Norman Foster is one of my favorite architects. I love his work in redoing the British Museum and the Gerkan building in London is a modern urban icon. I had hoped he would win the World Trade Center project in New York. In Hong Kong he designed both the HCBC Building ant the Cruise Terminal at Tai Kak.
Hong Kong has two cruise terminals. Ocean Terminal is just to the west of the Star Ferry, in Hong Kong’s action central. It would have been nice to stay there because we would have, effectively, had an hour more each day. (The shuttlebus takes about a half hour to get to the Star Ferry area.) Most of our cruise mates were disappointed that we were tying up at Tai Kak. I was not because I wanted to experience Foster’s newest Hong Kong creation.
We’ve been to Tai Kak before. It’s the site of the old airport. In its day was one of the hairiest landings in the world. As your plane did a combat drop between rows of high rise flats you could look in the windows and see what TV programs people were watching. (Well I could tell that the TV was on and people were watching.) Our captain says that people dried their clothes in the wash of landing jumbo jets.
Now Runway 13 that extends into Kowloon Harbor contains a very new and very long cruise terminal that can berth at least three cruise ships. The terminal was built in 2013 but the planned shops and restaurants have yet to be occupied so going through the terminal now is like going through a huge, cavernous airport with no shops along the way and moving sidewalks that don’t work.
After my first in and out through the terminal I was ready to renounce every nice thing I had said about Norman Foster. It is terrible from a passenger’s point of view. You go down a ramp, then up an escalator then down again. You walk back and forth the length of the terminal, at different levels, between immigration, customs, security and the bus stands. It takes about 15 minutes walking to get from the ship to the bus, and that’s going through the green “nothing to declare” line. When I checked into the ship the security guard asked me how my day was. I said “Fine, but shoot the architect.” That got a laugh from him and several thumbs up from fellow passengers. Apparently the Captain agrees, reading his blog post on Hong Kong. (http://captainjonathan.com/)
I learned later that this gerbil race is due to territorial disputes between customs, immigration and security. Each has staked out its own territory. Foster did not design it that way, Chinese Bureaucrats did.
Someday, they tell us, there will be a floor of shops and restaurants. We saw a restaurant with the tables set, table cloths, glasses, flatware. But it wasn’t open. A woman who works for Holland America says she has NEVER seen it open, and she’s been coming here for nearly 5 years.
But the rooftop garden is lovely. It has panoramic views of Hong Kong Harbor and the typhoon shelter on the inside of the former runway. It has trees, a lily pond, fountains, benches, vending machines and a day care center. There is a toddler on the ship and she was invited to a birthday party there. There were three moms having a play group in the garden, and it’s a fine setting for bridal photos. All this and there is free wi-fi. It’s a beautiful park that has not really been discovered (well, it’s not on the MTR). It may be the most uncrowded space in Kowloon. And at night it is lit in ever changing colors.
OK, so I still like Norman Foster. Here are some pics of his HSBC building. It was laid out using the principles of Feng Shui, unlike the cruise terminal. Lonely Planet marks it as the second most interesting site in Hong Kong Central (after the Star Ferry) and says its third floor atrium as the most pleasant place to change money in the territory.