The Hong Kong International Airport evolves through a multifaceted project that sits at the crossroads of travel and business in the Greater Bay Area
An architectural conceit of 11 SKIES, the new retailtainment landmark in Hong Kong, is that it identifies with the humble paper plane. But little about this development scans as miniature.
The HKD20-billion (USD2.5 billion) megaproject, from the conglomerate New World Development Company Ltd, is the largest hub for retail, dining, and entertainment in the special administrative region. Part of the 25-hectare integrated development known as SKYCITY, 11 SKIES elevates the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) from an aviation hub to an all-out aerotropolis.
Guided by its in-house lifestyle brand operator K11, New World Development in 2018 won a tender from the Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) to develop the 79,000-square-metre site close to HKIA and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB).
“In the past, many cities started around a train station,” says Claude Touikan, co-founder and executive director of the integrated design studio Lead8, which helped New World Development craft the winning, two-envelope tender submission. “But the other concept is a sky city, what we’ll call landside urbanisation.”
The site, a former golf course on Chep Lak Kok Island, comprises two blocks cleaved by a road. The northern plot sits above a depot for the automated people mover linking the airport to the SkyPier, the island’s passenger ferry port.
The southern plot is atop solid rock. HKIA’s Third Runway, which opened in July 2022, used some of the rocks excavated from the plot for reclamation.
More concerningly, the site stands on a flight path. This meant building heights had to be capped at eight levels or no more than 53 metres above Principle Datum (mPD), limiting the reach of the temporary tower cranes.
The development compensates for the vertical challenge with its behemoth of a footprint. With a gross floor area of 3.8 million sq ft, the development is divisible into 11 thematic spaces, each distinct enough to aid in wayfinding. They also lend the development its name.
Wind tunnel studies were imperative for a project of its expanse. A model of the project, built in the New Territories, was extensively tested for wind shear and typhoons.
Moreover, 11 SKIES observes extensive setbacks with respect to flight radar lines. The design team avoided flashy façade lights that could confound pilots while the 24,000 sqm of greenery were curated to avoid attracting birds. Parts of the original road, now seamlessly decked over at multiple levels, had to be kept open to the sky for easy access to fire and emergency responders.
We were able to translate our design inspiration of a paper airplane into an entirely new and unique façade articulation. The most important thing is that the development should not look like an airport building because we’re built next to the airport
The 11 SKIES development was to complete in three phases, making allowances for acquiring occupation permits. “After reviewing the programme and sequence of work with our construction team, we decided to change it to two phases to save time and cost for arranging temporary safety measures between each phases,” says Edwin Chan, head of projects for New World Development.
Since most supply chains originated from the mainland, many building materials, including those for the curtain wall, required water transport during the pandemic. The materials for the façade, expressed as a folded paper plane, especially challenged the team.
Driving back and forth from the Hong Kong-Mainland China border, the team cycled through at least 30 mock-ups before they found the ideal gradient for the dichromatic paint, which gives the façade its chameleonic colours.
The façade plays out in modules of glass panels and mullions, manufactured and milled offsite through CNC fabrication technology. “Starting with our folded paper inspiration, we were able to translate that design into an entirely new and unique façade articulation,” says Touikan.
“The most important thing is that the development should not look like an airport building because we’re built next to the airport.”
CNC technology was also put to use in The Vortex, a whimsical part of the project where sunshine cascades through two atria from a skylight. Façade contractor Pyrotech fitted the skylight with Minnesota-made, electrochromic SageGlass, which can tint itself and deflect heat. Lead8 and Pyrotech optimised the skylight geometry through complex 3D modelling. The skylight’s original profile had spawned many atypical glass shapes, delaying the fabrication of the panels.
Height restrictions meanwhile prevented the Centrestage, the central atrium of 11 SKIES, from using a more pronounced arch design. A flatter dome-like structure was used instead, erected with the help of a truss assembled on a track.
The payoff? The Centrestage is a spectacular exercise in world-building.
Garlanded with 83 geometric LED pods under an 88-by40-metre, elliptical LED ceiling, the funnel-shaped, six-storey void immerses occupants in simulations of everything from a space flight to an underwater world. Blurring the digital and real—the “phy-gital” world, says Touikan—the multisensory show happens more than once in a day.
Lead8 collaborated with Montreal-based multimedia studio Moment Factory, credited for visual spectacles from Los Angeles’ LAX to Singapore’s Changi Airport, to bring the theatrics to life.
“This is not a shopping mall,” says Touikan. “We designed spaces where people would like to come and visit and also enjoy.”
In addition to over 800 shops and more than 120 dining concepts, 11 SKIES is designed to house experiential entertainment facilities, including Hong Kong’s first 4D-motion “flying theatre” and SkyTrack, one of the world’s longest indoor-outdoor karting tracks. “From the very beginning, the brief from the airport authority is to build entertainment elements into this complex,” says Chan. “Retail is not enough. It’s such a huge, huge space.”
The development was also built to have 570,000 sq ft of Grade-A office spaces, in floor plates as huge as 2,000 sqm, across three towers. Opened in the same month as the Third Runway, the blocks offer wealth management, wellness, and medical services in one place, an attempt to capture a market of 86 million passengers from the Greater Bay Area.
The first phase of the office cluster has achieved target green certifications for Hong Kong BEAM Plus, LEED, and WELL. Saving 177,000 kWh of energy a year, the roofs of the towers are carpeted with over 400 sqm of hybrid photovoltaic and thermal (PVT) panels.
“It’s actually very effective to install these panels on top of our building because it has no shading,” observes Chan. “The only thing is, we cannot install too much or concentrate too much on one area because the reflection will affect the flights above.”
Overall, the development acts as a testbed for maverick technologies. Steeling itself for the impending phaseout of fossil-fueled cars across China, New World Development has collaborated with the Hong Kong Polytechnic University to develop an artificially intelligent system for charging electric vehicles. Airport City Link, set to include an elevated, enclosed thoroughfare plied by driverless cars, will bridge 11 SKIES and the landing port of the HZMB.
Having run myriad computer models, New World Development anticipates how traffic will move onsite in 15 to 30 years.
“With a name like 11 SKIES, you might automatically think the project’s focus is on its proximity to the airport,” says Touikan. “However, the development is a key part of a regional and international multi-modal transportation hub that is accessible via air, land, and sea.”
AAHK has built some of the six footbridges connecting 11 SKIES to its neighbours, including Terminal 2 and AsiaWorld-Expo. “Despite the pandemic, AAHK spares no effort in improving the airport’s facilities to prepare for the recovery of air traffic,” says AAHK chief executive Fred Lam in a statement.
With 120 million passengers poised to pass through HKIA every year, the developer is taking its hometown to greater altitudes. “I’m proud that at the end of the day, we have created a new destination for Hong Kong,” says Chan. “That is the most important task for us.”
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