Hong Kong will build the world’s most expensive (Sevens) stadium. Can it please look like this ...
The new Kai Tak Sports Park will soon be awarded to a consortium but how much freedom will the government allow in the design and construction?
As it prepares for its annual pilgrimage of sport and revelry during the Sevens, Hong Kong Stadium seems like quite the edifice amid one of the world’s most vibrant and densest hubs and just looks so darn inviting on television. Ah, but looks can be deceiving.
From the overburdened power grid and the abysmal catering options to the archaic local noise regulations and the little “big screens”, this is an analogue stadium in a digital era and that’s why the old barn is on its last legs.
The Hong Kong government announced in February it had shortlisted three consortiums to prepare tenders by June 29 this year to build and manage the much delayed, and greatly anticipated, HK$32 billion Kai Tak Sports Park to be completed by 2022.
If all goes to plan, in four years’ time the Sevens could be in a brand spanking new, state-of-the-art home.
Not everybody is happy, naturally, but in spite of the perpetual state of inertia from the Hong Kong government, it finally looks like this is going to happen.
HK$32 billion is a shade over US$4 billion and if you subtract the funds for all other related projects, like a 10,000-seat indoor arena and a 5,000-seat public sports ground, we are still left with more than US$3 billion for the jewel of the project: a 50,000-seat multi-purpose stadium with a retractable roof that will be the most expensive stadium ever built with every single cent of it from public funds. Go ahead, exhale.
The most expensive stadium is the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, opened last year at a cost of US$1.6 billion. However, the Las Vegas Stadium, which will play host to the soon-to-be Vegas Raiders, will be completed in a little over two years’ time and cost US$1.9 billion.
Of that cost, US$750 million is from public funds which has taxpayer groups in the Vegas area up in arms and they have promised to vote out of office the politicians responsible. But since you can’t be voted out of office if you were never voted in, the Hong Kong government has a huge advantage here.
In fact, there are a couple of massive advantages that the government needs to exploit to build the be-all, end-all stadium and a lack of political accountability is one of them. The other huge advantage is the location. Dropping this project into the middle of the most stunning urban vista in the world has built-in cachet that must be properly incorporated and utilised.
The bidding consortiums will have to adhere to the specs outlined by government-registered structural engineers, which will no doubt be onerous and impractical, yet there is still room to build something truly special.
Naturally neither the consortium nor government engineers are talking right now, but hopefully they are listening because there are lessons to be learned both near and far.
In 2013, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe heralded the awarding of the 2020 Summer Olympics to Tokyo as the dawn of a new, open era in Japan with an uber-modern stadium designed by renowned Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid as the centrepiece.
Three years later Hadid was dead and so was her uber-modern stadium design. Scrapped for a more modest and significantly cheaper model, this very embarrassing about face for Abe and friends also meant that construction delays forced the 2019 Rugby World Cup opening and finals venue to be moved.
So get it right first time, Hong Kong, and don’t let Hadid’s travails discourage you from doing something truly unique and memorable, like the recently opened futuristic e-sports stadium in Chongqing.
“I wanted a design that reflects the energy of these events,” said Hong Kong architect Barry Ho.
Maybe one of the consortiums can bring Ho on board as well because any stadium design here also has to reflect the energy and grandeur of the harbour.
The new stadium in Las Vegas will have not only a retractable roof but a huge glass curtain that opens on to the renowned Vegas strip and this is a must for Hong Kong and its iconic harbour.
The dilapidated Hong Kong Coliseum sits on the very same harbour and has nary a window in the place, a criminal and egregious design faux pas.
With its eight triangular translucent rooftop panels opening like a bird extended and a halo video board enclosing the entire stadium, Mercedes-Benz Stadium has already done the heavy lifting. It’s up to Hong Kong to take it to an entirely different level.
And finally, the food and drinks will have to be completely overhauled. Hong Kong Stadium has one beer on offer to go with some pretty horrible dining options. You want to know what a monopoly tastes like? Try a hot dog this weekend, but make sure your last will and testament is already done. The new Atlanta stadium has over 1,200 beer taps with a dozen options as well as 18 different caterers serving food.
Open up the world’s most expensive stadium with the current garbage fare and it’s guaranteed that story will write itself a hundred times over globally.
The simple truth is that today’s modern palaces are interactive experiences of the highest order. The game has changed dramatically and so has the scope and size of the Sevens, which will likely be the anchor event for the new sports grounds.
The winning consortium will have the benefit of unheard-of financial, geographic and political resources so there are no excuses. It’s game time.