Central Market Regeneration
For as long as I can remember, Central Market has been the way it currently is - underutilised and shrouded in development mystery - serving as mediocre, if not slightly unpleasant and unhygienic pedestrian walkway. Recently, Lisa Cheng - an ex-town planner and guest at my Rethinking Urban Space project sharing session told me that she also cannot remember a time when Central Market was utilised in a suitable way. I can only imagine that Central Market has an even more unappealing image in the public perception.
Let's ignore for a moment the possible political or bureaucratic obstacles and simply look at Central Market regeneration in a digestible and approachable way - mixing in a little bit of architecture appreciation with some light urban planning insights.
Central Market's Bauhaus Design: What Is Bauhaus and Why Does That Matter?
Central Market's is built in style called Bauhaus. Bauhaus was a movement that influenced the entire design field. You can find out more about it here and here. Essentially, Bauhaus designs are functional and simple, no flashiness.
Looking at Central Market, there are no excess ornaments or futuristic geometry. Rather, we see a simple structure that is functional and effective to what the building was intended to be - a market. The lengthy windows maximises natural light and airflow to combat the humidity and smell typical of a wet market. There are no exciting ways of entry or contemporary circular layout. Instead what we have is a rectangular shape that allows for an easily navigable market.
Central Market's design stands out from its surrounding. It is refreshing to see a historical building in the midst of a contemporary Central district. It is a site that has potential to be of educational value if preserved and regenerated right. Similar to the historical-turned-art-and-cultural Tai Kwun - which has successfully leveraged its interesting design to transform its function. Central Market regeneration should also consider the benefits of its Bauhaus design into the function of its second life.
Mid-Levels Escalator System: The Mechanical Blood Vessel of Hong Kong
Demolishing and rebuilding Central Market will require costly blocking and rerouting of busy Central traffic. Let's not forget Hong Kong's portfolio for rebuilding, calling back to the controversy of the 4th generation Central Star Ferry Pier, which was said to be "an imitation of the past without capturing the spirit of the past or present". Recapturing the soul and spirit of a past style is extremely difficult.
Aside from vehicular traffic, what's more important to this site is foot traffic. Central Market serves as a vital section of the Mid-Level escalators - the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. Covering over 800 metres in distance and 135 metres in elevation. It has been significant to the economic and social development of SoHo district, Mid-Levels and Hong Kong's general productivity. Central Market's role in this mechanical blood vessel is a kind of "enter and exit hub". Allowing people to access the walkway system the to and from various main roads of Central. It is also a continuation of the walkway system that links to the IFC (International Finance Centre) and the ferry piers that connects to Kowloon and Macau.
The "urban oasis" idea proposed by the Urban Regeneration Authority will likely involve two elements - 1. Retail and F&B venues and 2. Open space and urban gardens. Firstly, Central is not lacking in retail and F&B. The foot traffic in Central Market also has to remain fluid but restaurants and bars will only draw in congestion. Secondly, Central Market's low height, busy foot traffic and proximity to the harbour and the public IFC rooftop means it is neither the only nor best option for open, relaxation space.
Building Less to Achieve More: Hyper Public Circulation System
During my research, I came across Edbert Cheng - an architect from Hong Kong, now working in Boston, who wrote a thesis on Central Market. During our Google Hangout, we discussed his idea to make Central Market into "a network of hyper public circulation" using a network of escalators and walkways. You can see his design concept below. His design will make the building feel more spacious while making use of the natural light and ventilation made possible with Central Market's Bauhaus design. Increasing foot traffic flow efficiency will also enhance what is already so functional and great about the Mid-Level escalator system to the economic and social fabric of Hong Kong. Though a complex system like this would require good wayfinding design.
As I recall, Ms. So Ching, Chair of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, asked during my Rethinking Urban Space sharing session - "Have you ever considered building less to achieve more?". In order to achieve this and be successful in urban regeneration, I believe we have to leverage the benefits of the existing design into the the function of the new design.