Mr. Shangkong

Sydney's Opera House shows how Hong Kong can hit the high notes

Just as rivalry with Melbourne drove the harbour city forward, HK can draw inspiration from its tussle with Shanghai and gain self-confidence

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 3:07am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 7:58am

Last week I was in Sydney. Even on a business trip it is hard to miss the two scenic landmarks in the city: the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. They both play significant roles in the city and are more than just special examples of its contemporary architectural history.

How the Opera House was built may sound similar to what our very own ultra-expensive West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) project is going through. In 1957, Danish architect Jorn Utzon won the bid to design an opera house in Sydney. But in 1966, amid disputes over budget, design and local political problems, Utzon resigned from the unfinished project, which sparked a controversy.

How the Opera House was built may sound similar to our West Kowloon Cultural District

Eventually, when the Sydney Opera House was completed in 1973 it quickly replaced the older Harbour Bridge as the internationally recognised symbol of Sydney. Indeed, it's not just Sydney - the Opera House is now widely considered one of the world's most distinctive buildings built in the 20th century.

The story of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which was officially opened in 1932, is in fact a story of long-time competition between Sydney and Melbourne. Does this sound similar to the rivalry between Hong Kong and Shanghai? Melbourne, once also widely known as "Marvellous Melbourne", was more influential and powerful in both political and business fronts than Sydney in the 1880s. Melbourne held two huge international exhibitions in the 1880s, bringing it world attention.

Later, both cities suffered in the 1890s depression and Sydney surprisingly recovered far more rapidly than Melbourne from the economic crisis.

When the Harbour Bridge was opened in 1932, almost overnight it became the dominant international symbol of Australia. Australian media described the Harbour Bridge as an "image coup" for Sydney and Melbourne never recovered from that, although it did successfully host the 1956 Olympics. Melbourne later lost its bid for the 1996 Olympics and Sydney won the rights to stage the 2000 Olympics, also known as the Millennium Olympic Games, announcing a brand new era for Sydney.

In Hong Kong, our WKCD has apparently become over-budget and over-politicised, and is perhaps burdened with overly high expectations by the public. Rome was not built in one day. It took Sydney nearly 15 years to get the Opera House going. If you focus more on result than process, then the 15 years spent on the Opera House would be measured as a success despite its up-and-downs.

The management of WKCD is under huge pressure and the most important question it faces is not about time or budget, which are already in doubt, but rather what the project can deliver to the people of Hong Kong (and the world) if we spend another 10 years on it.

What Sydney can teach Hong Kong is something simple - be open, be self-confident and then just carry on.

If you don't worry about the competition, it doesn't mean the competition will just disappear. But if you don't trust yourself and your future, nobody can really help you.


George Chen is the financial editor and a columnist at the Post. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in print and online. Follow @george_chen on Twitter or visit