Connecting City and Nature

Design for Wholeness
by Snøhetta

The AIRSIDE building has been crafted by Snøhetta, an internationally acclaimed architecture and design firm born in Oslo in 1987, is renowned for their unique interpretations of architecture and the surrounding environment. Their design was inspired by the intense fusion of natural elements, historic structure, and contemporary urban spaces in Hong Kong.

We spoke to Ricardo Sousa about how Snøhetta’s approach aligned with AIRSIDE’s principles of wholeness. We looked at the architect’s commitment to using building materials that achieve the best in quality in a considered way. And we heard about the role architecture plays in building a community that’s both interdependent and environmentally conscious

AIRSIDE invites in nature as well as community.
What were your priorities when you first took on this project?
It was important to figure out the new focal points of the neighbourhood – to create an identity and a landmark people will remember and visit, while respecting the surrounding environment.
What was your process for gaining a deeper understanding of Kai Tak and the city?
We had contacts in Hong Kong – and we were opening an office in the city – so we heard a lot of stories about the old airport. Nan Fung established a project office on-site, so we could assemble the whole team there. It meant we could really get to know the neighbourhood. I lived in Hong Kong for almost a year and I felt it in my skin.
How did you go about connecting private and public spaces – the development and its neighbouring streets?
So often in a city you feel coerced into interacting with commerce. It feels sometimes like there’s nowhere to sit down or take a moment for yourself. It was important to design a space that you would enjoy being in. In Hong Kong, it’s very warm outside. People actually use shopping malls to get from A to B, so it makes sense to build a space where you can have a good time – it’s about balance.
Early landscaping sketch for AIRSIDE’S roofscape.
How important is landscape when considering the flow of people?
Landscape is essential. On the ground floor there is a huge surface built in granite, which represents a pixelated image of a textile. The crosses in the design correspond to the flow of people and points connecting the Kai Tak river, neighbouring developments and the MTR station. It’s a way of connecting people and inviting them from private to public space. On the colonnade roof there will be gardens with water and shaded seating areas. You don’t have to be someone who works there to feel welcome – these fantastic spaces on the rooftop are for people to enjoy.
What is the architect’s role in helping to build a community?
It boils down to how we make this development more special and memorable than the others. With AIRSIDE, we’re creating a commercial building with an identity people will hopefully fall in love with.
Origins of urban fabric concept.

How do you give a building an identity?
During the design process, we build a story. This is a big structure and a neighbourhood in its own right, so it needs to respect its surroundings. That’s why all the elements are built with real, natural materials to create a place with a cohesive feel.

What do you think makes a place meaningful?
Those who lived in Kai Tak had this very particular relationship to the old airport. It meant different things to different people and it still means a lot. Even now, there are tourist shops selling postcards and posters of commercial airliners from the 1980s landing at Kai Tak. With AIRSIDE, this identity is shifting. Together with Nan Fung, we are creating a building that will become the new identity of Kai Tak.

A green space for every mood.
The lobby’s grand chandelier softens the transition from the public to private space.

How did you create a sense of unity between the different elements at AIRSIDE?
We didn’t want separations between retail and office spaces, so when you enter the development you flow seamlessly from the office lobby to the retail area. There are no walls or changes of level and no doors you need to go through.

How do you think Snøhetta’s design philosophy informed your choice of materials?
With the landscape, we tried to use natural materials to add to the distinctive feeling of place. We also custom developed a textile for the interiors. The partners we work with have sustainability rooted in their values, resulting in something that’s both beautiful and easy to maintain.

A custom developed textile gives warmth, texture and soul to AIRSIDE’S interior retail spaces.

Do you think it’s important for AIRSIDE to be somewhere that invites the landscape in?
Of all the places I’ve been in the world, Hong Kong is the best at combining the city and nature. At Central you’re a 20-minute walk from nature. You’re always at least visually connected with the landscape, forest and mountains. This is something that influenced our landscape design and choice of plant species. We want those elements to connect you to nature.