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How Hong Kong's Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront got cool again

The Independent logo The Independent 21/04/2019 Cathy Adams
a bridge over a body of water © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

One thing remains a constant in the image of Hong Kong that lives on postcards and the tourism board’s marketing. It stretches beyond the view that spools across the pastel high rises and the green hills from the Peak. It’s usually in the forefront of the snapshot of Hong Kong Island’s neon-lit skyscrapers, likely with a traditional red-sailed Chinese junk bobbing across it.

Sixty-one-square-mile Victoria Harbour has always loomed large in the Hong Kong consciousness. This stretch of water was where this subtropical city was ceded to Britain when ships rolled into the harbour in 1841, and where it was handed back to China after Britain’s 150-year-long lease. For such a thrillingly concretised city, Hong Kong life has always centred on the water; and particularly the channel separating Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon peninsula.

a close up of a bridge: The Avenue of Stars by night (Victoria Dockside) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited The Avenue of Stars by night (Victoria Dockside)

It’s why the harbour has been put at the centre of Hong Kong’s newest placemaking exercise: Victoria Dockside, which has just opened on the East Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront with a combination of galleries, offices and a seriously luxurious hotel.

The aim is to refocus attention on this previously unloved section of the harbour, and hopefully drag people across the 3km-wide Victoria Harbour that carves up the two parts of the city. Thinking of just staying on Hong Kong Island when you visit? Think again.

I lived in Hong Kong for three and a half years, on both sides of the water. “Crossing the harbour” became shorthand for “going a bloody long way”. It wasn’t geographically far, but the psychological distance was much harder to overcome. Kowloon has the rather unfortunate moniker of the “dark side”: many tourists go no further north than the tip of the peninsula, typically to get a better vantage point of where they just came from. Once I swapped my 400 square foot apartment in Tsim Sha Tsui for the western edge of Hong Kong Island in hip district Sai Ying Pun, I crossed back over to Kowloon...oh, maybe twice a month.

But in Hong Kong, change is as quick moving as the water dividing it. It’s why the first time I went back, nine months after moving home to London, I touched down on Kowloon, rather than Hong Kong Island where I left last year. And what a gestation period it had been.

When I lived in the heart of busy-busy-busy entertainment and shopping hub Tsim Sha Tsui, the eastern part of the suburb now home to Victoria Dockside was scruffy and filled with drab, heavy office blocks and hotels. But with a prime waterfront vantage point facing the world’s most impressive cityscape, this parcel of land was clearly an opportunity – and no opportunity stays unrealised for long in Hong Kong.

The re-engineered Salisbury Garden, designed by James Corner (Victoria Dockside) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited The re-engineered Salisbury Garden, designed by James Corner (Victoria Dockside)

It was eyed for more than a decade by New World Development, which built brown-glass “destination” New World Centre in the 1970s. The idea for Victoria Dockside, built on the site of Holt’s Wharf, a thriving godown at the start of the 20th century, was more than two decades in the making.

Today, the complex describes itself as an “art and design district”, combining galleries, event and office spaces, shops (of course) and the biggest bauble of all: a spectacular Rosewood hotel, finally brought beautifully to its home city.

Victoria Dockside is still so new that some buildings aren’t even open, and others have that brand-new plasticky whiff. This new district, according to Adrian Cheng, general manager of New World and brainchild of Victoria Dockside, brings together “art, culture, design, heritage and nature” in an “interconnected ecosystem for global millennials”.

the inside of a building: The performance space at Salisbury Garden (Victoria Dockside) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited The performance space at Salisbury Garden (Victoria Dockside)

But for all this rhetoric, it’s a cool space: open-plan, waterfront-facing, with plants on every corner.

There’s the K11 Atelier, a 63-storey-tall mixed-use landmark that has offices and event spaces on the lower floors and the Rosewood at the top. Add to that K11 Artus, a high-end, high-spec residence. Then K11 Musea, which will mix shops and galleries in the style of the original K11 mall that opened almost 10 years ago around the corner, when it launches later this summer.

Framing this glassy hardware are two public spaces, carefully redesigned to maximise the area’s natural asset: that smasher of a harbour view. There’s Salisbury Garden, complete with outdoor performance space, and the refurbished Avenue of Stars, a waterfront path studded with Hong Kong heroes such as Bruce Lee immortalised in bronze, which skims around the front of the whole development. Here there are curved metal shades that will eventually be covered in still-growing plants, while the railings are curved and dipped in places, to allow the crowd (this is Hong Kong, after all) to stagger back to enjoy the view.

a large body of water with a city in the background: The swaggering new Rosewood Hong Kong sits on the top floors of the K11 Atelier (Rosewood) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited The swaggering new Rosewood Hong Kong sits on the top floors of the K11 Atelier (Rosewood)

“Hong Kong’s beautiful Victoria Harbour has been a constant throughout our history, and we’re very blessed to have the most amazing vantage point at Victoria Dockside,” Cheng told me via email. “Locals born in the 1980s or before will have fond memories of this district.” He counts himself one of those, having grown up nearby.

Victoria Dockside is all very Hong Kong. Glossy, moneyed, with tentative hints of culture – the latter isn’t particularly prominent anywhere for a world city as well as offering aesthetic nods to the city, such as the reclaimed wood from the former piers in coffee bar Infuse, on the ground floor of K11 Atelier.

And the cherry on the cake is the Rosewood, which opened to great fanfare a few weeks ago. This property has already attracted the world’s movers and shakers (Pharrell was reportedly staying the night I checked out) and at the end of March hosted this year’s starry Amfar gala. Rooms come with predictably eye-popping views (all the more if you’re lucky enough to hole up in one of the prized corner suites), monogrammed pillows, hand-hammered sinks and even heated marble in the bathroom to warm the bathrobes.

But luxury can be cheeky too, and downstairs the DarkSide bar is a playful nod to Kowloon’s affectionate nickname. The real high point, literally, comes at the 40th floor Manor Club, open to the hotel’s VIP guests, with free evening drinks, clubby alcoves for intimate meetings and sundowners, and blue-green abstract artwork on the walls designed to imitate waves.

a room filled with furniture and a fireplace: A suite bathroom, with freestanding bath and dual showers (Rosewood) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited A suite bathroom, with freestanding bath and dual showers (Rosewood)

Cheng is bullish about the prospects of Victoria Dockside, and by extension, East Tsim Sha Tsui, for changing the city’s over-zealous work culture and fast-and-hard lifestyle. “I hope Victoria Dockside will be remembered as the district that puts Hong Kong back on the map,” he said.

Hong Kong was already on the map, but perhaps this unloved section of the waterfront wasn’t. And this slick regenerated space is a nice paean to the ultimate Hong Kong symbol: the harbour.

Travel essentials

Getting there

British Airways flies to Hong Kong from £426pp return.

Staying there

Rates at the Rosewood start from around £513 a night. rosewoodhotels.com

Visiting there

For more information about Hong Kong, visit discoverhongkong.com

Pictures: World's 40 most visited cities

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