JAMES KINOSHITA: Looking at the skyline now, I find that the strength of Hong Kong or the image of Hong Kong is the harbour and the Peak behind them. And the buildings in the foreground become just a mass of images. I think Hong Kong is a city of a clash of various images. I guess that gives us the liveliness of Hong Kong. Probably the architecture reflects this. It's a mixture of all sorts of things.
At that time, it had a very colonial feel about it. There are a lot of buildings of colonial period, like the Prince's Building. And then you've got the old Post Office. So there were a lot of that type of building. Hong Kong is a very dense city, so you've got to go up high to build on the land. With the Connaught Centre or Jardine House, as they now call it, basically it's a tower form. You put a tower going all the way down to the ground and leave the ground free as a plaza. So we'll build a bridge across Connaught Road so that people can come over. That is how the walkway system in Central started. It started from Connaught Centre crossing Connaught Road.
In order to get light into the office space, we had to produce windows. I took some of these ideas home. My wife [Lana], when she looked at it, she said, ‘Oh, it looks so boring. Why don't you try something different, like circles?’ A popular artist called [Victor] Vasarely, he uses squares and circles. I like that painting, so I thought, well, I would use the same principle. So that's why we went ahead and put circular windows into the office space.
It's very difficult to practice in Hong Kong, where everything is fairly commercial. It's high rise. I wondered whether I should stay in Hong Kong or not, and at that time, I asked Lana what she thinks about it. She said, ‘Why? Why do you want to go away?’ I said, ‘Well, Hong Kong is lacking in culture. It's very difficult to do good design.’ And she said, ‘Well, why don't you challenge it? Why don't you do something about it?’ With that fact and with that challenge, I accepted the partnership [at Palmer and Turner] and then tried to do my best to come up with the best solution for them. I don't regret it. I think, well, I'll try to do my best, try to do the best I can, as far as architecture is concerned.
Find out how Canadian architect James Kinoshita helped turn Hong Kong into one of the world’s most iconic vertical cities.
When James Kinoshita (Canadian, born 1933) arrived in Hong Kong in 1960, he inadvertently found himself at the forefront of the city’s construction boom. During his twenty-eight years at Palmer & Turner, one of Hong Kong’s oldest architectural and engineering firms, Kinoshita designed some of the city’s most enduring architectural landmarks.
Twenty-Eight Years of Iconic Hong Kong Architecture
Some of Kinoshita’s most distinctive projects from his time at Palmer & Turner include Hong Kong Island’s first five-star hotel, the Hilton Hotel (1963), one of the most prestigious venues in the city. (The hotel was demolished in 1995.) The American International Assurance (AIA) building on Stubbs Road (1966), Jardine House (1972), formerly known as the Connaught Centre, which at the time was Hong Kong’s tallest building.
Kinoshita was also responsible for the Electric House, Kennedy Road substation (1967–1970).
The Electric House is an electrical substation built on the hills of Central, Hong Kong. The client, Hong Kong Electric, decided to move its headquarters to the building during construction, assigning greater importance to the project than as simply a relay to deliver power.
The building is a rectangular volume supported by two large piers, cantilevering off both sides. The project resembles a bridge, located in a valley and spanning over a stream of water. The concrete facades sit on top of two glass-enclosed floors, appearing to float and creating an effect of lightness. Engineer Heinz Rust joined P&T and collaborated on the innovative structural aspects. Two conical forms protrude from the roof and protect electrical cables that come from the surrounding hills.
Hong Kong: Inhospitable?
As an avid collector, Kinoshita initially felt Hong Kong was inhospitable, driven more by commerce than by culture. At first, he was sceptical about the city’s architectural opportunities. But his wife, Lana, encouraged him to treat the shortcomings he perceived as design problems requiring solutions through better architecture and infrastructure.
How do architecture and urban planning affect our lives?
James Kinoshita’s research aimed to create infrastructure solutions for Hong Kong’s towering high-rises, extreme urbanism, and high population density. The outdoor Central–Mid-Levels escalator system, heralded as the world’s longest, is a vital commuting channel for local Hongkongers. And Jardine House has played a central role in the development of Hong Kong’s network of pedestrian walkways, which links together buildings from Western District to Wan Chai. Knowing how to navigate these walkways is perhaps the ultimate marker of a Hong Kong insider.
- Produced by
Kenji Wong Wai Kin
- Curatorial Research
Winnie Lai, Tina Pang
- M+ Video Production
Lara Day, Chris Sullivan
- Special Thanks
Aric Chen, Lana Cheung, James Kinoshita, Michael Rogge, P&T Architects and Engineers Ltd.
This video was originally published on M+ Stories.