June 2000


The Portofino

Headland retreat

Sipping a pina colada by a pool with a sweeping view of the cove where the odd boat briefly sails before disappearing round the headland, one perhaps would be forgiven for believing oneself being on a resort island off Greece. But then the mobile phone rings, business beckons, and it's back to work in Central in half an hour or so. Is it possible that such a hideaway exists in densely populated Hong Kong, and only a short drive away from the busy central business district? It is, but, as the architect would tell you, turning it into reality was by no means easy

The Portofino is a luxury residential development which contains 52 townhouses and 22 apartments located along the ridge of a headland in scenic Clearwater Bay. It occupies a two-hectare site belonging to the Hong Kong Adventist College, which used it to accommodate staff quarters. Given the site's development potential, the college was persuaded to enter into a land exchange agreement under which it would surrender the site for development by a private developer.
        Commanding a view of Port Shelter where the scene's
tranquility is not upset by the presence of any other building and the calm of the sea often gives it the illusion of a lake, the site seemed ideal for a luxury residential project. It was some time, however, before the necessary rezoning was achieved. Even then, a number of restrictions were imposed by the Planning and District Lands departments to ensure that the natural beauty of the area would not be destroyed.
        Though stipulated by different departments, these restrictions nevertheless had an impact on each other and the development as a whole. Thus, the architect, Ronald Lu & Partners, was presented with a challenge to come up with a design which would not only please the client and prospective buyers, but also the wishes of the respective government departments.
        The Planning Department's
primary concern was for the retention of the rural character of the setting. It was determined that the development should not have any adverse visual impact on its surrounding, even though the townhouses would only be three storeys high. The department required that the project follow the site's natural topography as far as possible, which meant the structures would have to step down towards the sea along a steep incline.
        Stilt structures would normally be used to overcome the gradient differences, but concern expressed by the District Lands department for possible misuse of the void underneath such structures ruled them out as a solution.
        In order to comply with the two departments' demands, the architect decided to lower the development's
profile by suppressing the structures of some townhouses near the headland. This presented certain layout difficulties, in particular the location of the garage at a level above the living quarters, but gave the development a more interesting massing.
        As a luxury low-rise residential project, it was assumed that the occupants of each townhouse would have direct access to their cars in garages attached to their homes, even though a separate car park would also be provided. Providing this convenience proved another challenge, as the architect had to match the gentler gradient of the private road, which the Transport Department required to be in line with its standards for all private roads; with that of the houses, which follow the steeper gradient of the natural slope.
        The architect's
solution was to design a 7.3 m wide road with a skewed 3 m wide pavement or transitional zone which enables cars to be manoeuvred into the garages without sustaining scratches to their undercarriages.
        Due to the setting, the Portofino was designed with a Meditarranean feel with pastel colours, cast iron railings and lampposts, balustrades and other features intended to evoke the same atmosphere an occupant is likely to derive from the Italian fishing port from which the development took its name.
        Although a Meditarranean atmosphere pervades the development, individual houses do have a character of their own. Appreciating people's
preferences for homes with unique identities, the architect took the variation-on-a-theme approach towards the houses' architecture, blending slightly different designs into a unified whole.
        The development features five types of townhouses which range in size from 3,339 sq ft to 4,413 sq ft. There are two or three elevation designs for each house type, with different cast iron railings and entrance gates; curved, flat or pointed entablatures; and alternating curved and triangular roof features. They are painted in three different colours: cream, beige and light pink. The marble chips coating as well as fibre reinforced polyester and granite mouldings for the external walls were put on elaborate mock-ups set up by the architect on site, to make sure the colours would blend well together.
        These townhouses are designed for indulgence, especially for the master of each house -- the bathroom of each master bedroom features a bathtub oriented to capture an unobstructed seaview. More natural light is provided by a skylight with a special glazing which permits a clear view from within but a frosted appearance when viewed from outside.
        All the townhouses were designed to capture the Mediterranean outdoors, with setbacks providing bedrooms on different levels with balconies and gardens on the ground floor. In a Hong Kong first, each house also boasts a truly decadent luxury -- an open jacuzzi on the roof with wooden decking, also oriented to capture the full seaview. Ten of the largest houses also have private swimming pools. These are located at the lowest edge of the development, where the swimming pools extend out towards the sea, thus giving their users a sense of private, undisturbed freedom.
        For residents without their own swimming pools, the Portofino has a clubhouse with a resort-style swimming pool which, again, is oriented to provide a visual link with the sea beyond the balustrade and other classical architectural features. Other facilities include a gymnasium, a children's
playroom, a snooker room and a multipurpose room.
        According to Ronald Lu, managing director of Ronald Lu & Partners, the 1,000 sq m clubhouse was set into the hillside near the top of the development to mask the presence of a satellite uplink station with its visually disruptive cluster of satellite dishes. Another thoughtful use of massing is the location of a children play area to the north of the clubhouse, where the retention of existing trees allows the architect to cover the cable provisions for the development.
        This attention to detail has ensured that the Portofino provides an exceptional living environment in an exotic setting which has to be experienced to be believed.

developer Cheung Kong (Holdings)
architect Ronald Lu & Partners (HK) Ltd
contractor Hien Lee Engineering Co Ltd
structural engineer T K Tsui & Associates
m&e engineer J Roger Preston Ltd
landscape designer ACLA Ltd
quantity surveyor Levett & Bailey

-- Building Journal