For many decades, Hong Kong was a mythological colonial outpost – a gateway between West and East where your well-travelled friends had been but couldn’t describe because it was just so different to anything else they had seen. It was a place that despatched its expat kids to boarding school in England, the US and Australia with stories of country clubs and crazy wealth. It was a place that seemed physically close to China but economically and socially hitched to the West.
There are probably lots of good reasons to be mildly anxious about China’s ascension to the world’s largest economy, but Hong Kong provides an amazing view into the sort of positive life and culture that we could expect if the super power merges with (rather than diminishes) the international influence that has already taken seed in Hong Kong.
The Fleming, Wan Chai
Against the odds in one of Hong Kong’s most cramped and dusty neighbourhoods, the recently reworked Fleming Hotel provides proof that a scarcity of space is not an issue if your design team – in this case headed by A Work of Substance – has an abundance of creativity. With rooms that feel more like ship cabins, and staff that move with the grace of actors, staying at The Fleming is what it might be like in Wes Anderson’s head.
If we had a dollar for every time someone in big business or government mentions a desire to support ‘makers’ without any real willingness to subsidise their workspace, we would use that money to establish a universal basic income. Then we could all be makers. How quaint.
PMQ is a refurbished heritage police headquarters that actually turns making into something more than a nostalgic pipe dream. Its dozens of workshops, retail shops and cooking schools are intelligently curated, actively programmed and cleverly marketed. But the most important thing to know is that rent is partly or sometimes fully underwritten so that the businesses it holds can be viable. Hear ye, hear ye: That’s what it will actually take to make making happen.
British designer Ilse Crawford is the go-to-gal for clients who want to preserve some vestige of British times while acknowledging that the Asian Century has arrived. While she has done a bang-up job with the Cathay First Class Lounge, her work on the rooftop restaurant Duddell’s is most perfectly positioned between old and new Hong Kong. The Finance District of Hong Kong can be pretty overwhelming in a ‘do I choose Celine or Valentino’ way, so being able to shoot up an elevator to a low-level rooftop bar and restaurant with less gloss is a relief. Then you can sit down and eat dim sum while watching well-dressed bankers who speak five languages.
Fashion Walk, Causeway Bay
Fashion Walk is a definitively local retail experience in a city where many malls are internalised and feel like they could be in Dubai, or Shanghai – or anywhere with lots of new money. Set within a grid of four city blocks, the whole experience is more like a matrix of great retail streets than a shopping centre. Amongst many, many strong local and international brands, the retail mix includes the island’s best Nike store, a Maison Kitsune, Tsumori Chisato and Frapbois, which when combined with the energy and noise of Hong Kong make the precinct feel like Tokyo had a bender and didn’t put itself back together very well the next day.
Potato Head Hong Kong, Sai Ying Pun
One of Indonesia’s best lifestyle brands, Potato Head, has spread its wings across Asia including Hong Kong where their Sou Fujiimoto designed restaurant/lifestyle store/bar/best-record-listening-room-in-the-world provides the prefect antidote to the intensity of the city. If you want a masterclass in how to handle a booking, design a space, service the floor and cook healthy food you can get it all in one stop here. Hybrid retail is what people seem to want at the moment but it’s really hard to pull off – Potato Head is proof it can be done with the right amount of care and finesse.
About Study Tours
Study Tours are not intended to be city guides. Their purpose is to try and understand how different cities function, what kind of life they provide their inhabitants and what we might be able to learn from them. Think of them not as a comprehensive list of things to do but as a comment from a curious fly on the wall, delivered without an opinion of how the city ought to be better. All our Study Tours can be found here.
Barrie Barton is co-founder of Right Angle Studio. Since 2005 he has overseen the company’s strategy and insights, establishing it as one of the most influential agents of urban change in Australia and increasingly across the world, with Right Angle now also working in London and Johannesburg. Qualified as a lawyer but motivated by creating cities that improve the lives of their inhabitants, Barrie brings a humanistic understanding and casual style to property development. He will be providing the closing address at the 2018 ULI Asia Pacific Summit in June.
Tour photography by Liu Jingya. Additional images courtesy of Potato Head Hong Kong and The Fleming.