Making movement easy
In the second instalment of our three-part series Site 3: A city on the cusp, which covers liveability, connectivity and smart cities, Nigel Smith speaks to Eli Konvitz, Director of Urban Planning and Design at Atkins*, about what he would like to see from Site 3 to ensure the best connectivity.
Getting the lay of the land
Henderson’s US$6.5 billion bid is a record-breaking price for a commercial site in Hong Kong. The move by Henderson is an unequivocal show of confidence in Central’s future, particularly its Grade A office space and retail markets – a statement that we can’t overlook.
Winning this bid has cemented Henderson as a major landlord in the area, confirming the belief that Central is Hong Kong’s primary hub and providing a massive boost for its credentials as part of the Greater Bay Area (GBA). Henderson’s plan puts the retail portion of Site 3 close to one million sq. ft., some 58% of the total Gross Floor Area. Together with the IFC mall and The Landmark’s retail portfolio, Central will take Causeway Bay’s crown as Hong Kong’s most extensive high-end shopping area.
"Most experts we’ve spoken to have focused on the local aspect, but Site 3’s physical position means it will be central to Hong Kong’s globally projected brand"
What needs to be noted, especially from a connectivity point of view, is that Site 3 is a multi-faceted project with high public expectations on deliverables. And its connectivity is not just limited to the physical; as Eli suggested, it can be viewed on a scale of influence, from global to meso to local. Most experts we’ve spoken to have focused on the local aspect, but Site 3’s physical position means it will be central to Hong Kong’s globally projected brand, and it will be critical to how Hong Kong interacts with the rest of the world.
Supporting Hong Kong’s global brand
All of the iconic pictures of Hong Kong regarding tourism, business and various other sectors show the harbour, and Site 3 will be part of those pictures. These are the photographs that represent Hong Kong and place it with other top-tier cities worldwide.
“It will become a key signifier that will shape Hong Kong’s global presence,” says Eli. “So, we have to know what we want from the intangible connectivity between the site and the rest of the world: what does it say about this city and its people? How does it attract people and business from elsewhere?”
"As an international finance centre and Tier-1 city on that global stage"
As an international finance centre and Tier-1 city on that global stage, Hong Kong has a visual identity, like an establishing shot in a movie. If we see the Eiffel tower, we know we’re in Paris. When people see our harbourfront, with its iconic buildings, bustling ferries and one of the most recognisable skylines in the world, they know this is Hong Kong.
Site 3 will be a striking visual part of those pictures. “So, make no mistake, this will be globally visible,” Eli says.
Urbanists, architecture critics and real estate professionals worldwide will be looking at Site 3, writing about it, critiquing everything about it. It will be essential to determine how the world views us.
Central already has iconic skyscrapers, including Henderson Land’s The Henderson, designed by Zaha Hadid for completion next year and its IFC complex, the HSBC headquarters and the Bank of China. Site 3’s height limitations ensured this could not be another skyscraper. “This can be something that significantly adds to the existing urban context,” Eli says.
Hong Kong in the GBA
Site 3 will become the new symbol of Central, which is itself at the heart of Hong Kong’s identity in the GBA as the centre of financial, legal, and professional services. While there are many different pillars to Hong Kong’s intended role in the GBA, it seems clear that the best-recognised and most-talked-about element is being the international financial centre and a gateway to the rest of the region.
“We might ask what Site 3 can do to bolster and support that role,” Eli suggests. “Beyond offering prime commercial office space for the sector, locating institutions related to these GBA pillars at Site 3 would demonstrate commitment to that vision for Hong Kong .”
"Henderson mentioned in a media briefing after the announcement that it is willing to work with other companies to deliver the best for Site 3"
Henderson mentioned in a media briefing after the announcement that it is willing to work with other companies to deliver the best for Site 3. Is there an opportunity to develop Site 3 with attractions orientated around target businesses and their people to build a purposeful end product?
Vertical space is quite limited on Site 3, hence the flattened, multi-tier design we see in Henderson’s renders of their vision. Yet, as a large site of pristine, level land, right on the waterfront, slated to be the most significant transport hub in the city, it is a gem that any developer would gladly add to their portfolio. The land is bounded by the IFC, the General Post Office and the ferry piers.
On the waterfront
Many cities have re-imagined their waterfronts in recent decades as more leisure-oriented sites, and Hong Kong is no exception. Central is the most extensive ferry terminus in Hong Kong, and ferries are a vital part of our overall transport system. The ferry piers are the central station for anyone wanting to get on a boat to Kowloon or any of the outlying islands.
