Master's vision of practical beauty

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2012, 12:00am


Hong Kong has no need of iconic buildings but simply architecture that takes care of people's needs, says Japanese master architect Arata Isozaki, who is working with the Urban Renewal Authority to revitalise the historic Central Market.

Isozaki, 82, one of the world's most-sought after architects, recounted his changing impressions of the city over the past 50 years during a trip to Hong Kong last month.

When he first visited half a century ago, the hills around the city, even The Peak, were dotted with squatter huts, and the sea with boatpeople. He witnessed the rapid change in the cityscape on later visits in the 1980s.

'The HSBC building by Norman Foster was built. It represented a new form of architecture in the world. I thought this city was a good testing ground for architecture,' he said.

Thirty years on, Isozaki, having created influential projects around the world such as the Team Disney Building in Florida, the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha, and the Museum of Contemporary Art at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, is leaving a footprint at Central Market.

He said the city no longer needs iconic architecture as in the past, as the population and the built areas have rapidly increased.

'Hong Kong is different from Qatar. In Qatar, where I have projects, I never know whether anyone will be using the buildings I design. In Hong Kong, there's always life and energy and it's the other way round. You have to think what sort of architecture best suits people's needs.'

Isozaki, who is working with local architect Vincent Ng Wing-shun on the new design for the four-storey Bauhaus building in Des Voeux Road Central, said he wanted to pay more attention to the everyday needs of people instead of just creating something eye-catching.

The original philosophy behind Bauhaus architecture was to create buildings that were simple but beautiful - typically cubic in shape with flat sides and a flat roof. In an article he wrote, Isozaki said he wanted to preserve this spirit for the public. The project, dubbed Urban Floating Oasis (UFO), will add a glass box on top of the 73-year-old block, to create more space for leisure facilities.

'We will avoid a dazzling and visually protruding design for UFO,' he said. 'It is a simplified glass box that harmonises with the old building and surrounding commercial towers.' The most advanced structural techniques and materials would be used to celebrate the new life of Bauhaus, he said.

The site will contain small shops, restaurants and open space. The Urban Renewal Authority will look for business operators this year.

However, the project is on hold due to a judicial review sought by a Hutchison Whampoa subsidiary over the use of its car park in the nearby Cheung Kong Center. The challenge has cast uncertainty on the overall zoning plan of Central, and the URA is reluctant to submit the project to the Town Planning Board for approval until the case is cleared.