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Ngong Ping 360

Max Connop, a Senior Associate with Aedas Limited, was closely involved as project leader on the Sunny Bay Station which won a Grand Award in the New Buildings Category. More recently he has been associated with the Tung Chung cable car, the Ngong Ping 360, a project of which he is particularly proud. Mr Connop talked at length to Jeff Heselwood.

From conception to reality

?The Ngong Ping 360 was conceived not as one single project but as five separate projects: along the cable-way necklace each of the individual buildings has its constraints and obviously its solutions. Each had very different requirements and that?s how we had to approach it,? says Mr Connop. ?Up at the Ngong Ping terminal near the Big Buddha it was not just the village, we were also commissioned to do the piazza which links from where you step off the cable car right up to the steps of the Big Buddha. Aedas did the whole contract including the landscaped piazza with a beautiful axial walkway leading off to the stairs. It is an integrated master plan for Ngong Ping leading up to the monastery.

?The sensitivity in dealing with that was quite a challenge, because it was not just an architectural response; there is a cultural heritage issue here, an appropriateness of design.?

The concept of the cable car network began in September 2002, with the Operational Permit granted in May 2006.

From Tung Chung to Ngong Ping


?The five main elements are the Tung Chung terminal, a 90 metres by 30 metres construction, which I would describe as being like an aircraft carrier; it?s where all the cars are parked there at night ? and I think at the last count they numbered about 114. They are all stacked in the lower block and taking into account the ecological concerns, one of the biggest things about it was, very quickly in conjunction with the MTR and the operators Skyrail, we came to the conclusion of dispensing with air conditioning and turning the whole project into an open-air experience. It was a huge decision to make at the early stage of the project. And in doing so, the footprint of the buildings reduced significantly because we did not have AC plants and chillers to deal with. It also gave us the opportunity of cross-ventilation with lightweight, insulated roofs where the air flows through. And that is something we learned with our client and the MTR is a phenomenal client; they are very forward thinking, very pro-active.

?We had just finished Sunny Bay Station and learning the lessons in terms of customer comfort at Sunny Bay was extremely good. Leading on from the lessons of that it was easy with the MTR to see this project as a Lantau experience. Nevertheless, when we started the Tung Chung terminal, it is the gateway to the project, and we wanted this to be the anchor to the vibrancy of city life, so it had to reflect the dynamism that exists in Hong Kong.

?People come out of Citygate in Tung Chung and are quickly elevated up onto the deck which takes them to the platform area. From there they immediately get the idea that something special is happening. They are not contained; they have not had to go through a closed-building experience. It was essential; we wanted them to experience the outside as soon as possible.

?Sailing over that platform is the dynamic three-blade steel roof which has very complex geometries. We wanted it to look really something special. We wanted to really excite passengers, that this is something remarkable.?

The second stage is the Airport Angle Station where the building is nestled into the mountainside. The engineers have pushed it into the landscape as much as possible. It houses all the motors for the primary two cableways, from Tung Chung to the Airport Angle Station and then on to the Nei Lak Shan.


?Crossing over into the country park to Nei Lak Shan Angle Station which although this is a large building, we worked closely with the engineers to minimise the structure within the park. Again, if you take an ecological stance the station is self-contained. There is brown water collection, there are no service pipes and any foul water within the project is contained and taken by the cable car itself back to the terminal for disposal. Consequently, there is minimum impact to the environment and of course in a country park we were not permitted construction road access so everything had to be brought in by mules or shipped in by helicopter, including the pylons.

?The contractor had gangs who were responsible for the station and towers and in the mornings they would be taken up to Ngong Ping, from where they would hike for an hour and a half before their day even began.

?I used to go up the the Nei Lak Shan Angle Station to check on the project and all day long there would be helicopters flying in and they achieved phenomenal turnaround speed; sometimes as little as 15 seconds. The contractor was extremely diligent in following the letter of the law, by keeping hard ordinance out of the country park. The mules were very well cared for, with one caretaker per mule, and they came in with the gangs carrying all their equipment for the day.?

The destination of the cable car system is Ngong Ping terminal which had to be fundamentally different in appearance to the Tung Chung terminal.


Ngong Ping Terminal

?It had to be a more peaceful, serene experience. It has to key into the new village but also, in the bigger picture, key into the atmosphere of Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha. It is a very large building and to minimise the bulk and mass of the building was very important. Again, all open-air using natural ventilation including the cable cars. Many studies were carried out on the dynamic ventilation of the cars themselves: when they move it is a very comforting environment with no excess heat. You feel the breeze coming through; you feel you are part of the mountain. And that was very important for the operator, Skyrail. They did not want a pod-like system with air conditioning.

?The location of the cable ways obviously had to be the highest route but in terms of minimising the visual impact, it was essential where possible to use lightweight steel but there are very heavy concrete bases that take the immense forces of the cable ways.?

At the Ngong Ping terminal, all the heavy machinery and plant is housed at the rear of the building, again to minimise the visual impact.



Traditional Chinese architecture

?When you look at the terminal from the village it appears quite a discreet building but when you look at it at plan you will see how much we have managed to disguise. This is a 60 metres by 40 metres construction, but the public do not see the bulk of the building. That was very important. To change the materiality, to harmonise with the environment, we used bamboo for screening. We did not use galvanised or aluminium mesh, we used bamboo which gives it quite a gentle feel. Also, the roofs: we used traditional Chinese tiles which were sourced from the mainland. That gives the building immediately a tactile, soft environment. It is also much easier to maintain in such a humid environment.

?The village is essentially three different areas: there is the town square; the monastic centre; and the country market. And that leads from the terminal where you have the town square, monastic centre, country market and out onto the piazza.

?We wanted to create a village environment with its different districts and in particular, in respect of the monastery, any food and beverage outlet have been placed as far away as possible from the entrance to the piazza. Coffee shops and cake shops are located near to the terminal. The traditional tea house, though, is a shining icon of the town square area. There are also performance pavilions which will show traditional Chinese theatre.

?Looking back from the town square we tried to create an enclave that is a little more formal than the other elements. Leading out under a bridge is the monastic centre where there are the attractions, the Walking with Buddha show and the Monkey?s Tale Theatre.

?It is an integrated master plan and very sympathetic. The style of architecture within the village was carefully researched because it was important to create a very robust architecture in terms of it being something that would not date, and we went for a traditional southern Chinese type of architecture. We believe this will stand the test of time and remain in harmony throughout different periods.?

Commitment from the client

Max Connop was full of praise for Aedas? client, the MTR. He says the corporation is ?phenomenally committed? to taking the correct decisions in design.

?Having such a positive and forward thinking client, I am extremely fortunate to have worked on the Sunny Bay Station and then on to this,? says Mr Connop. ?When you have an enlightened client, you are already half-way there,? he concludes.


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© 2019 Jeff Heselwood. All rights reserved.
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