Huge ferris wheel on Hong Kong's horizon?
HONG KONG, China, Dec. 24
A uniquely horizontal revolving Ferris wheel with bars and restaurants mounted on a dramatically inclined tower, leaning over the waters of Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor, with stunning 360-degree views, could be Hong Kong's future icon, say the architects who designed it.
Titled "Hong Kong Spin" by renowned architectural firm Aedas, the design takes the form of the Chinese character "Jung," or middle, and the Greek letter "Phi," that signifies symmetry, to epitomize the vibrant cultural synthesis of East and West that is ubiquitous in Hong Kong. The company believes that the Ferris wheel -- effectively an Eiffel Tower and London Eye rolled into one -- would become a spectacular landmark of Hong Kong, if approved by the government.
"This is a grand civic space in the middle of the harbor. A people's Piazza. There will be a sense of drama as it will be framed by a dignified civic space in the form of a gently terraced amphitheater," said Nigel Reading, the company's senior associate, who conceived the design.
A retail food and beverage podium would form the base of the structure while the giant horizontal spinning wheel, labeled the Skywheel, would feature a variety of zones including up-market eateries, bars, karaoke venues and perhaps even a capsule hotel. The inclined tower would carry visitors in capsules labeled Skypods, in a continuous paternoster or repeating cycles, giving them a spiraling ride to the observation platform at the top of the tower.
The structure, proposed to stand at the end of the runway that once was Hong Kong's former international airport, Kai Tak, is associated with other plans for a cruise terminal and facilities that is currently under review by the government. The glory of the former airport evokes a strong sense of place for the innovative structure.
"The strong message is that Hong Kong is a global city with a vision to build a landmark tower in a prominent historically significant location, expressing our faith in the future," Reading said.
This unique fusion of a spectacular manmade structure set in a natural environment is visionary. But what makes the structure a defining monument is its sheer size. Constructed of steel and composite materials, it is expected to be 200 meters tall. The horizontal rotating Skywheel would have a diameter option of 160 meters while its habitable space would be 18 meters deep and 8-10 meters high. It would also have a mezzanine.
With an aim to proactively deal with the issues of climate change and carbon dioxide emissions, the designers have proposed powering the structure, lighting and ancillary services through renewable energy like wind energy, sourced from offshore wind farms -- one of which already exists off the Shanghai coast. Wave power generation in the waters of the harbor is another idea, while an array of photovoltaic panels based on solar power technology, which converts light from the sun into electricity, would likely power the wheel and the Skypods.
According to company sources, the project would be operationally carbon neutral from the outset, through carbon offsetting -- the purchase of carbon credits from renewable energy suppliers, who have managed to limit their emissions well below targets as provided in the Kyoto Protocol. The company aspires to form a joint venture partnership with a power company once the project is approved.
Fusing creative vision, sustainable development and cutting-edge engineering gives the Hong Kong Spin an expected US$2 billion price tag. This is where eyes will roll and brows will rise, as government officials debate the rationale of erecting a high-cost structure at the expense of either the taxpayers or avid tourists.
By comparison, Hong Kong Disneyland, operated by Hong Kong International Theme Park, a joint venture between Walt Disney and the local government, has seen visitor numbers dwindle in its first two years of operation. This has prompted the government, the majority stakeholder, to consider the merits of injecting more capital into the company whose performance has been well below expectations.
"The performance of the park in its first two years of operation is unsatisfactory," Frederick Ma, secretary for commerce and economic development, replied to a question about Disneyland posed in the Legislative Council. "The government has expressed its concern and impressed upon the management to pay serious attention to the key issues and strengthen its cooperation with the local travel trade to improve the performance of the park."
Therefore the designers of Hong Kong Spin, with all its vibrant design and mammoth dimensions, will have to convince skeptics both in the government and in private enterprises of its financial viability. It will also have to pacify activists and green groups who have blamed the government for demolishing sites such as the old Star Ferry Pier which they say was a historical and cultural landmark of Hong Kong, and replacing it with a modern design.
Retaining old structures that have historical significance versus creating modern landmarks will be a thorny debate which developers of Hong Kong Spin will have to carefully traverse. "In terms of the project's social and economic role, we suggest that a study of the potential social and economic impacts, positive or negative, is undertaken by independent researchers or academic institutions," Reading said.
While historical significance is important to any city, strong branding is equally significant to attract business, finance, talent and tourists, especially in the era of globalization where cities within the same country compete for economic dominance. Although property developers, retailers and travel service providers have much to gain from such developments as the Hong Kong Spin, landmarks like the old airport also create a sense of purpose and pride for the locals. This is the window of hope that the Ferris wheel can certainly bank on.
Nigel Reading is upbeat as well as hopeful. "Great cities build great civic spaces as declaration of intent, purpose and self-belief. We (the people of Hong Kong) have the belief. So let's have the space."
Whether Hong Kong Spin will go into free fall or rise to iconic levels will be debated and decided sometime early next year.