So many people, so little room. BHA has the answer to Hong Kong's great space problem
One of the most intensely populated nations in the world, Hong Kong not only faces issues housing its inhabitants while they are alive, but is also forced to seriously consider space-saving methods of dealing with its dead. BARRIE HO Architecture Interiors (BHA) thinks it may have the solution – a vast columbarium sprawling across 64,000 sq m of natural landscape on Lantau Island and offering some 300,000 niches.
Remaining fully immersed in local culture, BHA have drawn on traditional Tulou techniques, presenting a curious spatial interaction between the roundness of an outer ring of niches and the square-shaped form of the courtyard house-style columbaria in the internal spaces. The encircling form exemplifies the “Round heaven square earth” approach in Chinese architecture. Within these inner columbaria, inward-facing reflective pools provide moments of pensive relaxation for visitors, whilst the open-air spaces add to the calming atmosphere and allow for cross ventilation – crucial in a structure that will host many rituals and offerings with burning candles, paper and so forth.
A key constituent of this design is the building’s relationship with its surrounding natural environment. BHA wanted to provide a sanctuary for those visiting their loved ones away from the fast-paced raucous buzz of inner city life. Whilst many public columbaria are constructed vertically in urban areas for ease of access and cheaper land rates, the Grand Columbarium breaks away from this traditional form to offer a alternative resting place.
The proposal suggests that main access would be via boat to a ferry pier, upon which visitors will find a bazaar selling religious supplies. In order to ensure complete access for those of all mobility levels, the comprehensive designs include a number of golf carts, waiting at the ferry pier to transport the elderly or those of poor mobility to wherever they wish to go. Past the bazaar lies the Square Piazza, complete with Administrative and Amenities Blocks. From above the columbarium takes the shape of a large sundial, further connecting the complex with the essence of nature – as BHA puts it: “pulsing along with the rhythms of the four seasons.”
BHA have also suggested a slightly pared-down version of this ambitious project, located on a hillside rather than on flat land. Prototypes of this secondary concept also merge elements of curved and sharply edged design, retain the basic principles of the original plan such as the Admin and Amenities Blocks, and promote a ‘back to nature’ approach; however there are now nine separate courtyards (the ultimate number in Chinese arithmetic) linked by a central Memorial Promenade relying on vehicular transport from Tung Chung and Mui Wo.
It appears that a number of alternative methods of laying the dead to rest are surfacing at this point in time, with the forward-facing Miró Rivera Architects making the WAN AWARDS Civic Sector shortlist only last month with their daring design for a necropolis in the Dead Sea. As the world’s population continues to spiral, it is reassuring to see that architects the world over are looking for efficient and respectful methods of dealing with the inevitable.