Conventional High Rise Buildings in Hong Kong

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Modernism always emphasize that the form of space to be developed based on the objective conditions of the external environment, the architectural form can be fully reflected as a result of its function, however, such type of architectural form which dominated by functionalism was increasingly being questioned in modern times, some of the architects attempt to find new directions from the abstract philosophical thought, and developed the so-called deconstruction.

The creator of the theory of deconstruction was Jacques Derrida, he was a philosopher who questioned against the stringency of dualistic thinking in Western thought, and stressed the uncertainty of the text in ideological expressions, he thought a deconstructive reading can analyze the binary oppositions in metaphysics, and a new structure can also be generated though the dismantling processes.

The Hung Hom Bay Campus of Hong Kong Community College is situated at the junction of Hung Lok Road and Hung Lai Road, Hung Hom, Hong Kong. The building is developed on a brown field site which was previously utilized by KCRC as a workshop. The neighboring buildings of the premises is the Royal Peninsula residential property in the north of the site (near Hung Hom South Road) and the Hung Hom Peninsula residential property in the southeast (near Hung Lok Road).

The architect of Hung Hom Bay Campus (HKCC) attempted to reflect upon the development of the urbanism of Hong Kong while the concept was in development stage in order to look for new possibilities. Attempted to explore the role of deconstruction theory though analysis of the buildings in the city.

In Hong Kong, a city with a high building density, institutional buildings are however normally low-rise. The Hong Kong Community College (Hung Hom Bay Campus) introduced a new unique concept in high-rise institutional tower typology, solid and void rhythm was applied in the high tower; it also introduced a new way for teaching and learning by spatial arrangements of the building and provided gardens in the air, to provide a large number of common spaces for sharing and interaction of the teachers and students.


Conventional high rise building in Hong Kong

With the growth of architecture design and building technology, the skyscrapers are built higher and higher. Hong Kong, as the richest and fast working speed city in the world, covers thousands of skyscrapers and high-rise buildings in its limited land. In Hong Kong, the architects used to use light steel to construct the buildings. And the exterior wall is covered by glass curtain. This kind of design is beautiful and modern, but has some potential limitations.

Some analysis of the architecture exterior elevation design in the world reveals that the glass curtain wall introduces successful solutions for the modern issue in the contemporary architecture. Yet, at the level of architecture identity and city image, concrete exterior wall was not popular in the architecture design.

Some imaginative but frankly scary forms of extreme urbanism were emerging as technologists invent concepts for ever larger and more densely populated cities like Hong Kong, but their form was just for appearance and could not semiotically represent it's function.

With the construction technology developed, glass curtain wall has become a necessary architecture design in the world. Especially the high-rise building and skyscraper all prefer to use the glass curtain as the exterior wall.

In Hong Kong, there are more than two thousand buildings that use the glass curtain wall. However, there are some problems to this architecture design especially the light pollution which affects human life.

The decoration of glass curtain wall is like a giant glass mirror standing beside the street. This architecture design is very modern and beautiful, it could elevate the city’s value and put it to a higher position. Some famous skyscrapers like International Finance Center, Central Plaza, Bank of China, The Center, Nina Tower etc. place Hong Kong among the world-class cities.

But as the Hong Kong residents mentioned, they do not prefer the building decorated with the glass curtain wall only, it is not healthy and causes many troubles for the people who live inside and outside. The architect of Hung Hum Bay Campus attempted to challenge these conventional high rise buildings in Hong Kong, and to develop a new typology of high rise tower by breaking down the elements in skyscrapers through deconstruction and reorganize it by his analysis, instead of just using glass curtain walls to complete the design.

The typical “Millennium” schools

Hong Kong was having a limit of land, most of the land was in a slope and only small number of them are flat. The population in Hong Kong requires a lot of institutional facilities, thus, it was uneconomical and not easy to design every school campus uniquely.

In the year of 2000, most of the construction of Hong Kong's public schools were according to the government's standard design, those campus called the standard "millennium" schools, and this "standard" also reflects the changing of time, growing of the importance of social education.

A typical "millennium" campus occupies six thousand square meters, with a total of thirty standard classrooms and 16 special rooms. in addition to common music room or art room, the campuses also provide information and technology learning centers, language learning room, etc. The student playgrounds are at the ground floor, staff rooms are at the top (7th floor), and the standard classrooms are separated individually.

Although the facilities of the "millennium" campus were undoubtedly more comprehensive than in the past, it's essentially was still a "molded " design, it reflected the inflexibility of "molded " education in Hong Kong.

