Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Central Oasis – A Self-deceiving Game (May 2015 Update)

(A courteous version appeared in South China Morning Post in April 2011)

Heaven in Mind
Central Market with title of preconceived ideas on design regeneration.

The charismatic leaders: Barry Cheung - Chairman of the URA and Carrie Lam - Secretary for Development, attending the project reception in North Korean style.

Something better left undone if it has been idle for a long time.  This might also be true in the case of the Central Market building.  On 1 April, 2011, the second public opinion survey under the exercise of “Design Concept Roving Exhibition” was launched by COCAC (the Central Oasis Community Advisory Committee).  The first public survey was carried out in February 2010.  Previously to all this, there had been numerous consultations, be they formal and informal, professional or amateur, on the fortune of the disused building since 2003.

Public Survey with Populist Intents
Road show of 4 design schemes to collect public opinions. 
Is it an honest survey of preferences or manipulation of data?

The latest survey, under the ubiquitous title of “Central Oasis”, is perhaps the dumbest but definitely the most deterministic I have seen.  Considering the general public with limited knowledge on building regeneration, the title has all the suggestive connotation of a leafy sanctuary in an undesirable surrounding.  With a more neutral name, for instance, Central Market Re-vitalization Proposal, public responses or indeed solutions from architects might have been less restrictive.  Sadly in the roving exhibition, we are presented with four architectural schemes that have little difference among each other.

4 Architectural Schemes with little to remember
 Scheme 1 observations:
Proposal eager to embrace planting all over the place. 

Scheme 1 interior:
Multi-media and butterfly glass house as odd neighbors
 in the middle.

Scheme 2 concept:
Greenery again, this time as plant wall.  The architect even pushes this contrived idea of gateway as architectural concept.  He should be sent back to architectural school for training.

Scheme 2 interior:
Apart from atrium, we have the LED screen and shops that complete the familiar Hong Kong mall concoction.

Scheme 3 observations:
Fashion victim with the design methodology of magazine flipping.

Scheme 4 in section:
Obvious question on exceedingly heavy loads due to
planting soil and swimming pool on the existing roofs.

 Scheme 4 observations:
TFP have seen many well preserved projects in the UK.  The British practice seems not to be very enthusiastic to add “features” to the existing building.  One has to admire the British common sense approach.

Scheme 4 interior:
It is the only scheme to have reinstated the food market; to me, still the best activity for the building and the neighbourhood.

To summarize, all of them have an overwhelming dispersion of greenery almost to the point of excessive.  It is so tokenistic that they look like a Fosteresque West Kowloon project on a smaller scale.  There are also the unmistakable atria with skylights that resemble our familiar shopping podium.  The four architects are so afraid to upset the general public that a jumbo mix of activities, active and passive, are loaded into the building.  In terms of functional arrangement, there is no particular vision I can deduce from the schemes.  One has serious doubts that the 3-storey building can accommodate so much activity considering all relevant supportive areas have not been accounted for.

Most Stupid Public Survey under the Sun
Partial view of the public survey on the 4 schemes.  It takes some idiot to design and some to accept such these stupid questions.  If not, it is an evidence to evade responsibility in case something goes wrong.

Why do we have to go through stage after stage of consultations and public surveys?  Has the committee little confidence to choose the best from an open competition?  Knowing that COCAC was closely affiliated with the Urban Renewal Authority, the public body much criticized for producing ultra-expensive realty projects with developers, we can speculate that that the authority cannot afford to take any blame in case the final building were not a popular one.  Just as the 2011-12 budget policy, the authority, likened to the government, is ready to succumb to populist demands instead of making critical judgment. 

Let Collective Memory Rest in Peace
We might be pushing too hard to re-create the magic
when the conditions have vanished.

It might be politically incorrect but given the above analysis, it rekindles the unwelcome question:  Do we really need to preserve the Central Market building in the first place?  If one studies the few lines of flimsy description from the exhibition booklet on the building: “It is an example of the Streamline Moderne architecture, and is characterized by slim horizontal lines and functionalism.  In particular, the façade of horizontality and streamline design is regarded as a special architectural feature”, there is really very little worth keeping architecturally.  Nor are there any significant heritage related to the building that captures the collective spirits of Hong Kong.  In a broader context, the nearby re-generation projects of Central Police Station and the Police Married Quarters have already been targeted to perform similar functions under the public entertainment-cum-arts theme.  Why are we doing a third project in such proximity?  As an architect, I honestly do not see any merit in keeping the Central Market building and the idea of goose-feeding activities within.

URA, probably not anyone’s favorite were there a public survey.


It is a sad and ridiculous situation one can draw so far:

The re-vitalization is a product of a weak government who has made a feeble decision to delegate the task to a mediocre committee in order to save an unattractive building.  We are now at the stage of responding to a stupid survey based on four mishmash architectural schemes.
The Big Sleep (update in May 2015)
(photo South China Morning Post)
AGC Design in association with Arata Isozaki was chosen by the authority after the selected competition to rehabilitate the market building in November 2011.
 “… It’s still sitting idle at its prime Central location – six years after the government said it would be turned into an oasis.
Public toilets are all that’s there.
The Urban Renewal Authority was entrusted with the project in 2009. Its chairman recently said the original redevelopment cost estimate has tripled to HK$1.5 billion and asked whether it should proceed. …”
The editorial column of The Standard (Hong Kong) gave the above response on 22 April,2015 days after the URA hinted that the chosen design might be shelved.
Token revamp on surface at present.
After four years of design wrangling and executive indecision, the stalemate of zero site progress was broken by the URA with intention to direct public opinion. It is a fact that the chosen scheme is riddled with problems and controversies; still more, the fundamental direction of the market site and the competition were strongly contested from the beginning.
It is not known how much longer the idling of this precious piece of land will last. Given the fact that the city’s prime office areas are in severe shortage, we are all losing out every single day the derelict building is bathing in sunshine.


Anonymous said...

fare comments through out accept your conclusion as an architect you should see some merit in retaining such a building if you consider the issue of heritage within the local context of Hong Kong. Also to state that the building is unattractive seems to me to reveal a poor eye for design on your part. Maybe rather than ranting negative retoric you should apply your passion and energy in showing us all what you would do with the existing building.

Sundial said...

Thanks for your comments. Being negative has a positive side in Hk where there is no critical comments, I mean real critical, especially in the arts area. As a result the general public do not have the ability/knowledge to make judgement regarding arts. This is not on a par with the so-called World City make-believe mentality. Regards