August 2001


Citygate,Tung Chung

The community's centre

Imagine spending eight years on making a 30-second commercial. That, in effect, was what Anthony Ng, managing director of Anthony Ng Architects Ltd (ANA), did when he invested all those years in the City gate project. 

ANA first became involved in the retail/office/hotel development in the heart of Tung Chung New Town in 1992, when the firm was appointed to draw up a master layout lan for the whole site. Bisected by the North Lantau Expressway, the new town consists of two portions, which ANA conceptually linked together through the creation of housing blocks in the shape of two crescents, which face away from each other on either side of the highway. Physically the two sides are connected by a pedestrian axis, which begins at Tung Chung Park in the west, extends to the Airport Railway station in the central portion of the new town and ends at the waterfront promenade in the east.
        City gate was to be the principal commercial development in the heart of the new town, next to Tung Chung Station and incorporating a bridge that links the two sides of the new town with one another.
        When ANA proceeded to design City gate, the 33,300 sq m site it was to occupy was still a patch of sea. However, Mr. Ng quickly realized the symbolic and social significance of the project. Situated directly opposite the new international airport at Chek Lap Kok, Tung Chung New Town was to function as a gateway to Hong Kong as well as a new town community.

The all-important first impression
But why would people move into a new town so far away from the city center? Good transport links are crucial, and the Airport Railway provides that. The airport island, with its bustling clusters of passenger and cargo terminals, flight catering facilities, etc, promises employment opportunities. The urbanites of today demand more than these, though. They demand more space and the same amenities that they can get in the city center. They also demand something more intangible: a home that reflects their contemporary lifestyle and of whose quality they can be proud.
        Railway stations with integrated commercial/retail properties are common in Hong Kong, but the typical podium development was not what Mr. Ng had in mind. He envisioned something very different: an immediate sense of space the moment the potential resident stepped out of Tung Chung Station and approached City gate. He also wanted a complex that captured the spirit of the age; in the local context, that means a sense of movement and dynamism.
        To achieve these objectives, he created an open plaza or town square next to the station entrance where the visitor would be presented with a dynamic perspective of the retail complex with its asymmetrical roof lines and gleaming transparency. In consultation with a facade consultant, ANA developed a glazing system consisting of multiple 3.6 m high by 1.5 m wide glass panels, among the largest modules available in the industry, suspended by the slenderest of custom-built steel and aluminum supports capable of carrying the loads, like films on coat hangers. At the same time lightweight metal booms and armatures transfer wind loads imposed on the curtain wall. The result is a fully enclosed yet deceptively open structure that meets the design intent of creating indoor/outdoor interplay. The sweeping sea and mountain views are thus captured without disruption while the bustle within becomes visible to those on the outside.
        Ultimately, Mr. Ng wanted the dynamic combination of space and geometry to impress beyond the short attention span of a generation accustomed to rapid channel and Internet surfing.
        "What I wanted was for a couple to step out of the station, see City gate and say: 'Hey, this is great!' The success of the development hinges on that response. If they came all the way only to be greeted by an average building, they'd say: 'So? That's it?' And go home, the project would be a failure then," he said.
        If the visitor isn't "Sold" within those fleeting seconds, the chance is they will be once they have strolled through the building.
        City gate is not a conventional retail complex with shops on either side of a straight, long aisle. Intended to be one of a kind, it has a complex geometry full of carefully orchestrated surprises. The meandering shopping route and escalators are combined with atrium voids to offer multiple perspectives and the space was planned out to feature a deliberate play of light and shadow, which helps to delineate different areas. The food court, for example, looks out on the open plaza and is flooded with natural light. The sense of space is enhanced by the soaring headroom. The cinema complex, on the other hand, adopts a darker spatial dynamic, with metal grilles providing shading over its centrally sky lit roof.
        Shops are distributed along a serpentine walk with a void in the middle intersected here and there by escalators to force a shift in perspective. Thus, a visitor may be teased with a glimpse of an upper level, partially obscured by a strategically placed escalator, while also enjoying a partial view of the level below as it snakes out of sight. The effect is not unlike that created by traditional Chinese garden architecture, except that here the proportions, language and materials are all contemporary in character.

The bridge
At the end of the walk on Level 2 of the 43,000 sq m arcade, the visitor arrives at a 120 m long retail bridge whose symbolic significance is reflected in its lofty proportions and complex geometry. For people traveling down the North Lantau Expressway on their way to or from the airport, the bridge stands as a gateway to Hong Kong. At the same time, as the only pedestrian link between the two sides of the new town, it becomes its hub of activity.
        In designing the bridge, Mr. Ng drew inspiration from two sources: the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy; and his childhood memories of Cloth Street.
        To Mr. Ng, Ponte Vecchio is more a forum than a bridge as it is used by the local people to sell things and generally interact with one another. Although City gate crosses a highway rather than a river, he would like to see it function in the same way, as a focus of activities, hence the ample space within for exhibitions, performances and retail activities. The structure features overlapping canopies supported on tree-like tapering columns, which rise up to 15 m above the floor.
        "I remember going to Cloth Street with my mother when I was small and being fascinated by the overlapping canopies in the narrow street and how the sun penetrated them, casting a bit of light here and leaving a shadow there. This is an interpretation of that memory," Mr. Ng explained.
        The exterior of the bridge is also full of layering, with a skewed box frame in front of the glazing and the overlapping canopies expressed externally as flapping wings with both practical and aesthetic functions. On a practical level, the "wings" act as sun shading devices, which, together with the high-performance laminated glass, protect the interior from excessive heat. Aesthetically, they add a sense of movement to the structure and enhance the layering effect.
        Mr. Ng was so keen to get the bridge just right, he had a 1:10 scale model constructed in Shekou, where the roof and columns were prefabricated, to make sure these elements would work together as planned. Finally a series of full-size pre-assembled mock-ups was set up in the prefabricating yard to test each piece of material before they were dismantled and brought to Hong Kong for installation.
        Eight years after the project began, Mr. Ng has won a Certificate of Merit at the Hong Kong Institute of Architects? Annual Awards, a tremendous sense of satisfaction and a well-earned rest.
        "There's a time for intense work and a time for assimilating new ideas," He said. "It's been a while since I had time to sit down and do a bit of reading."
        His moment of leisure will prove to be fleeting: the next master plan, for the Southeast Kowloon development, is already in the works.

Newfound world Ltd/MTR Corporation Ltd
Project manager

Newfound world Ltd

Anthony Ng Architects Ltd

Hip Hing Construction Co Ltd
main contractor

Maunsell Consultants Asia/Techniker Ltd
Structural engineer

Parsons Brinckerhoff (Asia) Ltd
M&E engineer

Arup Facade Engineering (OAP HK Ltd)
Facade consultant

WT Partnership (HK) Ltd
Quantity surveyor

-- Building Journal