Designers oppose mall, high-rise on HQ site
A group of designers has proposed keeping at least the facade of the west wing of the government headquarters instead of demolishing the whole structure to make way for a high-rise office tower as planned.
In a proposal submitted to the government, the Institute of Urban Design asks it to keep the facade and allow additional structures to accommodate international non- governmental organisations and public exhibitions.
It also questions the need for the tower and an accompanying underground shopping mall, but says that if these go ahead the government should keep an interest in the historic site instead of handing it over completely to a private developer.
Demolition of the west wing is proposed as part of a plan for Government Hill after the headquarters moves to Tamar. The other buildings would be preserved.
'We shouldn't sell our legacy to a private developer. This is a historic asset of our city,' the chairman of the institute's public affairs committee, Ivan Ho, said.
The site could be managed by the developer for 25 years and then returned to the government, he said.
'The need for the commercial office tower is questionable, as it does not add significantly to the perceived shortage of grade A offices in Central. We've already got IFC and Landmark, we don't need another shopping mall there,' Ho said, adding that new offices and a mall would worsen traffic congestion. The deep excavation for the underground mall could also threaten the historic stone wall and old trees on Battery Path.
Under the Development Bureau plan put out for public consultation, which ends on Friday, the central and east wings will be preserved while the west wing will be replaced by a 32-storey commercial block with an underground shopping mall and car park. Two-thirds of the west wing site is proposed as a public garden, a size similar to Statue Square.
The plan has drawn opposition from critics, including historians who saying the entire Government Hill should be preserved intact.
The three government offices, built in the functionalist architectural style, were deliberately designed in the 1950s as low-rise to preserve the harbour view from Government House. The combination of the offices, Government House, St John's Cathedral and the French Mission Building gave rise to the name of Government Hill as early as 1842.
'The buildings in simple and functional style were deemed very modern in the 1950s, when streets were filled with tenement blocks and buildings that were full of decorative features,' the institute's president, Bernard Lim Wan-fung, said.
The design of the new tower, with curtain walls, and a mall for luxury brands was incompatible with the historic ambience of Government Hill. 'We don't mind adding extra structure to the existing facade, but it should look harmonious with the surrounding history,' he said, adding that the west wing entrance should be kept as a link to the past.
The institute urges the bureau to introduce civic uses into the revitalised west wing, including offices for international civic organisations such as the Asian Development Bank, Unesco, humanitarian organisations, cultural councils and the Red Cross, to enhance the city's international image. It also calls for space to exhibit the history of Government Hill and promote international trade and culture.
Lim said the best way to protect the district would be to rezone it into a special protection area and govern its planning with a set of design guidelines, to ensure the area was planned with careful pedestrian links to other historic blocks and not dwarfed by tall buildings
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said she would prefer to see the whole west wing retained but agreed the government should keep ownership of the site and that the space should be returned to the community. 'Details should be studied carefully so as to ensure the public access under the public-private management model,' she said.
Central and Western Concern Group member John Batten said the institute's proposal merely appeared to 'appease' the government. 'The institute correctly identifies all the reasons why this site should not be sold: the important historic integrity of the site; the present lush green setting... It appears to strongly favour a minimal-impact position. However, its [fa?ade-keeping] proposals do not fit into its arguments and reasons for not selling the site.'
Other groups also have reservations about demolition of the west wing for commercial use. The Institute of Architects said the 1959 block was a fine example of a 'climbing building' on a natural sloping terrain with varying floor plans on each level. The west wing was one of the few buildings with such characteristics.
It also said officials should provide the public with actual figures of potential revenue for consideration, if they claim financial pressure is a reason for the office development.
It suggested the government study the missing option of keeping the west wing. 'The public needs to debate the two [redevelopment and preservation] schemes with financial and cultural merits of both schemes made available,' the architects' group said in a position paper presented to lawmakers earlier.
An alliance of 14 NGOs also objected to demolition, saying redevelopment would generate construction waste while endangering trees and historic integrity. It urged the government to extend the three-month consultation to one year.
The bureau said it would consider all views given in the consultation.