ARCHITECTS and designers have welcomed improvements in the design of government buildings.
They say the extent of the change is shown by the quality of a school for the mentally handicapped that won a top architectural award.
Many blamed tight budgets and standardised design for the lack of flair in official buildings, but this was being reversed as the public demanded more from its civic buildings.
The $11 million Chan Nam Cheong special school for moderately mentally handicapped children in Kwai Chung won the Architectural Services Department competition at the weekend.
'And thank God for that,' said renowned designer Remo Riva. 'The government sector should be leading the industry. It doesn't necessarily have to be expensive to be good.' Mr Riva, who prepared plans for the Entertainment Building in Central, was among five top designers commenting on the awards.
The special school was top among 11 entries because the 'courtyard approach of the design creates an inward looking environment which is both friendly and protective', said the judges including Architectural Services director Kenneth Chan Yat-sun and Regional Council chairman Daniel Lam Wai-keung.
Architectural Services chief architect Jim Beveridge, who designed the building, blamed the lack of innovation in many government buildings on the emphasis given to ease and swiftness of construction.
'Each architect in the department is working on 10 buildings at any given time. Resources are quite limited. That's why there are standardised buildings like schools and hospitals with standardised details.' Ian Butler, managing director of architects RMJM, said the Architectural Services Department was much more flexible in its approach compared to the 1980s.
'It's going along the design-and-build route, which for Hong Kong is very revolutionary. That decision will affect design standards quite a lot if it's handled properly,' he said.
The designers' favourite is the Bank of China Building. Several praised the building for the optimism it expressed.
But architects mourned the passing of many architectural treasures such as colonial buildings and arcade streets where columns were built at the edge of the pavement to provide a covered walkway.