designing hong kong  

Buildings are no longer a bilateral matter between owners and Government

Following is an excerpt from the speech by C. Y. Leung, Convenor of the Executive Council of the Hong Kong Government to the Hong Kong Chapter of the American Institute of Architects on 4 December 2007. For the full text visit

"Government decisions cannot be justified solely on economic grounds. The intangibles are becoming more important in the public policy equation. The new dynamics mean that the public is a key stakeholder, not only in the use and design of public space such as the harbour, or the countryside, but also in the use and design of private space that have an impact on public space, in matters such as the walled effects of tall buildings and traffic impact. They have an interest not just in the present, but also in the preservation of the valuable parts of our past for the benefit not only of this generation but the also next generations to come.

Building projects are no longer bilateral matters between owners and Government, but are multi-lateral, with many interest groups of the public exercising their rights and claiming their stakes. The design, erection, alteration and demolition of buildings are no longer determined entirely by commercial profits. Social responsibilities are expected of their owners, designers, managers and occupants.

These are the constraints that we all face. They may appear daunting. But considering the many challenges we have overcome as a community, I believe we will find solutions. All we need is the creativity and imagination for which Hong Kong people are well known.

We have the most impressive settings for a modern city V tall and green mountains on both sides of an open space filled with water. The city areas are set on both sides of the harbour. From both sides, the architecture of buildings and the cityscape can be appreciated, much in the same way as the Suzhou double-sided embroidery is regarded.

We should make the best of our harbour and of the last round of reclamation in Central and Wanchai. We could give our new shoreline the best design and give Hong Kong the best features of a world-class waterfront city. The design of the new waterfront should not be engineering led. Urban designers and architects should set the form and function. Engineers can follow through with engineering solutions. We should let our imagination run free and let others tell us the downsides. We should run debates on the design options, broadcast them live and enjoy them.

Is it too wild an idea to ask for a swimming club or two to be located along the new shoreline in Central, at the same time as we tackle the quality of the water? We had nAandR in Western District and North Point 40 years ago. What about shore fishing in Central and Wanchai? Tennis and squash are good sports after work, why can't we add fishing and swimming, downstairs, in front of IFC II and Sun Hung Kai Centre etc? Our climate and geography are kind to many kinds of flora and fauna. My bird-watching friends tell me that 470 species of birds have been recorded in Hong Kong, about one-third the number found in China and one-twentieth in the world. My favourite is the red-whiskered bulbul. Quite a few are found on the Peak. Recently they are sighted around Southorn Playground in Wanchai. Some of the hundreds of kites which nest in Wong Nei Chung Gap come to the Central Business District to do fly-pasts outside offices, gliding in the air streams between high-rises.

For the size of Hong Kong, we have a huge number of butterflies, dragonflies and other beautiful insects. If the roof-top garden idea gets a reasonable following, before long we shall also enjoy the sights of colourful butterflies outside our high-rise offices. If we are bold enough, we could plant fruit trees on the pavements in public places, much like the citrus in Santorini and the mangoes in Shenzhen. The sights of fruits growing on trees are spiritually uplifting. People will be able to appreciate that gifts from nature are not meant just for the stomach.

The shores of Hong Kong and Kowloon, both new and old, should be properly dressed, in green, and not in bare, hard, straight-line concrete. The Drainage Department should not be overly concerned about fallen leaves. And no one should insist on finger-palms.

From here to the future, creativity and imagination remain the key. But here in this city, from the drawing board to reality, we have the best professionals. We have the most promising opportunity of blending high-density urban form with nature, and of blending work with play."