In order to brand the Design Institute…as a leading international market provider of foundation studies and lifelong learning in design…that will maximize student opportunities this proposal offers a strong, unitary architectural image that can serve as an icon for the aspirations of the Institute and the larger design community. In order to help the new facility’s design curricula…support the development of the creative industries in Hong Kong…and promote a closer synergy with secondary schools and collaboration with regional and international institutions, this scheme offers a logical, highly efficient physical layout and organization of spaces and programs. To support the Institute’s mission to network with industries, professional bodies, government agencies and non-profit organizations [for] relevance, responsiveness [and] recognition, the strong architectural identity of this proposal is balanced by an urban sensitivity and nuanced openness to the community. Finally, to create a dynamic and comprehensive learning environment…of design theory and practice…nurturing creativity, independence, self-confidence and free-thinking, this design presents an exciting variety of challenging spaces, guaranteed to stimulate the imagination, and a symbolic architectural presence that will generate pride. In addition to these goals provided by the mission statement, the design also recognizes the Institute’s vested interest in sustainability and in innovative development ideas that would optimize the opportunities in the area. In particular the scheme sees the latter as a mandate for a strong approach to the question of shared community facilities, proposing a vertical expansion program to preserve open space for recreation uses.
To accomplish these goals the present scheme strives for a balance between aesthetic and practical concerns— to be a model of good design—and serve as an exemplar for the studies pursued in its studios and laboratories. Accordingly, this scheme demonstrates how a strong form is made stronger by efficient functioning, how pragmatic issues can be elevated through honest expression, and how even the most fanciful ideas can be realized if pursued with rigor and dedication.
Instead of producing a collection of little buildings, overshadowed by the surrounding tall residential towers, this scheme proposes a solitary building at the scale of the neighboring behemoths.
The basic form is a cylinder, with the top translated sideways. The cylinder’s overall diameter equals the width of the site, leaving triangular shaped open spaces in each corner. The symbolism of the circle and cylinder/drum is obvious. It is almost itself a symbol of good design. The circle is the most harmonious and cohesive shape; here it is manipulated to make it dynamic, reflecting the faster-paced, changing character of the times.
The resulting form is strong and confident, but not aggressive; it is complete, but not relentless, the cuts into it that reveal the interior fabric of the Institute serve to break up the monolithic mass without destroying its formal cohesiveness. To help re-emphasize the homogenous strength of the form, as well as provide some privacy and sunshading for the interior spaces, a woven tectonic screen wraps the sides of the drum. The symbolism of woven screen enhances the symbolism of the circular drum; while it unifies the whole design, the individual strands remain distinct, just as the different programs or centers remain identifiable within the Hong Kong Design Institute.
The character of the design is as much a factor of its detailing and tectonic elaboration as it is of the overall form. The competition brief understandably asks that the building should be easy to maintain and cost-effective to minimize operating costs. The present design sees this as more than a matter of economics. It sees it as a key to the building’s character. Consequently, the strength of the form is echoed in the use of durable materials and robust systems that can take the sort of creative beating likely to be dished out by the young design students.
Through the straightforward use of conventional materials and systems, exposed, without decoration, the difference made by design becomes apparent: the disposition and configuration of the systems in the design conveys a sense of honesty, demonstrates the fact of efficiency, issues a challenge of flexibility, and invites an educational curiosity about how things work. The building has no decoration, nor does it assert any formal signature, so it does not compete with the work done there. By providing an impressive setting for the student’s efforts, the building projects them to greater significance—rather than overpowering the students and smothering their work, it dignifies their commitment and ennobles their designs.
A nine meter square column grid and two way slab system meets a circular perimeter wall shell structure which, along with the stair and elevator core towers, provides lateral resistance. The structure is sized to carry the loads of the future building expansion. This additional cost factor is traded for the advantages of preserving the open area for positive community relations. The internal partitions are light cmu and light gauge metal framing for ease in modification, taking advantage of the flexibility of the column grid system. In keeping with the theme of honesty, flexibility and robustness, there are no embedded systems: all electrical, plumbing, voice/data and air conditioning systems run externally to the cast-in-place concrete. In this way the building itself can serve as a teaching laboratory and subject of endless experimentation.
The structure has been zoned to support the logical and efficient layout of the other systems. Along the lightwell/courtyard inside the circular drum form, for example, runs a zone of smaller, service related spaces with more tightly spaced structural divisions and a slot for vertical conveyance of air conditioning and main plumbing shafts. The mechanical systems are divided between the ground floor and the roof, with the roof machines intended to be relocated during the future expansion to the new roof.
The building is organized into three sections: the two masses on either side of the central lightwell/courtyard, and the podium base. The podium base generally includes the most public and shared community program elements, such as the gym and recreational spaces, the cafeteria, and the art gallery, and bookstore, as well as the Institute’s infrastructural support facilities. Also included inside the building at this level are the visitor parking and drop-off areas (to keep them out of the sun).
