With a history of more than 80 years, the Central Market Building will be revitalised into a whole new landmark, a “Playground for All”, that connects the community, safeguards our cultural heritage, and drives innovation.
From 2009 to 2011, the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) conducted extensive public engagements to discover what the public wanted regarding operational approaches of a revitalised Central Market Building. The first round of survey results suggested that more than 80% of respondents wanted inexpensive eateries of good quality and local flavours. Respondents also indicated that they wanted the architectural design to be preserved and enhanced, and that the interior space should be reconfigured to create a diversified and non-uniform leisure space for public enjoyment.
The opinions collected from the public engagement exercise were consolidated and issued as part of the requirements on how Central Market should be operated in the future. After a rigorous selection process, the URA has recently chosen Chinachem Group to manage and operate the city’s Central Market revitalization project for a term of ten years. By enhancing the building’s historical heritage to enshrine it in collective memory, Chinachem Group aims to create a cultural corridor between old and new neighbourhoods and evoke a sense of belonging and connection.
The first-generation Central Market opened to the south of its present site under the management of a Chinese man called A Foon.
Rapid population growth resulted in a demand for new markets. The second-generation Central Market is believed to have been established in the 1850s at its present location.
Ding Xinbao, City of Victoria, A Selection of the Museum's Historical Photographs, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Museum of History, 1999, p.44
The third-generation Central Market comprised two blocks of two storeys each with a central avenue in between. The walls of the building were red brick with granite features.
The fourth and last Central Market rises four storeys and is an example of the Streamline Moderne Bauhaus style of the time. The building has a total of 255 market stalls with an open Atrium located at the center of the building.
Revitalised under the new theme of “Playground for All”, Central Market is expected to commence its first phase of operations in the third quarter of 2021.
We believe that the project can not only unveil the history of the past through the building characteristics, but actually showcase and lead the future as well. By adopting a flexible and interactive design, we aim to make it a ‘21st Century Marketplace’,
In October 2017, the URA took control of the Central Market conservation and revitalisation project to prepare for repairs and renovation works. It took the URA over three years to complete the first phase of rehabilitation and preservation works at a cost of more than HK$500 million.
To ensure structural safety, the URA used Fibre-Reinforced Polymer Composites (FRP), a new engineering technology, to strengthen the structure without affecting the outward appearance of the building.
The interior of the building has also been extensively remodelled. In the 1990s, for example, in order to connect the Central Market Building to the Central-Mid-Levels escalator and walkway system, part of the pedestrian passage on the second floor of the building was converted into a shopping corridor. However, this reconfiguration caused the side of the passage facing the atrium to be enclosed by shops, which affected natural lighting. When the project team restored the structure of the pedestrian passage, they removed the additional retail spaces to expose the original open-column- style structure that is composed of concrete beams and columns. This restored the building’s original architectural style and directs natural light from the periphery and windows facing the atrium wall to reduce the configuration of indoor artificial light sources and achieve energy savings.
Vincent Ng, Senior Director at AGC Design, the project’s lead architectural consultant and conservation consultant, said that the bridge above the atrium was also widened to make it easier for visitors to travel between spaces. In addition to pedestrian passages that are open 24 hours a day, the new Central Market Building provides approximately 1,000 square metres of green space for relaxation.
21st Century Marketplace
When Central Market was built in the 1930s, it was an epoch-defining building. From the building materials and practical design, to the market’s operation and management model, it fully reflected the “innovative” mindset and management practices of the era.
The revitalised Central Market continues to embody that innovative spirit while providing a diverse community space. Just like the concept of “Playground for All”, it maintains its historic charm and integrity and also provides conditions to promote innovation, while meeting the three objectives set by the URA – making Central Market approachable, energetic and gregarious. In other words, Central Market will be more friendly, energetic, and suitable for all ages.
In addition to having old brands carry on our time-honoured tradition, new brands will also be introduced to the retail mix of the soon-to-open Central Market to encourage local brands to showcase innovations. “Edutainment” elements will further be added to provide different activities in public spaces for the general public to participate in. In addition, Chinachem Group will also provide support for innovative start-ups and tech companies, hoping to create common value for, and give back to, society by working with the URA.
“We believe that the project can not only unveil the history of the past through the building characteristics, but actually showcase and lead the future as well. By adopting a flexible and interactive design, we aim to make it a ‘21st Century Marketplace’,” said Donald Choi, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of Chinachem Group.
Mitigating urban heat island effects
Central Market was in operation until 2003. By that time, there had been voices calling for a redevelopment of the Central Market site into an office building. There were also opposition voices advocating that it should be preserved. Prof Edward Ng, Yao Ling-Sun Professor of Architecture, School of Architecture at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, is one of those who suggested preserving the building. From the perspective of urban planning, he explained: “We conducted an urban climate analysis on the area, which showed that Central and Sheung Wan, including the current site of Central Market, are worthy of consideration as a buffer to urban heat island effect.” If that was feasible, he argued, the area should avoid increasing development density. Green public recreational spaces would be an ideal option to ensure there are gaps between tall buildings, allowing sea breezes to flow through the city. Prof Ng’s proposal was accepted by the government.