Keep spirit of Central Market alive, says architect

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 April, 2011, 12:00am


Central Market does not need major surgery to regain its glory, says an architect who suggests a conservative approach to preserving the 72-year-old building.

Competing with three other teams for a design to revitalise the building, Kyran Sze, executive director of Aedas, said many of its architectural features should be kept intact.

The designs are on display to collect views for the project, overseen by the Urban Renewal Authority.

Sze said vegetable and meat stalls on the first and second floors - up to five metres wide - did not need to be removed and could be reused as shops.

'The small-booth layout resembles a traditional Hong Kong where tong lau [tenement buildings] had small shop frontages, creating a diverse scene within just a few steps,' Sze said. 'In modern shopping malls, shopfronts are often wider to draw in more customers, but this sacrifices a vibrant atmosphere.'

To increase space for business, it would be possible to let a shop occupy the same area over two floors and connect them with a stairway.

Two of the other teams have suggested adding new floors and new uses, such as a butterfly greenhouse and a swimming pool, and removing existing structures. But Sze said: 'I don't want anything artificial in the Central Market. It's not good to impose so many new uses that the original building was not supposed to contain.'

His team has assigned 28 per cent of space for shops and restaurants, 28 per cent for leisure and recreation facilities - including a jogging path on the roof - and 13 per cent for the arts. Greenery and public space would take up 31 per cent.

Big alterations proposed in Aedas' project, dubbed the Central Gateway, are: cutting an external wall in Jubilee Street to create entrances; an internal corridor on the ground floor to better link Des Voeux Road Central and Queen's Road Central; a wall with vertical greening above the main entrance; and a roof covering the atrium that can be opened.

The URA says it is not asking people to make a choice among the four designs. The public is asked to 'design together', but does not rule out a merger of some features from the teams. Sze said he would prefer that one design be chosen. 'Otherwise the spirit behind each of the works will be lost,' he said.

Bernard Lim Wan-fung, an architecture professor at Chinese University, said he preferred a design with few structural alterations. 'It's been a decade-long battle to save the Central Market from a land sale,' he said. 'We don't want to see this Bauhaus-style architecture become a mishmash.'

Dr Lee Ho-yin, director of the University of Hong Kong's architectural conservation programme, said he would not object to some alterations. 'What made the building special was its functionality and social value rather than aesthetics. Some change would be acceptable as long as the key design elements are kept.'