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Sky City in Causeway Bay (Thesis 2002/2003)

By : Wong Chi Yung, Jonathan

Monstrous video screens, hypnotic image flux, stereo sound booming into the urban canyons, incessant pedestrian stampedes, roaring buses and trams, frenzied commercial madness cramped within high-density conditions… all these complexities have germinated Hong Kong’s commercial core, Causeway Bay. This is where Hong Kong’s consumer culture gets its identity.
In accordance to the rapid growth of commercial development in previous decades, Hong Kong has executed a “High-Land Cost Policy”, which has driven costly land prices even higher. Landowners and building developers alike struggle to gain the maximum plot ratios under current building regulations, making super high-rise buildings inevitable. Hence the potential of Sky City. However, behind the prosperous skyline, people are still forced to walk through the narrow, polluted and congested streets. Traffic jams and their associated consequences are real experiences for anyone who has ever been there.
This thesis initially sought to address road congestion. Therefore the chosen site was within the busiest section of Causeway Bay. The goal was to develop a high-rise complex constituted with service hardware such as ‘sreets’, “gardens’ and “plazas” elevated above ground. The complex positions itself as a connector between major buildings, providing them with multifunctional support such as shopping, dining, entertainment, and (of course) working and living. Sky bridges and sky gardens are introduced at different levels forming a sky network to alleviate congested pedestrian flowson the ground plane.

Tutor’s comments
In a traditional school of architecture, in which I work, architecture is understood as a destination where people go to and stay. Streets are supposed to be different, if not the complete antithesis of “destination”. It can be a destination for some people, but a place of movement for many others, even a starting point for a new historical beginning (a new building is planned along the street, for instance). Whereas streets present indeterminate conditions compared to conventional buildings, and are built for change and speculation, a building has traditionally had a specific purpose. It is conceived and built as a final product. This misunderstanding of architecture becomes a serious problem when the buildings become higher, larger and denser. Old conceptions of “architecture” can no longer predict or manage the full complexity and dynamics brought about by such intensifications. This thesis is an attempt to understand the reality of high-rise building which acts more like a vertical street than a building. It is a destination, as well as place for movement. It is a starting point for change, because building form and organization in this project did not associate with any particular function. It is a “building” only in the sense that it still has a skin protecting people from the elements. The skin might reflect particular conditions of the site and climate, but it is not meant to reflect what is inside.
The process of working with the student was exciting. The early stages of the project naturally involved site observation: problems of congestion, pollution, heavy vehicular traffic and pedestrian safety. He then conceived a series of footbridges connecting main commercial buildings. The question of “street” in relation to architecture led to abandoning unhelpful academic ideologies. In other words, minds were made open to new realities. Street and architecture were investigated as a hybrid. Nevertheless, this was followed by a long struggle to reconcile the new concept with “proper” high-rise building form. In surprising contrast, building regulations were never an obstacle to innovation. I had to encourage the student to see that the “proper” form was a result of a visual fetish – superficial and therefore having no basis in reality. Once again, a problem of academic ideology.
I was pleased that the resultant form was the outcome of site analysis, environmental requirements and building regulations. Again, as elsewhere in the design studio, building form was generated by operational criteria, rather than formal composition.

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