14 November 2018
The top three eyesores: (from left) Chinese People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Building in Central, Central Government’s Liaison Office building in Sai Wan and Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui. Photos: Bloomberg, Baycrest,
The top three eyesores: (from left) Chinese People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Building in Central, Central Government’s Liaison Office building in Sai Wan and Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui. Photos: Bloomberg, Baycrest,

Urban eyesores: Hong Kong’s ugliest buildings

Hong Kong bristles with modern edifices and colonial gems. The city’s skyline is a favored canvas to many Hollywood filmmakers and graces postcards and fridge magnets that fly off shelves at souvenir shops.

We all take pride in our architectural icons that are the envy of other cities, like the HSBC Main Building in Central, a masculine structure of glass and aluminum designed by Norman Foster.

The awesome, 368-meter Bank of China Tower, Ieoh Ming Pei’s masterpiece, is perhaps one of the most recognizable skyscrapers on the planet with its prism-like façade and asymmetrical, geometric design. Facebook uses the tower as the symbol of Hong Kong.

Other stunning landmarks dot the pearlescent harbor and criss-cross the territory, like 2 International Finance Centre, Peninsula hotel, the airport terminal, the convention and exhibition center, and many others.

Unfortunately, we also have shockers that blight the landscape.

People are unlikely to have a meeting of minds when it comes to naming the buildings they loathe most. But we still managed to shortlist a few indisputable eyesores, thanks to their appearance, level of atrociousness, and the prime locations they occupy.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Building surely leads the pack.

Completed in 1979 and named after the Prince of Wales until the end of the British rule, the 28-storey building that has the shape of an inverted gin bottle provides a jarring contrast to the host of sleek, glass office towers along the Central waterfront.

It is said that its narrow stem that leads to the upper storeys was designed to make it difficult to trespass or attack.

Clad in bamboo scaffolding for almost a year, the PLA Hong Kong Garrison Building underwent a massive renovation and facelift in 2014.

It’s now wrapped in dull, Soviet-style stone façade and is crowned by a giant red star – the PLA emblem – on the side facing Victoria Harbor, shining brightly at night.

Some say the huge star is subtle muscle-flexing to Hongkongers to deter any anti-Beijing troublemakers.

Rumors about Beijing’s intentions were further fueled by a neon light display on the building. Like a fierce warning, flashing lights spell out “Chinese People’s Liberation Army” in rough simplified Chinese characters at night, looming over the harbor renowned for its glittering skyline and night view.

That neon display prompted some district councilors to file a motion of protest. Since the refurbishment, the building has been lit up by LED strips along the edges.

When the Chinese military abandons its low-key profile, Hongkongers may have to get used to the gleaming red star in the constellation of resplendent neon lights of a free metropolis.

Coincidentally, another blot on the city’s harborfront is also owned by Beijing: the Central Government’s Liaison Office building, also known as the Westpoint, in Sai Wan. It’s one of the tallest west of Central, dwarfing the mostly old tenement blocks in the district.

With a spherical penthouse adorning the roof, the 41-storey, 187-meter tower is one of the most noticeable high-rises dominating the island’s western skyline.

Without the sphere, the block tower could just have been a modern addition to the old neighborhood.

But according to Ho & Partners Architects, a local firm that designed the tower originally meant to serve as the head office of the state-owned conglomerate China Merchants Group, the client wanted to add the rooftop facility to symbolize the “Pearl of the Orient” and to house an executive clubhouse and a grand ballroom cum viewing gallery.

Spherical forms are seldom a coherent, enhancing element when added to a high-rise but they are still favored by mainland cadres and developers: Shanghai’s Lujiazui district is a shining example of how an excess of spherical structures, big and small, disfigure the otherwise well-balanced skyline.

One more disgrace to Hong Kong’s cityscape sits on the Kowloon side of the harbor: the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

Local cultural critics and artists are never big fans of the design of the city’s flagship cultural complex, which opened in 1989. It has no windows or balcony despite its prime location that commands an unobstructed panorama of the Hong Kong island – performances and exhibitions could otherwise be staged against the impressive backdrop of the harbor.

And, the center’s lavatory-colored, tile façade itself is a baffling, repugnant obstacle that blocks the view from Canton Road and most parts of Tsim Sha Tsui, not to mention that its concave roof fails to convey any artistic zest.

David Tang Wing-cheung, famed flâneur and founder of the Shanghai Tang fashion chain, once noted that the building is of such hideous proportions that the only solution is to have it blown up and rebuilt.

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A pro-democracy protester stands in front of the PLA building. The giant red star can be seen from across the harbor. Photo: Bloomberg

The recent renovation of the PLA building, with a giant red star on the top, has only exacerbated its disharmony with the modern commercial towers in Central. Photo:

Beijing’s liaison office building could have been a modern addition to the old neighborhood without the giant sphere on top. Photo: HPA

Hong Kong Cultural Centre, without windows or glass curtains, loses what could have been a panoramic view of the harbor. Photo: Percy Tai

EJ Insight writer

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