avoid piecemeal initiatives

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 August, 2010, 12:00am

Your editorial ('At last, real hope for a harbour for the people', July 24) suggesting a plan to develop buildings with alfresco dining on a small site by City Hall is premature.

In the first place, plans for the surrounding area - specifically, the P2 road - need to be defined. A tree-lined boulevard like Singapore's Orchard Road would suit alfresco dining; a busy thoroughfare like Fenwick Pier Street would not. Context matters. Lan Kwai Fong works, in part, because its approach from Queen's Road runs up a slope that slows traffic.

Second, the competitive picture needs to be clarified. Restaurateurs considering an early project will want some assurance a much stronger project won't be announced a year or two later. Equally, planners must ensure that an early initiative won't compromise a critical project coming later.

A restaurant complex will be the waterfront's single most important anchor. The project now described isn't sufficiently ambitious. A notional concept I developed (see www.queenspier.com) illustrated an anchor at much the same location by combining three benchmark restaurant complexes (Sydney's Cockle Bay Wharf, Singapore's Boat Quay, and Manila's Greenbelt).

Most important, our new Harbourfront Commission needs to avoid piecemeal initiatives while it delivers on its pledge to produce a master plan. It must look carefully at the entire waterfront and envision a whole greater than the sum of its parts. This leads me to a related point and the exchange of letters between Winston Chu Ka-sun ('All the better for locals to design harbourfront', July 31) and Kyran Sze ('Local architects are up to the job', July 16) discussing whether local architects possess the talent to 'design' our waterfront. That is not a material issue at this time.

The commission must develop a strong concept and plan before turning to developers and architects (whether local or international) to shape the buildings and public spaces. Anyone who doubts this should consider our greatest waterfront success to date: Our having avoided developing the nonsensical roof that was to cover West Kowloon - in part, because a growing chorus asked what would go under the roof. Architects' renderings too often overwhelm reason.

Our protection lies in a coherent plan that addresses the function that should underpin form. Having said that, there is a project the commission should build early: a temporary building to showcase plans for the waterfront.

Fifteen years ago, Berlin set out to redevelop an enormous site where the Wall had stood. The first building up was the Info-Box, a landmark structure that exhibited models of the new developments and provided a viewing platform overlooking the construction site. It won international acclaim and became Berlin's leading tourist attraction.

This temporary use would be a smart project the commission could advance early via a design competition, even as it works to develop the waterfront concepts the building will exhibit.

Dick Groves, Wan Chai