Saturday shopping crowd on Hennessy Road in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay district.

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As this is segment #8 about my China trip, I'll tell you that in China, 8 is a lucky number related to wealth and prosperity.  A lot of buildings in Asia are 88 stories high, double good luck. On the other hand, 4 is decidedly inauspicious  because it is pronounced much like the Chinese word meaning "death". Just as 13th floors are absent in some American buildings, some buildings in Asia have no floor numbers ending in "4".

On to the afternoon of our one full day in Hong Kong, which was spent walking through three of the city’s newest examples of multiuse development.

When you think of the many ways a building can be used, your mental picture of the structure will change based on your selection.  If I tell you to sketch plans for a college campus or a shopping mall, your concept will probably be very horizontal.  As high-density urban areas are redeveloped, uses more traditionally found in horizontal buildings must be brought into the vertical world.

When is the last time you were in a 17-story shopping mall?

Hysan Place is a new 36-story building located in Causeway Bay, one of Hong Kong's densest neighborhoods. It had been open for barely a month when we visited.  The lower half of the building is a shopping mall with nearly 120 boutiques (web site), the upper half is Class A office space.

To make this combination work, the traditional box-shaped building form was broken in two, with the block of retail floors shifted away from the upper floors. This break makes it possible for the building to have natural ventilation, as well as atriums, skylights and outdoor "sky garden" green spaces.  Moving people and getting foot traffic to circulate within the entire 17-floor retail block is critical to merchants. There are ramps between floors in the atrium, and express escalators that carry passengers continuously between every third floor.  The escalator corridors can be seen in the building's glass facade. The great physical split between the mall and office sections very handily controls building access.

Swire Properties’ TaiKoo Place is a complex of 10 interconnected office towers that house a combination of office, residential, hotel, retail, restaurants and event venues in Quarry Bay, also a high-density residential area. At one end of TaiKoo’s campus was our destination, One Island East, 69 stories and 977 feet/298 meters tall, completed in 2008.  Here again, I was intrigued by so many use types converging in one complex and how a near-supertall building would fit in with nearby residential.  To my great delight, the buildings at TaiKoo place are connected with indoor walkways that let you travel the complex without ever having to set foot in the oppressive tropical humidity outdoors.

As an aside I will note that, at 22 degrees north latitude, Hong Kong’s humidity was the worst I've ever endured. Worse than Missouri. Worse than the Mississippi Delta.  Here in tornado country, we're familiar with afternoon thunderstorms that boil up out of nowhere.  This was my first real experience with truly tropical humidity and huge clouds that want desperately to rain, but cannot. Every so often, a line of grossly engorged clouds would move in, sometimes with the promise of distant thunder. I expected them to rupture and spew like water balloons. Instead, they would grudgingly slink down the coastline or off into the mountains in search of something else to do.

The tallest tree in Hong Kong’s skyscraper forest is the 118-story International Commerce Center (ICC)  -- actually 108 stories, because there are no floors ending in "4" -- which quietly commands  Victoria Harbor from the Kowloon side. I was really excited to finally meet this building in person after interviewing its architect, Bill Pedersen of Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), back in 2010. ICC contains offices, an observatory, and between floors 104 to 117, a Ritz-Carlton hotel. The building is one component of the larger Union Square development in Kowloon.

The overall look of ICC is intentionally quiet, a calming presence in a city whose skyline is wild with activity.  Interesting things begin to happen as you get closer to the building. The steel-and-glass curtain wall skin is split along the corners and its shingle-like windows are angled to reflect the sky in a way a vertical wall cannot.

All of building's drama occurs at its base where the curtain wall facade peels off from each side to form canopies over entrances.  On the northern face, the wall goes from vertical to a long horizontal run, a "dragon's tail", that provides transition to the neighboring four-story "Elements" shopping mall and one million square-feet of retail space.

The most important tall buildings, says Bill Pedersen, are those that interact with each other. For a man who never aspired to design supertalls, two Pedersen designs are partners in two of the most incredible tall building interactions in the world today. We have already seen Shanghai World Financial Center’s place in that city's "supertall trio" of buildings.  International Commerce Center's visual relationship is with Cesar Pelli's 2IFC two miles/three kilometers away. The two supertalls call to each other from opposite shores of Victoria Harbor. When you see one building, you quickly get into the habit of looking for the other as you travel around town.

Where are all of these innovations leading?

As I looked around Hong Kong, I felt I was getting a glimpse into the distant future in other cities. Those dense clusters of 30- and 40-story apartment buildings stretching out of sight in every direction could just as easily be stretching down the south shore of Lake Michigan in the year 2112. There are certain efficiencies created when a population is brought into one locale, and those efficiencies, e.g. water and energy conservation, can become even greater when done under one roof.

During a lunchtime presentation, we were shown a concept design for the Dubai City Tower, also called the Dubai Vertical City, proposed height 2400 meters/7874 feet or just under 1.5 miles tall.  The design is less monolithic and more like the Eiffel Tower, with six coiling buildings winding around a central core.  Remember what we said about breaking up the box and letting in the light?  No interior space would be far from windows, and no one wants to live inside a massive structure built like a mountain.

Read more: Meraas Dreams of a City in the Sky (2.5 Mb.pdf) - by Bradley Hope via

A week in China brought home the issues of sustainability and efficiency to me in a way that books or television could not.  I also found myself listing the seemingly outlandish science-fiction stories I’ve read over the years that, based on what I was seeing firsthand, were turning into science-fact.

Two weeks after returning home, I was going over my photos and contemplating these very issues in the north woods of Wisconsin -- not quite in the middle of no place, but you could see it from there. I decided I was very happy in my own time, and I hoped someone a hundred years from now would be very happy in theirs.

For a fan of science-fiction literature, there is no greater luxury.