Hong Kong in 2050: artificial islands, new look apartment buildings and 'urban living rooms' says architecture forum

Consider how much the city has changed since 1980, then think how much it will change in the next 35 years. Planners and creative types present ideas for how we’ll cope with rising sea and population levels, and more

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 December, 2015, 6:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 December, 2015, 1:48pm

Modern Hong Kong is a reclaimed city, a quarter of its developed land confected from Victoria Harbour. Will that hold us in good stead when climate change causes sea levels to rise, or leave the city more vulnerable? And, with more of us are packing into the city, how will urban planners house the masses if conventional building design no longer suffices?

SEE ALSO: ‘Rising sea levels will only happen around 2100, by then we’ll all be dead’: a surprising view from Hong Kong at Paris climate summit

Moreover, can you imagine Central’s Des Voeux Road becoming pedestrian-only? And can you foresee a time when air pollution so shrouds that light becomes the new currency? Our creative community certainly can.

All these scenarios, and more, feature in this year’s urbanism and architecture biennale, held jointly with Shenzhen, which invites Hongkongers to explore the future development of their city through three months of exhibitions, video presentations and lectures.

Shenzhen, China’s test bed for ideas, shares a new vision for cities - but it’s a work in progress

Hong Kong-based architect Yutaka Yano, co-founder of design studio Sky Yutaka and one of the biennale’s curators, said it was an important cultural event that gave citizens a forum to think about the future of Hong Kong from both an international and a local perspective. Contributors include academics, businesses, architects, planners, ecologists, fashion and product designers, filmmakers, photographers and students.

MAP Office, a multidisciplinary studio co-founded by artists and architects Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix, is mounting an exhibition, “Hong Kong Is Land”, that proposes building eight artificial islands. The exhibit, shown this year at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, was inspired partly by the effect of global warming on the world’s coastal communities, Portefaix said, and partly as a solution to Hong Kong’s pressing need for more usable space.

Its scenarios – some real, some fictional – include the Island of Land, a mobile territory based on the floating villages of oyster farmers and fishing families once common across Asia and still found at Lau Fau Shan and High Island in Hong Kong.

Another, the Island of Memories, preserves the digitally recorded stories of modern existence – images, texts, passwords – and projects them into the landscape. “A person’s life is contained on a memory chip that is added to the top of the mountain,” said Portefaix, the point being to create “a collective memory of a world in search of a peaceful sanctuary”.

The Island of Resources, in the middle of Victoria Harbour, is envisaged as a place of immediate supply in case of emergency. Stocked with commodities and “goods of all kinds”, it stands ready to provide food and medicine for people traumatised by natural disaster, such as an earthquake or tsunami.

Hong Kong in 2050: we’ll all be farmers, and today’s city will be but a memory

The Island of Surplus addresses the problem of Hong Kong’s waste mountain. In this scenario, trash is collected and recycled for useful purpose. Portefaix said: “Metal, plastic and paper are constantly relocated to the top of the island through the use of a single rotating crane. Trapping humidity and dirt, this new sediment quickly becomes a fertile terrain for various species of moss and plants, thereby proposing a new ecology of hope and life in a once heavily polluted territory.”

Olivier Ottevaere and Elsa Caetano, of Hong Kong-based architecture partnership Double (O) Studio, revised their award-winning House Me Tender (named best residential project in the Architectural Review/MIPIM Future Projects Awards 2015) for the exhibit “New Orders”. The idea is to expand on the use of precast concrete to build high-rises in Hong Kong by presenting a self-supporting structure made of precast volumes of different sizes and function.

Its design allows for flexibility of layout – units of varying sizes and shapes all within one building’s footprint – providing, Ottevaere said, “a more agile space” that goes further to meet the diverse needs and housing budgets of the urban population. It also challenges the typical podium tower model of high-rise architecture in Hong Kong and, he argues, treads more lightly on the environment because “you don’t need to raze a mountain in order to build this structure”.

Such a construction method was already possible, Ottevaere said. Plans for a nine-storey prototype have been developed with experts in the precast field; he just needs a developer willing to give it a go.

The Oval Partnership also presents an existing model – Wan Chai’s Star Street precinct – as an ideal way forward. The partnership has been heavily involved in the revitalisation of old Wan Chai – a public-private venture initiated by Swire Properties – to realise its vision for an outdoor recreational space used by the community as an “urban living room”.

As flats get smaller, says the Oval Partnerhip’s Peaker Chu Chi-wai, an inviting communal space where people can gather adds value to urban neighbourhoods.

This biennale encourages us to look ahead to 2050 and consider how we want, and need, our city to evolve
Professor Bernard Lim

The project builds on the colourful history of Wan Chai by “adding more layers”, he said. Transforming Dominion Garden in Queen’s Road East from what was virtually a gated wasteland into an engaging open park is, Chu says, an example of creating local identity by retaining historical references while adopting new methodologies. The public has been given ample opportunity to contribute ideas throughout the process because, as Chu points out, “it’s their living room”.

The 2015 Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (Hong Kong), or UABB(HK), to give the event its full name, is organised by the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, its Biennale Foundation, the Hong Kong Institute of Planners and Hong Kong Designers Association, with government body Create Hong Kong the lead sponsor. The chief curator is Christine Hawley, professor of architectural studies at Britain’s Bartlett School of Architecture.

Professor Bernard Lim Wan-fung, a director of the Biennale Foundation and chairman of the event’s steering committee, said it “is designed for a broad audience”.

“Hong Kong is a dynamic city that has evolved rapidly over the past 35 years,” he said. “This biennale encourages us to look ahead to 2050 and consider how we want, and need, our city to evolve over the next 35 years.”

The fifth edition of UABB(HK), with the theme “Visions 2050 – Lifestyle and the City”, takes place from December 11 to February 28 in Kowloon Park and at the Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre.