Pepping up Wan Chai with Creative Placemaking

The truest, most authentic side of Hong Kong lies on the streets — people walking at hyper speed, an infinite choice of street food, the popular culture of Cantonese people, the shared heritage and life stories of people as they strive to build a better life… these are important facets of our city that resonate with locals and fascinate tourists. But it may be difficult for visitors to grasp, especially if they are visiting for the first time. This is where design can play a role in opening up our local culture to them.

From fashion to graphic, design can tap into a place’s character and create exciting artefacts and happenings in public spaces. This is the basic idea of creative placemaking. It is also part of the premise of Design District Hong Kong (#ddHK), a 3-year creative tourism project presented by Tourism Commission and organised by the Hong Kong Design Centre. “Placemaking is the process of infusing design thinking to urban space. With an in-depth understanding of the communities, it considers the stakeholders’ needs from a design perspective and creates things that can promote community building,” said One Bite Design Studio, the creative mind behind a number of #ddHK projects.

#ddHK has focused on Wan Chai, transforming the vibrant neighbourhood into an “open-air design district gallery” since last December. Its programming demonstrates the endless possibilities to turn public spaces into fun places. We have already seen a street event #dd24, public art project HKACT! Act 1 BeHere, some new and artistic typography at the gates of Kong Wan Fire Station, and a series of pavement paintings. The creative vibe has even extended to Sham Shui Po with a street fashion parade“FASCINATION STREET.” 

One Bite hosted a workshop and conducted some field studies with Wan Chai’s communities to dig out interesting stories. One thing they discovered was the rich botanical variety on a hill close by — despite being known as a concrete jungle, Hong Kong has an abundant natural life growing close to urbanised areas. Their refreshing hill walk was a stark contrast to a walk on the O’Brien Footbridge, one of the busiest pedestrian bridges in the city. Connecting Wan Chai’s northern commercial area to the MTR station, the bridge is part of many office workers’ daily commute. To spruce up the bland bridge, “#ddWalk”  is inspired by the botanical discovery to the bridge’s ceilings. Among the flora and green hides iconic landmarks in Wan Chai, trending Cantonese slangs and heartwarming cheer-up lines.

Two other highlights in #ddHK, #ddExperience and #ddGathering, feature street furniture and take Fleming Road Garden as their base. The spacious open space is close to the northern end of the O’Brien Footbridge. #ddExperience refers to five funky street furniture for the park. Playing with the hashtag and letters of the project’s name #ddHK , each of the furniture has various function. By creating a creative space with this multi-functional installation, it is believed that nearby white-collar workers and passers-by will be attracted to use and stay longer in the park, possibly opening up more interaction. The other set of street furniture, #ddGathering, is designed in collaboration with the teachers and students of the Department of Architecture of Hong Kong Design Institute. Inspired from Chinese writing, each of the 10 pieces is a type of Chinese stroke, making the place more colourful and interesting — after all, play is what a park is for!

The footbridge ceiling paintings and the street furniture will all be in place in late March. Don’t miss the chance to experience how design can transform a space!