For mixed-use development to be truly transformative, it needs a story, panelists said at the ULI Asia Pacific Summit, held June 3 in Tokyo. “You have to create places that people come back to. Themes and gimmicks are just that,” said Gordon Ongley, development director at Swire Properties, builder of Pacific Place in Hong Kong.
It is no longer enough to build large-scale mixed-use developments without consideration of place making, the panelists agreed.
Albert Chan, director of development, planning, and design at Shui On Land, said his firm tries to build “lively communities.” But he said China’s newer cities have moved away from low-energy, pedestrian-friendly communities to being high-energy cities catering to automobiles.
Shui On Land builds mixed-use developments with three themes, Chan said: city-core developments, transit-oriented developments, and knowledge communities. The company’s best-known city-core development is the iconic Shanghai Xintiandi, which merges historic structures and new buildings in a 23-block section of Shanghai.
Shui On is building another Tiandi development next to Honqiao Airport in Shanghai, linking the project to air, road, and high-speed rail. Some Shui On tenants have opted to move offices to Honqiao Tiandi in order to take advantage of the high-speed rail, Chan noted. “This means they can make business trips across China and return within the day,” he said.
Shui On Land’s knowledge communities are tailor-made for those who work in knowledge-based industries. These communities—with education, science and technology, research, and business incubators forming their foundation—“combine technological innovation with a creative culture,” Chan said.
Hiroyuki Shimizu, deputy chief of Mitsui Fudosan’s real estate solution services division, showcased the Tokyo Midtown development, a ¥370 billion (US$3 billion) mixed-use scheme near Roppongi Station in central Tokyo. The site, originally home to a feudal lord’s mansion, was subsequently used by the U.S. and Japanese armies.
Integrating the uses on the site was a key aim for the developer, Shimizu said. “We created a single company dedicated to the operation of the development,” he said. “We also aim to maintain community links between those who work, live, and shop at Tokyo Midtown.”
This effort involves providing a number of community activities, supported by Mitsui Fudosan, including yoga in the development’s public park areas and an annual art award, with marketing advice and display space as part of the prize. (Tokyo Midtown features a number of public artworks.)
Ongley agreed that the public realm was a key part of a mixed-use development. “Pacific Place is not just a shopping mall and some hotel. It is one of the best public places in Hong Kong,” he said. Swire recently expanded the amount of open space at the development’s driveway level in response to public demand, he said. “Hong Kong’s climate does not always make it easy to be outside, but that is what people want,” he said. In Beijing, where the climate is hot and humid in summer and below freezing in winter, Swire has had success with Sanlitun, an outdoor mall.
The site assembly of Pacific Place was complicated and could have not succeeded without government support, Ongley said. The development was begun in the 1980s, shortly after the United Kingdom had agreed to the eventual handover of Hong Kong to China. “People were unsettled by this,” he said. “[T]he government was keen to help us build an iconic scheme.”
Chan and Shimizu agreed that government support is crucial in creating a major mixed-use development and making it work.
The pace of technological and social change is also a challenge for mixed-use developments, panelists agreed.
“I remember that 12 years ago, people were saying that shoppers in Shanghai were getting used to shopping in malls for the first time,” Chan said. “Now we hear that China is oversupplied with malls, and developers are building more! These days, my staff do their shopping online, so they have less reason to go to the mall. Increasingly, Chinese people go to malls to eat, so we need to provide more F&B [food and beverage] and more community space.”
Future developments will have to be more adaptable in order to keep pace with society, Ongley said.
Panel moderator Michael Ellis, managing principal of 5+ Design, said Asia is the most exciting place to be involved in mixed-use developments because of the size, scope, and variety of opportunities available.
Ongley cited British writer and broadcaster Jonathan Glancey on the importance of place making. “The challenge for the 21st century is the nurturing of characterful and special places for everyone, ensuring that as—hopefully—prosperity grows and new architecture and technologies develop, Beijing becomes more rather than less different from Hong Kong, as Hong Kong should be more rather than less different from London or Los Angeles,” he said.
“The wealth of future cities should be measured not just in terms of money and new skyscrapers, but by their own specific sense of place—their soul.”