WORK IN HONG KONG

Contributors: Connie Ho, Debarati Basu, Dorothy Fong, Frank Au, Ilya Bourim, Jennifer Yeung, Judith Ng, Kathy Zhu, Naree Imthanavanich, Rouel Delapaz, Susanto Soenjoyo, Tracy Lau, Trupti Nilange, Xavier Chan

THE DESIGN SPECULATION
Gensler HK proposes a design speculation of work opportunities “between spaces” throughout the HK urban and rural landscape.  We examine 3 case studies – how one can work in nature, how one can utilize the unused spaces below our bridge and highway systems, and how one can convert existing unused built infrastructures to provide a new landscape for work in 2025.

WORK UNDER CONNECTED SPACES – THE FLYOVER

BACKGROUND:  Efficient and quick transport of its people and goods plays a vital role in the success of Hong Kong as a global economic city. It has one of the world’s highest use (90% ) of public transportation which includes ferries, double-decker buses, street trams, an underground subway, taxis, and mini-vans. As a result, about 2,000 square kilometers of roads and tunnels connects the on-ground transport along with a harrowing network of about 700 pedestrian footbridges . A visitor quickly understands how this infrastructural network creates an architectural landscape and horizon line unique only to Hong Kong.

In the central business area of Hong Kong Island, 9 to 5 professional office workers spend most of the day stacked on top of one other, and new office construction trends toward smaller floor plate areas as low as 8,000 square feet (740 square meters ).  In addition, with lease prices at an exorbitant $250 USD/square foot (1,900HKD/square foot) , the mix of professionals in a given building are limited. A “vertica-polis” of skyscrapers that sits on 23 square miles (60 square kilometers) of island by itself offers little chance for face-to-face accidental encounters between professionals, other than the voyeuristic encounter up-high between office buildings.
 
THE OPPORTUNITY: Down in the streets, or the ‘ground plane’ or ‘horizontal space’, the office worker faces overcrowding and congestion enough to push them back indoors. However, there are clearings in the hardscape and specifically in an overlooked but naturally dramatic setting:  the vast infrastructural world under bridges or flyovers. Currently, these are residual spaces are under-utilized as noted by previous city initiatives such as Under Bridge Action and Energizing East Kowloon Office (EKEO) , who currently propose affordable housing and temporary office space as alternatives. And though local zoning prohibits this program based on valid issues of safety, lack of natural amenity, and pollution, the strained needs and inhumane living conditions already present make this a viable opportunity in the near future.

OUR STRATEGY: In the same view, we seek to transform the problem of these spaces from being ‘residual’ to becoming ‘interstitial’.  What makes it easier is recognizing that they commonly inhabit space in-between the built city and the harbor. This offers a chance to become ‘connectors’ coupled with their partnering device: the pedestrian bridge network which already brings people to the waterfront with surprising ease and can be used as primary access to these areas.

With this link established, we also seek to give a sense of place and explore how we might provide a stage for methods of “working in the future”. We surveyed individual professionals downtown how they envisioned future workspaces and discovered relaxation, privacy, openness, and nature as part of their future workspace, and looked through a new lens at the bridge concept: a super-canopy to the sun, a secret garden, a vibrant path of activity of transportation, a super-porch of views across to the other islands, a place to play or gather with an industrial backdrop.

OUR VISION: We envisioned a ‘lifted’ neighborhood of rooms and outdoor gathering platforms under an active canopy and over a natural landscape. We envisioned open and vibrant forums to collaborate, utilizing varying surfaces or planes for idea exchange and communication, capturing broad views and harbor breezes for reflective strategizing or re-energizing oneself in the outdoors. We envisioned unique work activities: dining, bathing, exercising, as well as non-work activities: temporary living, nightlife, morning-night markets.

Can we change human perception and provide a program that effectively uses vertical space under a flyover? Can we have a chance for an alternative ‘work’ experience for the working professional that is less hermetic and reliant on technology and more connected to one’s surroundings, health, and community around him or herself?

WORK IN OPEN SPACES – NATURE

BACKGROUND: It is widely known that Hong Kong is a dense, urban vertical city. However, HK’s vast and diverse natural landscape is not widely known. One can find an incredible abundance of nature in Hong Kong.  From the mountains and beaches to the local farms and magnificent shore rock formations, there is immense beauty and nature everywhere.

THE OPPORTUNITY: In thinking of work in Hong Kong in 2025, we speculate that there are opportunities for connecting to and working in nature.

OUR STRATEGY: We seek to introduce work in natural surroundings that cause minimal disturbance to the landscape.  Development of portable packs that can convert to become work pods is one idea.   Light structures that can inflate to individual or team workspace are another.   Once finished, these structures can deflate to become benches that are a part of the natural landscape.  Again, the idea is to cause minimal impact to the natural environment.

WORK AT CONVERTED EXISTING SPACES

BACKGROUND: As with any urban city, existing infrastructure loses its necessity over time. For instance, Hong Kong landscape is dotted with phone booths that used to be fully in service before mobile phones were popular. Today, those phone booths are no longer used; yet they still stand as an existing infrastructure that provides shelter and privacy.

THE OPPORTUNITY: As land and space is very limited in Hong Kong, a discussion was brought up on whether we can improvise work environments in small enclosed spaces such as phone booths or back alleys. We looked at the network of phone booth locations scattered around Hong Kong and realized how convenient those locations were. There are over 60 phone booths in the central business district. What if we were to transform these unused phone booths into a new era of mobile work environment?

OUR STRATEGY: Unlike any other city, the lack of space and time forces people in Hong Kong to work in mobile locations, such as coffee shops or restaurants. But those public spaces cannot be considered as an appropriate work environment – as there are no computers, no printers, and most important of all, no privacy. Not only do we want transform existing phone booths into work pods for individuals to focus, we would also choose multiple locations and convert those phone booths into larger work pods for social and collaboration purposes. We aim to introduce this as an alternative workplace strategy, which could soothe the tight footprint in most work places in Hong Kong.

People in Hong Kong also use a lot of time travelling to work every day, as waiting in line for public transportation is difficult and time consuming. Both lack of space and rush hours are huge concerns for employees. The second phase of transforming phone booths would be to input them in various railway stations. We see these transformed phone booths as future work pods, which can accommodate the needs of mobile working in locations dispersed throughout Hong Kong. This could be a potential solution to limited space and long travelling hours in Hong Kong.

A NEW LANDSCAPE FOR WORK IN HONG KONG IN 2025
Hong Kong people will indeed find new ways to work in our urban and rural landscape.  Often referred to as the “vertical city”, Hong Kong and its people will start to look to other opportunities to connect, open and re-use for work.   Gensler Hong Kong will like to help move our city towards a more sustainable way of working in 2025.