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
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.
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
Newfound world Ltd
Anthony Ng Architects Ltd
Hip Hing Construction Co Ltd
Maunsell Consultants Asia/Techniker Ltd
Parsons Brinckerhoff (Asia) Ltd
Arup Facade Engineering (OAP HK Ltd)
WT Partnership (HK) Ltd