Mr. Patrick Lau, the head of Hong Kong architectural, surveying and urban Planning department who has been involved in a number of international schools buildings, said that an architect should understand the need of space, educational philosophy and teaching methods of the school in order to design a corresponding campus for the school.

The architect of Hung Hom Bay Campus of Hong Kong Community College had questioned about the reason of using "millennium" design. Since the government said it was convenience, and it can suit every schools. But it had actually affected the education policy which both the construction of the campus and the study courses are "molded ". Although the standard "millennium" campus allowed School sponsoring bodies to involve in the design, the outcome were still stereotyped, and the designs didn't allow students to interact since the playgrounds, classrooms, activities rooms and staff rooms are seperated. So the architect of Hung Hom Bay Campus (HKCC) broke down and reorganized the items and functions of the traditional “Millennium” campus and worked out the new design.

Polytechnic University Semiotics

Hong Kong Community College is a branch of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, to study how the Hung Hom Bay Campus (HKCC) to be semiotically recognizing and representing Polytechnic University, this paper studies the semiotics of other campus of Polytechnic University.



The main campus was the earliest built campus of Polytechnic University, it was situated in the density city of Hong Kong, the series of buildings were designed in simple regular shapes and cylinders , no curves or irregular shape was in the form of the buildings. They are all appeared in red bricks elevation, it was an unique and representative recognition for Polytechnic University. Stripe patterns also appeared on it's facade design as a recognition.

West Kowloon Campus(HKCC):

West Kowloon Campus was another campus of Hong Kong Community College, both Hung Hom bay campus and it were designed in simple rectangular boxes modules and applied solid and void in the design while West Kowloon Campus was putting rectangular blocks together, and Hung Hom bay campus was caving rectangular voids out; they were both putting the gardens in the air which exposed to the elevations.


Deconstruction means anti-structure, to defuse the core of the structure; which is characterized by anti-centrality, anti-dualistic opposition and anti-authority. The design of the Hung Hom Bay Campus of Hong Kong Community College had semiotically defused the definition of a high rise tower, there was no dualistic opposition meanings between the program of the design, different facilities can be connected to share.

The architect had understood the educational philosophy and teaching method of the Hong Kong Community College before the beginning of the design, he studied and referenced the teaching methods in American education, which emphasis on open expression, respecting the student's ideas, and to mingle with the relationship of teacher and students. The design of the campus also provided more spaces for students to sit down to chat with the teachers. This paper will discuss the meaning of it's spatial arrangement, the semiotic of it's elevations and the form, the representation and semiotical meaning of it's material, in order to find out how the building still be able to understand as a campus, and representing Hong Kong Polytechnic University through deconstruction.

It can be perceived from the exterior elevations of the campus, a continuous spiral chain of communal sky gardens along the tower block periphery was extending from the lower ground floor to the 17th floor, they created relaxing and pleasant spaces, which can be semiotically understood as a place for learning. Instead of those, the arrangement of the sky gardens also re-interpretated the architect's understanding of outdoor learning spaces and public spaces. Growthing plants on the sky gardens can be used as afforestation and enhanced sunlight getting in, a lot of afforestation embodies greening effect and on the other hand brought out a feeling of shock and wonderful.

Meaning of Space

Throughout the deconstruction took place in the design process, the Hung Hom Bay Campus of Hong Kong Community College provided new meanings to the institutional building by spatial arrangements.

The architects of Hung Hom Bay Campus (HKCC), AD+RG (Architecture Design and Research Group), had created a modular planning design for the building, they developed a flexible “modular system of spatial combination” in the design, it was capable of future transformation to facilitate the need of adaptability or flexibility. The premises target to cater ever changing teaching needs in future as well as developing technologies.

In order to utilize a maximum of available spaces above a limited area of land, Hung Hom Bay Campus(HKCC) had designed a new spatial layout, it broke down the conventional playgrounds or gardens on the ground floor, and put them onto the tower to make it become sky gardens. Then insert popular gathering activities adjacent to the gardens such as canteen, Student Union facilities, etc., in order to bring the popularity together to the upper stairs of the campus effectively, which could comply the architectural design concept of vertical development. In addition, the sky gardens on the building was not only for creating an ideal environment for the campus, it encouraged students to be initiative to learn, also enhance the student's sense of belonging, and even made it a good place for students discussion and to exchange their knowledge.

The campus design had made good use of spatial layout, it used high rise construction for vertical development, roof gardens was set nearby the public facilities such as classrooms, canteen, cafe and library, unlike the standard "millennium" campuses which the facilities were separated without any connections and interactions, it provided a new appearance for higher education institutions.

