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Urban Dialogue

Stefan Krummeck

Asia’s growing urbanisation has made building design a key component of sustainable cities. This holds especially true in Hong Kong, which is one of the world’s most densely populated cities.

One firm that has helped put Hong Kong’s architecture expertise on the map is Farrells, which celebrates 25 years of designing in Hong Kong with a dual exhibition. “Urban Dialogue” pays tribute to some of its most noteworthy projects, including the Peak Tower, which opened the same year as Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997, and the Kennedy Town MTR station, which opened in 2014.

Stefan Krummeck, Director of Farrells, says the dual exhibition, which is being held at the Peak and the Fringe Club, 15-30 April, showcases sketches, moving images and three-dimensional models that educate visitors in the process of urban design.

Tell us about some of the exhibition highlights, including the original architectural models for the Peak Tower.
This is the first time that Farrells has publicly shown the original sketches, drawings, colour studies and early models of the Peak Tower. We will also display [models of] some of our iconic projects around the globe, such as the MI6 building – a crowd pleaser, thanks to its repeat appearances in James Bond films – and [UK-based aquarium] The Deep, which has appeared on a collection of stamps in the UK.

“People-oriented design is integral to Hong Kong’s sustainability as a super-dense city.”

What was the inspiration for the Peak Tower design?
The Peak Tower was inspired by the topography of the site. It is located on Victoria Peak, but actually sits within a natural depression to the east of the mountain’s summit. The bowl-like form is cradled by the hills on either side of the tower. Hence the tower visually complements the iconic ridgeline – it doesn’t compete with it.

We also intended for the form to symbolise hands opening up to the sky. The interesting thing is that everyone has a different symbolic interpretation of the building’s form. Some call it the wok, while to others, it recalls the traditional junks that ply the harbour. The solid base, open podium and floating roof with upswept eaves also refer to traditional Chinese architecture.

Ultimately, we won the brief because the tower satisfied the client’s complex functional requirements. The building accommodates the Peak Tram terminus, offers plenty of space for visitors to take in the world’s best urban vista, and houses dining and entertainment offerings. We were delighted when the tower was featured on the HK$20 banknote.
The exhibition explores the place of the individual within urban design. What does Farrells believe that to be?
In the post-World War II years, in both Hong Kong and Europe, urban design became an increasingly top-down exercise in imposing visual order on the city. The human experience was often neglected. Many architects and engineers failed to understand that there is a hidden order within the apparent chaos of the old city.

We need to work on this in Hong Kong. New developments are still engineering-driven and planned at a very large scale. Often pedestrians come second to cars. Urban designers must engage with the city at a closer scale and focus more on the human experience. This entails creating mixed-use places with diverse, active streetscapes that make a city a pleasure to traverse on foot and add immeasurable richness and convenience to urban living.

Bustling streetscapes are also a defining element of Hong Kong culture and image on the world stage, and we should celebrate and promote that by giving more space to pedestrians.

This ties in with Farrells’ longstanding interest in transit-oriented development. Hong Kong has a public transport ridership rate that other cities view with envy. This urban model helps reduce congestion and air pollution – given our population density, Hong Kong simply could not function as a car-oriented city. But public transport is inextricably linked to walkability. MTR stations must be centrally located and easily accessible on foot. If public transport is not the most convenient option, people will drive, and we have already seen the private-car ownership rate spike in recent years. People-oriented design is integral to Hong Kong’s sustainability as a super-dense city.
What is the message for visitors at the exhibition, which  also includes a workshop, forum, lecture and curator tours?
We hope they will come away with a greater understanding of urban design and how it affects our lives. We also hope to foster fruitful discussion on some of the major undertakings in the city today, such as the harbourfront, the ongoing construction of the West Kowloon Cultural District, and the ever-present issue of land supply.

We additionally hope to make a statement about the role of designers, who should be less prescriptive and more perceptive. We have found that a receptive, contextual design approach consistently elevates the urban quality of the built product.

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