ultramarinus – beyond the sea

FLOATING WAY: Central Elevated Walkways (中區行人天橋), Central (中環), Hong Kong

In March 1992, Space Design, a Japanese monthly journal of art and architecture published a special feature on “Hong Kong: Alternative Metropolis” as its Issue 330. One of its articles was “Ue-no-michi”: Floating Way – Central New Town, which introduces to Japanese readers the Central Elevated Walkways, an extensive footbridge network that connects a significant numbers of office towers and shopping centres in the central business district of Hong Kong. The authors mapped out the system, and examined its significance on master planning and urban development of the city. In fact, this pedestrian circulation system has long been a well known reference case for urban planning studies around the world. Without touching the ground, one can pass from one office tower to another, or transfer from a ferry pier to a bus terminal, or access to restaurants, shops, services, hotels, apartments, post office, banks, or ascend to the Mid Levels from the harbourfront. Not only does the network enhances pedestrian connectivity in Downtown Hong Kong, it also offers a safe, weather protected, well lit, clean, convenient, and sometimes air conditioned public space network several metres above the dust, noises and air pollution of the streets. Separating pedestrian and vehicular circulations is also beneficial to vehicular traffic on the streets, where pedestrian traffic lights can be placed much further apart.

The Central Elevated Walkway began in 1970’s, when developer and Central’s biggest landlord Hongkong Land (置地) constructed a footbridge between Connaught Place (now Jardine House), Swire House (now Chater House) and the General Post Office. From then on, the government, developers and banking corporations continue to expand the network to include more buildings and bridge connections. Similar strategy has been adopted elsewhere in the city, notably in business districts Admiralty and Wan Chai, entertainment district Mong Kok, industrial district Tsuen Wan, etc. In 2012, architects and scholars Adam Frampton, Jonathan Solomon and Clara Wong published Cities Without Ground: A Hong Kong Guidebook. The three architectural scholars provide a detailed analysis of the elevated walkways in Hong Kong with beautiful isometric maps. Apart from pedestrian circulation, the book also celebrate the social aspects of the raised spatial system as an essential and integral layer of the city.

Navigating the labyrinth of elevated walkways in Central is not as difficult as one may think, as users can always rely on the clear signage and street scenes below to orient themselves. Elevated several metres above ground, the walkways offer a unique vantage point to enjoy the urban scenery of the financial district. Every Sunday, the covered elevated walkways and adjoining podiums would be turned into a gathering point for foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong. Sitting in small groups on folded cardboard, the domestic helpers (mainly from Philippines and Indonesia) would gather and eat, chat, pray, dance, sing karaoke, tell jokes, watch smartphone videos, play card games, make long distant video calls, etc. The walkways where normally dominated by quick pace pedestrians would suddenly become a vibrant social hub as if a public park.

Built in the 1970’s by developer Hongkong Land (置地), the elevated walkway between Connaught Place (now Jardine House), Swire House (now Chater House) and the General Post Office at Connaught Road Central. [Photo: Connaught Place, 2021]
The walkway can be accessed via footbridge from Jardine House, or via a staircase from the building’s plaza. [Photo: Connaught Place, 2020]
Horizontal LED screens have been installed at the 1970’s walkway recently. [Photo: Connaught Road Central, 2022]
Across from the 1970’s walkway, a newer footbridge connecting Worldwide House and Exchange Square was erected by the government in 2000’s. [Photo: Connaught Road Central, 2022]
A range of footbridges span across the major thoroughfare Connaught Road Central. [Photo: Connaught Road Central, 2020]
Compared to the aluminium enclosure of the 1970’s walkway, the glassy canopy of the 2000’s footbridge represents building technology from a completely different era. [Photo: Connaught Road Central, 2020]
Fritted lines on the glass canopy provides a certain degree of sunshading for the footbridge. [Photo: Connaught Road Central, 2015]
Since 1970’s, Hongkong Land has linked up its office buildings and luxury shopping complex Landmark Atrium with footbridges. [Photo: Des Voeux Road Central, 2022]
Being the biggest landlord in Central, Hongkong Land was the first company to construct footbridges between its buildings. [Photo: Des Voeux Road Central, 2022]
The bridge at Standard Charter Bank is cladded with a similar stone material as the bank tower. [Photo: Des Voeux Road Central, 2022]
The elevated walkways offer a different urban vista from the streets below. [Photo: Des Voeux Road Central, 2022]
Views from the walkways of Hongkong Land are often dominated by signage of international fashion brands. [Photo: Pedder Street, 2022]
On Sunday, the elevated walkways in Central would be occupied by groups of domestic helpers, including the footbridges at Hang Seng Bank Tower. [Photo: Des Voeux Road Central, 2020]
Moving up and down hillside Central via the Central to Mid Levels Escalators to watch the urban scenery unfolding in front of our eyes is like entering a bustling motion picture as silent spectators. [Photo: Cochrane Street, 2021]
The longest elevated walkway is located at Connaught Road Central, where it links Exchange Square in Central all the way to Shun Tak Centre in Sheung Wan. [Photo: Connaught Road Central, 2022]
The elevated walkway goes in parallel with Connaught Road Central. [Photo: Connaught Road Central, 2021]
Across Connaught Road Central, the walkway passes by a series of small commercial towers packed tightly together. [Photo: Connaught Road Central, 2020]
The elevated walkway merges with the podium and upper entrance of Exchange Square. [Photo: Exchange Square at Connaught Road Central, 2020]
From the walkway, pedestrians can access the podium of Exchange Square. [Photo: Exchange Square at Connaught Road Central, 2020]
The podium of Exchange Square is popular with groups of domestic helpers on Sunday. [Photo: Exchange Square at Connaught Road Central, 2021]
Owned by Hongkong Land, the 5-storey Forum is a new addition to the podium of Exchange Square. [Photo: Exchange Square at Connaught Road Central, 2021]
As part of the International Finance Centre (IFC) Mall, the neat footbridge links the Four Seasons Hotel with the main mall complex. [Photo: IFC Mall and Four Seasons Hotel, 2020]
Apart from Landmark Atrium, IFC Mall is another high end shopping centre in Central fully connected with the elevated walkways in a number of directions. [Photo: IFC Mall and Four Seasons Hotel, 2022]
At its north, a footbridge links the IFC Mall with Central Piers. [Photo: IFC Mall and Central-Wan Chai Bypass, 2014]
The footbridge passes over the newly completed Central-Wan Chai Bypass before arriving at the Central Piers. [Photo: IFC Mall and Central-Wan Chai Bypass, 2020]
At the IFC Mall, even the department store Lane Crawford is serving as a pedestrian linkage over a busy street. [Photo: IFC Mall, 2022]
Further west of IFC Mall, the walkway network extends towards Shun Tak Centre and Hong Kong and Macau Ferry Terminal in Sheung Wan. [Photo: Man Kat Street, 2020]
The walkway makes a bend towards Victoria Harbour as it approaches Rumsey Street Car Park in Sheung Wan. [Photo: Rumsey Street Car Park, 2022]
Across the Harbour, the International Commerce Centre (ICC) stands like a monumental totem pole in West Kowloon. [Photo: Rumsey Street Car Park, 2022]
Have a view of West Kowloon Cultural District before entering Hong Kong – Macau Ferry Terminal at Shun Tak Centre. [Photo: Rumsey Street Car Park, 2022]

One response

  1. Pingback: SIX ARCHITECTS, SIX ICONS OF CENTRAL (中環), Hong Kong | Blue Lapis Road

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