In order to prevent congestions and delays occurs at the lift lobbies and main entrances in this multi storey high rise campus at the peak times, thus, the spatial arrangement, distribution and position of elevators, and escalators had detail considerated when designing the building. All major lecture rooms were located at the lower block beside the platform, it can help students escape effectively. Classrooms and facilities for staffs was situated surrounding the public spaces, it means the architects encourage the communication between teachers and students. Two large plazas were particular featured on the ground floor and fourth floor as main outdoor activities spaces, with the lecture theaters, student union activity centre, and catering areas surrounding, increased the Cohesiveness of the plazas.

Elevation semiotics

The spiral communal space organization in the modular elevation design was articulated by square shaped planning modules to match the communal space organization and enhance air flow across the building mass. The design had integrated greenery into the elevations, feature trees and palms were located at the semi open communal spaces to enhance natural ventilation and also as a focus to create a unique landmark for orientation.

The facade design also complied the semiotic features of the main campus of Polytechnic University, which stripe patterns was applied to the exterior elevation design of the solid parts as a recognition of campus of the university.

Semiotics of Form

Unlike other contemporary high rise buildings or skyscrapers, the form of the Hung Hom Bay Campus (HKCC) was not just designed for exaggerated or unnatural to draw attentions, it composes of various teaching blocks stacked spirally in the air, which are separated with sky gardens at different levels.

The continuous spiral chain of communal sky gardens could be perceived along the tower block periphery extending from the lower-ground floor to the upper-most floors. The gardens enrich the building elevation with a natural, pleasant environment and help to create a different open learning and communal environment.

In order to make good use of all available spaces within a limited land, the Hung Hom Bay Campus (HKCC) was composted with a lower platform and a high rise tower connecting by elevators at the center of the building, it provided the natural ventilation and allowed enough sunlight or daylight going into interior on the one hand, it could also prevent the adjacent buildings blocking the view of the architecture.

The indoor garden without glass curtain wall enhanced the interior view and permeability. By putting sky gardens into different floors and positions, beside providing public learning spaces for students and teachers of the college, the semi open sky gardens also made the campus semiotically became an unique landmark in the city. The public green plazas located at ground floor and fourth floor were the nodes of the campus, achieved the organic combination of both artificial afforestation and natural ecology. The plants growth on the sky gardens were not only for afforestation, in addition, they were letting sun lights get into the interior and providing a natural and peaceful atmosphere for study. It had complied greening effect to the vertical development of institutional building, provided much fresh air to the interior, and even provided a comfortable visual enjoyment for students, teachers, and other users.

Material representation

The material selection of the Hung Hom Bay Campus (HKCC) had been through a careful consideration, in order to achieve a entity and transparent visual contrast between the solid and voids of the campus. The elevation attempted to use two different materials, high transparency glass walls and the highly entity traditional crimson colored bricks of Polytechnic University, which did not only created different transparencies, but also benefits to control the intensity of sunlight entries instead of just using "beautiful and modern" curtain walls.


It was concluded that the Hung Hom Bay Campus of Hong Kong Community College can be semiotically understood as a new type of high rise institutional tower through deconstruction, and it can be easily recognized as a campus of Polytechnic University in result.

The design broke down the elements of contemporary skyscrapers and high rise buildings and the conventional standard typical " millennium " schools campuses which was popular in Hong Kong through deconstruction. After analysis and reorganize those elements, the form of the building can still draw attentions from public, but it was in a simple way but not in exaggerate or unnatural irregular shapes; classroom, staff room, gardens and playgrounds still exists in the new campus, but became everywhere and interactive, it provides a pleasant atmosphere for both the users and the building elevations, which made the building semiotically understood as a campus for learning; the traditional crimson colored bricks of Polytechnic University and the modern glass curtain walls had still used, but they were appearing in corresponding positions, it enhanced the entity and transparent visual contrast between the solid and voids in addition.

The main concept of Hung Hom Bay Campus of Hong Kong Community college was to produce an unique landmark of green building and introduce a new type of high rise institutional building through deconstruction, it was fully demonstrated that a high rise construction can still be successfully integrated with the elements of natural environment in a city with ultra density. The campus shows the multiple benefits of a high rise green tower. This design not only enhance the performance of the building and improving the environmental comfort, on the other hand it provided a greening effect as an oasis to the complex urban environment in Hong Kong.

The innovative design combining with the environmental target of the project was effective and resulted as a favorable effect. As a public architecture, the semi open sky gardens and green plazas provided an Significant, impressive and enjoyable green space in the city.


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