The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

What Saved the Central Market: The Environment

by Christopher Shay

When Central Market opened in 1939, the prewar Bauhaus-style structure housed one of the largest and most modern indoor food marts in Asia. These days, some 70 years later, the largely empty building sits decrepit at the foot of Hong Kong’s Central district escalator system. Only a newly renovated walkway hides the decaying interior from pedestrians.

Four teams of architects and designers have unveiled plans to revitalize the Central Market building. Here’s a look at their proposals.

That’s about to change.

When the market closed eight years ago, it seemed destined to be razed — many developers wanted to construct a high-rise office tower on the land.

But Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s secretary for development, convinced chief executive Donald Tsang to save the structure, arguing that the historic building plays a role in the district’s air quality.

Using climate data from Chinese University of Hong Kong professor Edward Ng, Ms. Lam argued that the low-rise Central Market building allows air to circulate more easily, reducing street-level pollution. Putting a 45-story office tower in its place would trap air in a skyscraper canyon and be “outrageous” and detrimental to air ventilation in the district, she says.

What’s more, says Mr. Ng, Central district is an “urban heat island,” and if the refurbishment of Central Market includes more greenery, the temperature at the site could be a full degree Celsius — or two — cooler than its immediate surroundings.

In a 2009 policy address, when Mr. Tsang handed over the building to the Urban Renewal Authority, he said, “The revitalized Central Market will become an urban oasis for white-collar workers in the daytime, and a new hang-out area for locals and tourists.”

Now, four teams of architects and designers have unveiled plans to revitalize the building. Each design takes a different approach to saving one of the city’s last examples of Bauhaus architecture, an early 20th-century style founded in Germany by Walter Gropius. All of the designs give a nod to the original structure, one of the first in Asia to be constructed with reinforced concrete and to incorporate strip windows and internal courtyards, letting in light and air.

The four concepts will be shown in a roving exhibition this month in five locations around Hong Kong, and the public will be allowed to give feedback by filling out a 21-question survey. A committee consisting of District Council members, professionals, academics and businessmen appointed by the Urban Renewal Authority will make the final design recommendations based on the feedback.

The goal of the exhibition “is not to choose one design out of the four,” an Urban Renewal staff member says, but to “take the opinion of the public” and possibly merge some of the designs together.

See the slideshow to learn more about the four designs.

Category: Article, Business, Environment

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