May 26, 2014

Flying through Hong Kong without ever knowing

It makes for a longer flight but I was looking forward to flying through Hong Kong on the way to Melbourne – a chance to see HKIA for the first time, the vast airport that opened in 1998.

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Honestly, I was disappointed. And not because it wasn’t vast:

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But after seeing Pudong, one of Shanghai’s huge terminals, there’s lots of competition for sheer size, and HKIA doesn’t distinguish itself because of that.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t distinguish itself for much of anything.  There’s no sense of anything distinctively HK about it.

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It does instead feel like a rather bland shopping centre and food floor.

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Unlike YVR, with possibly the best collection of contemporary aboriginal art in the world, there’s almost nothing culturally unique about HKIA, if you don’t count a rather isolated and modest exhibition about Bruce Lee.

Incongruously, there is an international collection of luxury brands, the ads of which fill the public spaces with glowing, glossy and predominately white faces.

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And seemingly like every other airport in the world, it’s expanding.

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Hopefully enough residents of HK have been through YVR to demand something more from their designers, something that captures a sense of their place, something uniquely HK.

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  1. The only thing “culturally” relevant in the HK airport might be the Tsui Wah restaurant accessible to the public on the departures level. It’s a taste of a big Hong Kong style cafe chain. However, I really like the cartoon mural in the restaurant. It depicts famous Hong Kong icons like Bruce Lee, Hong Kong Milk Tea, pawn shops, dim sum, and more.

    Unfortunately, if you were only transferring through the airport, you wouldn’t be able to access the Tsui Wah cafe. The airport is, otherwise, the modern commercialized airport down to the advertising.

  2. The strength of the Hong Kong airport is really in its interface with ground transportation:

    *it is step free from the train to the check-in counter, and also step free from the bagage carousel to the the train
    *it is also step free both direction with the buses

    *Virtually no airport of its category has a shorter Walking distance (with luggage) to/from ground public transportation.(and access by car is still very good).

    the picture below eventually illustrates how that is done
    http://dengaiwu.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/hongkong-airport-101.jpg
    (the disposition of the check-in counter to minimize walking distance was quite new too in 1998, check-in in downtown was new too at that time)

    On all those matters Shanghai Pudong doesn’t even compete in the same league as Hong-Kong…
    In fact may be, still no airport come close to Hong Hong on the efficiency of the ground-air interface.

    1. Buckland & Taylor, of North Vancouver gave expert advice on the building of the Ting Kau Bridge, a major connector between the Hong Kong International Airport on Lantau Island and the rest of Hong Kong. Ting Kau Bridge is the world’s first major 4-span cable-stayed bridge. It’s a beauty.

  3. Yes, I would agree. Not much to distinguish it at all. But that ‘on your doorstep’ train connection is indeed quite impressive. On a side note, I first saw that incredible hulk of a cluster of apartment blocks (in Kowloon?), shown above the Cathay plane, in 1993. And it still strikes me as one of the most horrendous pieces of design ever …

    1. What Gordon was pointed to is actually Tung Chung on Lantau Island. In the foreground we see Gategourmet, which is on Catering Road. From the terminal we are looking SSE towards Tung Chung Crescent (Anthony Ng Architects Ltd).

      Not disimilar to Kowloon, about 35km to the east.

  4. My only visit to Hong Kong took me to the old Kowloon airport. The approach came so close to residential towers that I felt I could reach out the window and grab laundry right off the pole. It was actually rather scary. When it was time to leave we had a similar problem. A fully loaded intercontinental flight simply couldn’t manoeuvre through Hong Kong safely so the airline only partially filled the fuel tanks and scheduled a stop in Japan to top up.
    The new airport, despite it’s distance from “downtown”, looks like a huge improvement.
    If you want an example of a terrible airport in every way imaginable visit LAX.

  5. There is an analogy to this in modern architecture generally. On a recent trip to Portland I noticed the new neighbourhood around the air tram felt very Yaletown-y. Toronto has many green-glass condos. Seems like every city is in a rush to look like every other city. It’s sad.

  6. Likewise, if you travel through many of the world’s major train stations, they reflect architectural styles of the day – and not necessarily styles unique to the region or city (though there are exceptions).

    YVR’s art collection is fantastic and certainly eye catching – it’s also more representative of traditional westcoast aboriginal art than you’d see in downtown Vancouver (with isolated exceptions). So is the airport more “Vancouver” than Vancouver itself?

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