As the new century is born, workmen will begin construction of civil service headquarters on the former HMS Tamar site in Admiralty. That may seem a distant date, but there is need for immediate public action. Everyone who cares about the future of Hong Kong must start pressing today for the Government to put the design of this structure out to worldwide competition. The prospect of a towering new structure on this site of gigantic potential being designed by a government architect is sufficient to send a thrill of horror up the spine of the most hardened Philistine. Just look across the harbour at the Cultural Centre and imagine an architectural twin to this monstrosity rising on Hong Kong Island's shore. The announcement last month that the Government would not auction the one-hectare site worth at least $10 billion, came as a shock to the commercial community. The explanation that the land would be used for a new government headquarters was, to me anyway, even more traumatic. What an ungodly waste of one of the world's prime pieces of real estate. Now the die has been cast, the Government must put the public good before the welfare of the civil servants who will occupy the magnificent location. The administration must announce, and swiftly, its unswerving determination to see erected on this site a soaring, imaginative, thrilling building. It must be a bold statement of the Hong Kong spirit, a vision of the future in glass, marble and cement. It is an opportunity for Hong Kong to make a definitive statement of its pride and presence; it is a chance that must not slip past. A kilometre to the east, there is a perfect example for government to study. Trade Development Council (TDC) visionaries did a wonderful job of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, standing now as a symbol of the future, a thrilling 21st-century hub for international trade. The SAR administration needs to at least match this structure with its own architectural vision of our new society. The TDC showed the route to follow, with 61 companies worldwide answering their invitation to a competition. The final design was a joint effort between local architect Wong & Ouyang and Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Civic and political leaders are universally concerned. Heung Yee Kuk strongman and provisional legislative councillor Lau Wong-fat has called for a 'remarkable' building on the site. From the other side of the spectrum, Citizens Party leader Christine Loh Kung-wai is worried about lack of vision in public buildings, allied with ignorance about making them environmentally friendly. One key to successful planning, I believe, is to insist this civil service headquarters does not turn into a protective ghetto in which bureaucrats huddle behind spiked railings. They must have their offices and work-space, but general parts of the building should be open to the public. Above all, there must be free access to the waterfront, as in Tsim Sha Tsui. We need a 'think big' approach to this project. We need to be galvanised to prod and poke politicians and SAR policy-makers to demand something absolutely unique, a striking architectural statement that for the next century will be a visual exclamation mark that proclaims with pride: 'This is Hong Kong'. It should be our brand statement. Here should stand the linchpin of the entire development of the vast reclamations planned between Causeway Bay and Central. There is fear and worry about this. Professor Patrick Lau Sau-shing, head of the Department of Architecture at the University of Hong Kong, warns town planning in Hong Kong is a slipshod affair, with everything being slapped together in an ad hoc manner. Tao Ho, the respected president of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, worries that the building will be developed in what he terms the 'cemetery school' of landscaping. This is the familiar scenario when a building is designed and erected without consideration for its surroundings, like a gravestone in a cemetery. The Government needs to call a no-holds-barred, no-costs-spared global contest for the best concept and design. It is vital, in my view, for a properly conducted architectural contest to be launched, inviting the builders of the world to strive to win. A statement of intent along these lines must be made now to stem rising disquiet about the fate of the site. We have professional architects in Hong Kong and people of imagination who can organise the competition, from a practical and aesthetic point of view. What is needed urgently is a small committee packed with members who display initiative, artistic flair, practicality and, above all, vision. Admittedly, such a contest is no easy task. You cannot create living art by committee; imagine half a dozen people standing over the shoulder of Michaelangelo as he painted the Sistine Chapel. First of all, there is finance. If we seek the best brains and talent in the world, we will have to pay for it. Well, the Government has plenty of money and Hong Kong is not short of utopian philanthropists. I am sure that a discrete approach to one of our generous billionaires would soon come up with the necessary seed money. Second, specifications for the building and its surroundings must be tightly written. This is going to be the heart of our administration, with thousands of civil servants using it as a daily workplace. The Chief Executive's office will also be there. Obviously, access is going to be a major consideration, as is security. The public must be able to get into the building with ease so transport links have to be an integral part of the scheme. Architectural competitions have obvious pitfalls; the Sydney Opera House may be the most beautiful modern building in the world but it ran famously over budget. The biggest danger, however, is to hold a competition, then reject the winner and erect a building to another design. This is why organising, judging and vetting committees must comprise men and women of universal respect and undoubted integrity; their decision must not only be final, but must be seen to be fair. The Government should also be involving the public in this project. What is the point of having the most exhilarating building in the world if it is called Central Government Offices or some other tawdry title? In conjunction with the design contest for professionals, let's invite everyone in Hong Kong - or the world for that matter, including tourists - to compete to name the building. Hopefully both the structure and its name will evoke pride and passion in what should be the capital of Asian enterprise in the 21st century.