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Ageing Hong Kong waterfront gets a timely face-lift

A section of it will be transformed into a modern art and design district with retail, residential & commercial interests

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Hong Kong

WATERFRONT developments are recognised worldwide. San Francisco has Fisherman's Wharf. Sydney has the Sydney Harbour. And by next year, Hong Kong will have Victoria Dockside.

New World Development is transforming a section of the ageing Hong Kong waterfront into a modern art and design district, combining retail, residential and commercial interests.

Perched on the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula overlooking Victoria Harbour, the US$2.6 billion, three million-square-foot endeavour boasts a shopping complex, a redesigned promenade and a skyscraper with Class A offices and a hotel. It will bring art to the masses, its developer said, and encourage hurried residents to slow down and interact with nature - two new ideas in Hong Kong urban design.

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New World Development enlisted more than 100 artists and consultants worldwide to collaborate on creating a landmark with international appeal.

For architecture and landscape design, it turned to two prestigious New York firms: Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, the design firm behind the Hudson Yards mixed-use neighbourhood in Manhattan, and James Corner Field Operations, which led the design and construction of the High Line elevated park in Manhattan.

Victoria Dockside's visionary is a third-generation business tycoon and art patron, Adrian Cheng. The 38-year-old Mr Cheng, executive vice-chairman and general manager of New World Development, hails from one of the wealthiest families in Hong Kong, which founded the company.

When completed in the third quarter of 2019, Victoria Dockside will have been 10 years in the making.

This month, the company unveiled the crown jewel for the enterprise: its flagship shopping mall, K11 Musea. Mr Cheng said he considered the 10-storey Musea a museum by the sea and a museum of muses.

Along with retail, Musea expects to offer art exhibitions, live music, creativity workshops and other cultural events. According to Forth Bagley, Kohn Pedersen Fox's principal for the project, Musea's exterior will bring to mind elements of a stratified hill or hillside village.

"You are downstairs, and you look up at the building and see terraces all activated by green space and see people coming outside," Mr Bagley said. "The awesome garden rooftop experience will take people by surprise."

The shopping complex will comprise 4,800 square metres, nearly 5,200 square feet, of green walls, equivalent to 18 international tennis courts. The complex also boasts unusual features such as a sheer glass corridor on the eighth floor that looks out onto the harbour.

On the ground level is a sunken amphitheatre with curved glass walls around it. Public art will be displayed on a rotating basis. Notable will be "Van Gogh's Ear," a sculpture of a swimming pool positioned upright. It was on display at Rockefeller Center in 2016.

Brick-and-mortar stores struggle to survive in the United States because of online competition, but Musea is less risky for New World Development. Mr Cheng said the Internet took only a small chunk of retail sales in Asia. Malls are still relevant in providing a venue for exhibitions and events.

"It's about creating an experience that the digital world cannot replicate," he said.

Mr Cheng said the company recognised in 2009 that the area was sorely out of date.

"It had to be rejuvenated into something for the new generation," he said. Now, the site is "where people can learn and discover and be inspired". The promenade features an outdoor pavilion, trellises, additional seating and shade. Notable are vertical walls of lush plants, another novel concept for this bustling city.

"Before, all you could do was walk," said James Corner, an urban designer and chief executive of James Corner Field Operations. "The waterfront should feel psychologically more accessible. We designed the balustrade so that it invites you to lean on it with your elbows. These subtle details make you feel comfortable instead of hurried." One of the biggest adjustments for Hong Kong locals has been the closing of the Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong's version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The space is being redesigned, with celebrity handprints and statues moved to another section.

Mr Bagley said the shadeless Avenue of Stars, although popular, was unpleasant for tourists during hot weather. "Once they got there, they'd take a picture, turn around and scurry back," he said.

According to Mr Cheng, the improved pathway should encourage people to linger. For the young billionaire, who once worked in investment banking, art and culture lie at the heart of his passions. A Harvard graduate with an opera-singing pedigree, Mr Cheng is on the board of the Museum of Modern Art PS1 in New York and holds a committee position at the Tate in London.

Victoria Dockside is a sentimental project for Mr Cheng. The family has built and owned properties on the premises since 1971. The Chengs also lived there.

"I want to reinstate Hong Kong 80s romance," he said. "This used to be the place for seaside proposals. Somehow, we lost that. There was too much content, and it was too crowded." According to Mr Cheng, the upgraded promenade will be spacious and free of clutter.

Companies have been moving into the new K11 Atelier business tower, which opened last year at Victoria Dockside. The first corporate tenants include Mizuho Bank and Taipei Fubon Commercial Bank. The stair-stepped skyscraper is made of limestone and bronze and has offices on 15 floors.

For K11 Atelier, Mr Cheng wants tenants to discover community through his Office Academy classes. Class topics include wellness, creativity, spirituality and productivity. He said he was confident tenants would carve out time to attend.

K11 Atelier is focused on attracting a new breed of office worker, particularly millennials who want experiences that are holistic and healthy, he noted.

"This is not just an office building," Mr Bagley said. "This is a vertical neighbourhood with different precincts. It's a lifestyle building." NYTIMES