How Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Sports Park aims to be part of people’s daily lives, rather than just a place for major events
- An architect behind the project, slated for completion in 2024, describes it as a kind of neighbourhood, catering to the local community as well as visitors
- The sports park will host the Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament, major soccer matches, concerts, and other sports and entertainment events
The scale of Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Sports Park is enormous.
When it is completed in 2024, dozens of athletic facilities, including a 50,000-seat stadium, will be spread out over 28 hectares of the former Kai Tak airport.
It’s the kind of project that could easily go very wrong, resulting in an alienating landscape of oversized buildings used only for the occasional tournament or soccer game.
But the architects behind the sports park say they are committed to avoiding that fate.
Instead, they describe the athletics complex as a kind of neighbourhood – a varied and diverse landscape that will host not just major events but also a mix of daily activities.
“It needs to be a place for people to visit, to have as part of their daily lives, as well as hosting the greatest sporting and recreational shows on earth,” says Richard Breslin, a Hong Kong-based senior principal and director at Populous, the Australian architecture firm that designed the sports park.
Populous is an old hand at designing these types of athletic parks. It has also worked on the KL Sports City in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and facilities for the London 2012 Olympics, in the UK.
“These are all projects where multiple buildings and concurrent site works were required, with teams spread across many offices yet coordinated and aligned to deliver the project,” Breslin says.
That has given the firm an idea of what it takes to turn a sports park into a nice place to visit even when there isn’t a major event taking place.
Breslin says a conventional approach would be to consider the maximum number of people in attendance at the stadium and then design passages to accommodate that huge flow.
But that would have created a series of vast spaces that would be empty most of the time.
“The majority of the time there aren’t 50,000 people going to events, and the precinct needs to offer a lot more than being a safe pedestrian route for tens of thousands of people,” he says.
The design needed a scale wide enough to accommodate masses of sports fans and concertgoers at one end, and “one person reading a book in the park” at the other.
That led to a master plan that aimed to knit the sports park into the adjacent residential and commercial developments on the old airport site, as well as into the neighbourhoods of Kowloon City and To Kwa Wan just beyond.
There is what Breslin describes as a “hierarchy of spaces”, from the main stadium on the shores of Victoria Harbour to smaller green spaces and community sports facilities on the edge of the site, next to new and existing residential areas.
Along with the main stadium, the sports park will be home to a 10,000-seat indoor sports centre, a 5,000-seat public sports ground, an outdoor event space, a health and wellness centre, and a waterfront “dining cove”.
Connecting all of it will be the Kai Tak Sports Avenue, an axis that begins outside Sung Wong Toi MTR station and cuts diagonally through the sports park, connecting all of its major facilities with a promenade along the harbourfront.
“The design builds up layers of activity along the avenue,” Breslin says.
It bisects the indoor sports centre, lined by a ribbon wall with an “undulating design” that “creates secondary and tertiary pockets of activity – places for alternative sports, [and] cultural and event-themed pop-ups”.
There will also be plenty of retail spaces – this is Hong Kong, after all.
The avenue then arrives at the Main Plaza, a landscape deck that sits atop Shing Kai Road and bisects the sports park.
The plaza allows for unimpeded pedestrian flow, and also serves as the primary entrance to the main stadium, which will have a retractable roof and a flexible pitch surface that can alternate between artificial and natural turf.
When it opens in 2024, this is where the Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament will be hosted, along with major soccer matches, concerts, and other sports and entertainment events.
In this regard, it is meant to supplant Hong Kong Stadium in Happy Valley, which seats 40,000 but has been plagued by access issues and noise complaints since it opened in its current form in 1994.
Populous was not only tasked with master-planning the sports park but with designing each of its individual facilities.
Breslin says the main stadium’s architecture was inspired by a pearl: “Deliberately pure of form, an object sitting within the park, its simplicity [belying] the complexity of what lay within and the magnitude of the single built element.”
The curved facade sweeps upwards to hide the mechanics of the retractable roof. The facade consists of triangular metal panels that will catch the light, giving the entire building a shimmering effect.
The harbour-facing side of the stadium will be clad in glass to open up views of the water and skyline.
Breslin says the goal is for the main stadium to appear as if it is floating above the ground, with a “sense of weightlessness” that underscores its role as a landmark.
By contrast, the indoor sports centre and public sports ground are meant to disappear within the greater whole of the park.
“The overall massing of the buildings, and facade design, relate at a human scale to their surroundings,” Breslin says. “They do not try to dominate, but to welcome.”
Rounding out the plan is a collection of green spaces. With the airport redevelopment projected to accommodate 158,000 residents, plus office workers and visitors, Breslin says the sports park needs to provide “a place where locals can relax, exercise and spend time outdoors”.
A shared-use path for pedestrians and cyclists called the GreenWay will weave through the park, linking up outdoor ball courts, playgrounds, fitness stations and lawns.
Breslin is particularly excited by the opportunity for the sports park to become a real urban space more than just a cluster of athletic facilities.
“[Developments] like Kai Tak Sports Park must cater to the needs of their local community as well as attract visitors,” he says, “and offer enough variety of activity, facilities and events to draw them back.”