This underscores Site 3 as the North Central Waterfront, a travel node that people transit on their daily commute. It is also a place to pause along the waterfront, simultaneously a destination and a thoroughfare.
This active movement of people makes the site a corridor for commuters, travellers and tourists alike, linking the ferries with nearby travel modes. “It’s a place of transition,” Eli says, “between work and leisure, home and abroad, and between the city and its waterfront. We have the chance to do something interesting.” So, while Site 3, located between multiple movement modes, is not quite a Transit Oriented Development (which is something Hong Kong does quite well), it could be considered a Transit Adjacent Development or TAD.
"IFC mall is a classic example of dealing with a TAD by focusing on its commercial aspects."
IFC mall is a classic example of dealing with a TAD by focusing on its commercial aspects. Here, travellers change their mode of transport, from taxi to train, or bus to MTR. “The mall is effectively a loop, a ring,” says Eli, “And if you are connecting between transport modes, you will use at least part of that ring. All of the shops in that ring have the opportunity to attract you as a customer.”
While Site 3 links commuters to Central’s dense CBD, it will also act as a respite for office workers who want to shop or get some fresh air during their work-time breaks. The first phase will be completed by 2027 and offer 340,000 sq. ft. in retail space. Its close proximity to the Landmark and IFC Mall, which have been home to luxury retail for decades, offers these brands the opportunity to expand. The second phase will be completed by 2032, providing 600,000 sq. ft. retail space and an underground connection to the Central MTR Station.
Eli mentions how St Pancras Station in London accommodates Eurostar and regional trains simultaneously as it became a multi-use destination and maintained its cathedralesque atmosphere. A key example is how the regional rail located at the far end of the station links to the main entrance via a long, open corridor of shops where passengers and visitors can buy food, clothing, other bits and pieces. It has been highly successful, and there is no reason it cannot be replicated here.
Walking the walk
Just as Site 3 will project a global image, it is also essential that it enhances Hongkongers’ lives. The retail portion, and public spaces, could help draw a higher footfall by providing a new social destination for people to gather and enjoy the waterfront area. It could also extend into the IFC Mall’s retail ambience via footbridge towards eastern Central, especially when Phase Two kicks in in 2032 and connects Site 3 to the Central MTR station.
“There are very few modern outdoor public walking environments in Hong Kong that you can really love,” says Eli. “I would like to see Site 3 as more of an urban experience that prides itself on its connection to the local community.”
Henderson offers two office blocks and one multi-purpose block, all linked at podium and roof levels. However, Eli wonders if an evolution could include multiple smaller building masses with varied routes and spaces that create an urban destination. Could it prioritise the lower levels for open space too?
"The walking areas should almost be a village that reaches towards the waterfront and recreates the conceptual link between town and the harbour"
“I would love for this to make more of cultural and F&B elements. The walking areas could almost be a village that reaches towards the waterfront, creates great and easily-accessible public spaces, and recreates the conceptual link between town and the harbour,” Eli says. “This idea might also enable more flexibility for re-use and change over time, compared to a single large “groundscaper” with a quite ambitious and less-accessible roof-garden gesture.”
Showing the way ahead
Site 3 can also be an example of Hong Kong’s future. Carrie Lam has said the city will strive to be carbon neutral by 2050. We know the challenges we have in terms of climate change, and while we have a world-class transport system – Hong Kong is not yet an exemplar of sustainable building. Now its dedication to lowering carbon will be on full display. We have seen the possibilities in The Henderson’s plans.
We should expect similar considerations for Site 3, not only in the building fabric but also with the overall approach to the public realm and creating extraordinary environments that don’t rely on air conditioning. There are many ways to cool space, including dry misting, shading, fans, or creating a micro-climate by using plants to buffer heat, as seen in Singapore’s pavilion at the Dubai Expo.
Everyone wants Site 3 to succeed; it has to prove that this kind of development is viable and that Hong Kong can do it. The two-envelope bidding process is a new direction allowing the Government to choose holistically suitable proposals for Hong Kong. The recommendations for Site 3 are a fantastic opportunity to set the blueprint for the next generation of purposeful, sustainable, liveable development.
Artist rendering of Henderson Land’s design for Site 3. Source: Hong Kong Government
* Atkins are the engineers who designed the reclamation for site 3