Japanese master architect Arata Isozaki has appealed for Hong Kong buildings officials to relax certain codes to save his design for the historic Central Market.
Isozaki, 82, who was in town yesterday to unveil the design with the Urban Renewal Authority which is in charge of the project, said bureaucrats' insistence on more fire-escape stairways would compromise his work. "I understand every city has its own planning rules," Isozaki said through an interpreter.
"But [too many stairways] would ruin the architecture and the space. It will also make the building inconvenient to use."
The project, dubbed Urban Floating Oasis, will turn the 74-year-old Bauhaus structure into a complex of arts and culture venues and affordable eateries, opening in about 2017.
Teaming up with local architectural firm AGC Design, Isozaki proposed adding a glass box-like structure on top of the market to create more space and to make an old-and-modern contrast.
The addition would serve to emphasise the horizontal nature of the Bauhaus architecture prevailing in Hong Kong and around the world in the 1930s, as opposed to the later pursuit of height and skyscrapers, he said.
The team wants to make use of the existing escalator system that links the second floor of the market to surrounding blocks as fire-escape routes, in an effort to limit the number of new, intrusive stairways, which run from the roof to the ground, to four.
But the Buildings Department does not accept escalators as escape routes, insisting there should be six roof-to-ground staircases, which would entail demolition of some existing structures.
Isozaki said he hoped as many structures as possible of the old market could be kept. In coming up with a lightweight-looking skybox, he had worked with a structural engineer specialised in quake-proof designs in Japan and come up with 10 options.
The architect said he had had high hopes for the project.
"Now the market has a new face to show to the world; I hope people will help it live long and make good use of it through arts and culture."
The authority said it would continue to explore with the department ways to strike a balance between conservation and fire safety. It said it had yet to finalise the cost estimates, and it expected inflation would push the final sum over the HK$500 million budgeted in 2009.