HKSAR – Forming the Landmark Atrium – Part 1

HKSAR – Forming the Landmark Atrium – Part 1

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Hong Kong’s urban circulation model is not far off from one of SPUR’s sections. There is a strong multilevel relationship in Central that suggests the idea of a city within a city: a continuous web of walkways, atria, overpasses and underground tunnels form a single 3 dimensional spaces which connect and disrupt different functions of the city.

Zooming in to the key piece- the Central Elevated Walkway, it is a 24 hour semi-open-air network that allows street performances, terrace spaces for picnics, closed air-conditioned spaces to avoid the summer heat and most importantly fast travel to ‘red hot’ points of interest, ranging from shopping malls to the City Hall and the Victoria Harbor front. The walkway is a hybrid piece of architecture being neither a park nor a bridge. The functions of the walkway exceed pure movement and create potential for diverse urban activity across different periods of time.

During public holidays Filipinas, Tourists and Central-bound Hong Kongese swell onto the bridges, probably since it is the easiest free-of-charge direct access across Connaught Road that reaches the actually publically owned amenities in the district. In the year 2008 there are more than 120,000 Filipina domestic helpers working in the city which have led to Hong Kong being called ‘Little Manila’. Cardboard-fencing occupation of said domestic helpers layers another dimension of urban engagement to the network,and now the walkway crew includes the debut of baggage-dragging affluent Mainland tourists who have come to spend thousands.

The complexity of the phenomena begs the question: How did the “City Without Ground” form? Has this network formed naturally through the people or is it the produce of a grand masterplan? If it is indeed planned through, what process has this planner employed to create something so successful for stakeholders including the general public, the state and businessmen alike?

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Hong Kong Land Holdings ltd founder Paul Chater was involved in the Central Reclamation Scheme as an informal Executive Council member of the colonial government and private investor. It is estimated that the reclamation scheme, which began 1889, introduced an additional 59 acres of flatland to the harbor front from beyond Des Voeux road, all the way to Connaught Road. Through this move, Chater gained an obvious head-start in the rat race, gaining leverage in obtaining properties from both Old Central and New central, allowing the possibility of the Landmark Masterplan. Central’s expansion is in direct correlation to the expansion of Chater’s power.

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The process of producing the site for the prototypical Landmark Masterplan was tedious. In the collection of Hong Kong Land’s properties, Gloucester Tower is the fourth iteration of the building on the same plot in 130 years time. Lane Crawford House was once owned by Russell and Co, the Sassoons, Babingtons, Ho Tung and Hong Kong Land, no lesser than seven changes of hand over the course of a hundred years, only for the building to be demolished in 1977 as part of the Central Redevelopment Plan. It is at the end of the 1950s that Hong Kong Land gathered a portfolio which included Alexandra House, Prince’s Building, Mandarin Oriental, Swire House and smaller pieces, all being between Connaught Road Central, Chater Road and Ice House Street that formed the basis of the network. – continued part 2

Bibliography:

Banerjee, T. (2000), The future of public space: beyond invented streets and re-invented places, Journal of the American Planning Association, 67 (1)

Cameron, N. (1979). The Hongkong Land Company Ltd.: A brief history. Hong Kong.

Cuthbert, A.R. & McKinnell, K.G. (1997), Ambiguous space, ambiguous rights corporate power & social control in Hong Kong, Cities, 14(5).

Cuthbert, A.R. & McKinnell, K. (2001), Public Domain, Private interest – Social Space in Hong Kong, in P. Miao (ed), Public places in Asia Pacific cities: current issues and strategies, Kluwer Academic Pub., Boston.

Frampton, A., Wong, C., & Solomon, J. (2012). Cities without ground: A Hong Kong guidebook. Rafael, CA: Oro editions.

Hong Kong Institute Planners,: 2001, Des Voeux Road Central Pedestrian Focussed Study, MVA Hong Kong Limited, Hong Kong

Le Corbusier. (1967), The Radiant City, Grossman Publishers, INC. & Faber and Faber Limited, Netherlands.

Moore, R. (2004), Notes on Public Space, in R. Gastil, Z. Ryan, (eds), Open: New Design for Public Space, Van Allen Institute, New York.

Moir, N.: 2002, The Commercialisation of Open Space and Street Life in Central District, available at

Rotmayer. (2010). Publicness of Elevated Public Space in Central, Hong Kong: An Inquiry into the Publicness of Elevated Pedestrian Walkway Systems as Places and Non-places.

Xue, C.Q.L., and Manuel, K. (1999), The Public Space of Urban Hong Kong, The Making of Public Spaces, The School of Architecture, Hawaii

2 Comments on “HKSAR – Forming the Landmark Atrium – Part 1

  1. It is interesting to know more about the connectivity of the central hub of Hong Kong. It reminds me of my experience as a kid when i discovered the closely weaved network in Central when i walked from 1 building to the other in a sheltered walkway. The walkway extends out and up to the hill in elevated ground and it reflects the wisdom of the planner has for dealing with the hilly site of Hong Kong. Regarding Gabriel’s inquiry on whether the City without Ground is formed naturally or intentionally under a grand masterplan, i have had a similar thought before. I believe it was the urban planner’s intention to connect every important landmark and buildings together because of its importance of a hub, and the central elevator with the residents and store owners’ demand to connect to different level of spaces.

  2. The elevated walkway system you mentioned connects from the land mark all the way to the waterfront area, as well as to the Sheung Wan district, bringing different buildings, programmes and the piers together. It would be fascinating to know how different developers collaborate together to create an elevated walkway system which has connected different commercial podiums developed by different developers.
    It is a strange experience to walk in central, in which the ground level are always segregated, while the elevated walkways are the new street levels where most of the commercial activities take place. Therefore, I believe that the commercial value of the elevated walkways was the major reason for different developers to collaborate and create an elevated walkway system.

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