Above the ground level the building is divided into two major volumes by the central lightwell/courtyard; the larger volume houses all the learning areas—the classrooms, studios, laboratories and shops, while the smaller one accommodates the support areas—the administrative spaces, library, Learning Resource Center and student activity spaces. Within these volumes the more public programs like auditoria, meeting rooms and Design Enterprise program are concentrated on the lower floors, opening onto the central courtyard, and the more internally oriented program elements are found on the upper levels. Each major program division is organized on a single floor for convenience and identity. A service zone runs along the courtyard side of each volume, holding support-type activities and mechanical plenum for the distribution of services.
The major volumes above the podium are connected horizontally across the open space by a variety of outdoor bridges, and linked vertically to the podium and ground by strategically placed stair and elevator cores. A continuous service zone links the loading area to both major programmatic volumes at the ground level. The design uses a vertically layered security zoning to complement the conventional horizontal security divisions, allowing greater apparent freedom of movement. The students, faculty and staff meanwhile are able to circulate in secure corridors throughout the entire building vertically and horizontally without regard to interface with the public. At the ground level the public circulation flows freely around the building, or through it in a controlled way, while on the podium level the public is confined to the entry area and the auditoria immediately adjacent.
The design sees the issue of circulation as not only a matter of convenience or efficiency, though, but also as an adventure. Whether moving around the courtyard/lightwell on the balcony/breezeway, over it on the variety of bridges, or zooming around the widened peripheral corridor that accesses all the design studios and serves as a pinup/exhibition space, the circulation is both a means of getting the student where he is going and a way to engage his senses along the route. The Institute is designed as a pedestrian environment. Necessary vehicular circulation is isolated from the predominant foot traffic. All of the public access points to the building’s program are remote from the vehicle access points to the site, with the exception of the taxi and bus drop off zones, convenient to the main entrance. The ground level public program is located immediately adjacent to outdoor spaces with dedicated uses.
Vertical future expansion is the key to good community relations, since it enables the Hong Kong Design Institute to use the land area set aside for that purpose to create a park and recreational activities instead, which benefits both the students and the community.
Vertical expansion is facilitated by the structure and materials of the first phase, with a structure just adequate to the future loads, a column grid that enhances flexibility for future moves and simplicity of load paths and transfers, and a durable exposed concrete finish that can withstand the stress of such transformation. Further, the vertical circulation cores are situated so that the future programmatic distribution could be vertical, rather than horizontal; each core could be the central node about which expanded program areas are organized. Three additional high bay floors can be accommodated within the 55m height restriction, permitting all of the required additional 25,000m2 to be added without taking up any of the ground level area.
The present scheme attempts to recover some level of positive urban experience for the area. At the same time, the scheme recognizes that the openness or porosity such urbanism typically suggests runs counter to the Institute’s need to ensure the security of the students and its facility. The design pursues these complex interwoven goals at several levels.
First, the bulk of the design matches the scale of the surrounding fabric, so that while it appears as a landmark this is not because it doesn’t belong, but because it is special. Second, the form of the design strives for a balance between openness and closure, between friendliness and security. The circular shape of the drum is naturally complete and thus closed, but the large outdoor areas at the upper plaza level make it appear more open. Third, the arrangement of the program continues this balance, with the ground level of the structure dedicated largely to shared activity spaces, while the upper plaza level serves as a secure outdoor space reserved for students. Since this outdoor space is lower than the podium height of the surrounding buildings it appears more continuous with the urban fabric, but it is isolated from that fabric within the security envelope of the Institute.
The key to the Hong Kong Design Institute’s embrace by the local community is the abundance of open outdoor space it can share. This open space is welcoming, but also isolating, and sets the Institute apart as something special. The open spaces span the site, guaranteeing urban connections across it, so that the block does not become a barrier in the future, not matter what is built next door. The scheme offers is a range of exterior space types, from tight, dynamically charged, urban sorts of spaces—the podium level plaza—to open and clear, park-like spaces with an absolute functionality—the playing courts and pool area.
The cylinder presents a minimal surface area to the environment, minimizing energy transfer and therefore reducing requirements for mitigation; this is leveraged further by the fact that it is a single large building, with the advantage of choosing between centralized high efficiency zoned HVAC or dispersed systems. The openings and cuts in the building mass, along with the large quantities of operable glazing, are configured to maximize cross ventilation and passive microclimate cooling opportunities. The concrete construction system provides the greatest possible thermal mass, which is further enhanced by the extra dimension of structure for future expansion. The glazing around the exterior is protected from the direct sunlight by the sunshade wrapper screen, which throws forest shadows into the interior, and rainwater can be collected on the extensive roof for irrigation and aesthetic uses below.