LARRY Oltmanns has advice for Asian cities who might want to emulate Hong Kong's new convention and exhibition centre extension: 'Don't! Use your own local symbols in design and construction and avoid Western influences.' Mr Oltmanns, design architect for the complex and a partner in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, said a city should create a convention centre that reflected its unique economy, culture, and characteristics. 'A distinctive design can both complement and strengthen the surrounding neighbourhood,' he said. 'Above all, do not copy the 'big box' look of many convention facilities in the United States.' Hong Kong's $1 billion convention centre extension will never be forgotten by anyone who visits or sees the building. It is also a dramatic symbol of Hong Kong's economic confidence for the 21st century, resembling a great bird about to soar toward mainland China and to the city's future, he said. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council said the extension would generate about $33 billion in additional export orders and value-added economic benefits for Hong Kong every year. Event bookings for the centre's combined facilities already are running ahead of original projections. So it is understandable that other cities in the region may want to follow Hong Kong's example and build centres of their own. Mr Oltmanns said there were significant risks attached to such major investments. The Hong Kong complex is one of the few Asian convention centres to operate at a profit. This is due partly to Hong Kong's position as an Asian hub, which means people and events are automatically attracted to it. The success of the complex is due also to its location in the heart of the city, near hotels, entertainment facilities and efficient transport. Mr Oltmanns said location and size were of prime importance. 'Don't build your facility in an outlying area where land is relatively inexpensive,' he said. 'Although that location will save money in the short run, it will cost a convention centre dearly over time in lost revenue.' To be successful, a convention and exhibition venue had to serve its city's or nation's current economic stage. The facility must also anticipate and encourage the next phase of economic growth by attracting new business and markets. Many cities in China and Vietnam had first-phase economies, he said. These needed trade marts that provided booths of about 10 square feet, each with a desk and displays, to help expose their new industries to the market. But many Asian city and national governments tended to build ahead of themselves. The Philippines was still largely a first-phase economy, but the lavish Philippines International Convention Centre in Manila did not realistically serve that market. Consequently, the centre was grossly under-utilised, Mr Oltmanns said. South Korea had showed that it understood the need to allow for changing economic conditions in the development of trade centres. The Korea World Trade Centre in Seoul had begun largely as a trade mart for Korea's first-phase economy. Far-sighted officials had now embarked on the conversion of the trade mart space into meeting rooms, restaurants, shops, administrative offices, and a training centre. A new 218,000 sq ft extension, which would hold a convention hall and exhibition space, was also being built and will catapult the Korean complex from a first-stage to a third-stage facility.