The concept of restaurants on rooftops or upper terraces in shopping centres is becoming increasingly popular. These restaurant clusters allow for denser developments and turn weak upper floors into strong performers. They also provide an important connection between the internal space of a shopping centre and the outdoor environment - a feature unfortunately lacking in most malls.
With eight restaurants, "Civic Square" on the roof of Elements in Hong Kong is one of the largest such examples. I often profiled Civic Square for vertical retail projects as a potential strategy to help draw customers to upper floors. Looking at some new photos sent to me this week, I am struck by how empty the plaza always appears despite the outdoor tables and chairs. I did a few quick measurements on Google Earth, and found the dimensions of the plaza to be 130 by 165 feet (40 by 50 metres). My sense is that the scale is too wide and this is detracting from the intimacy and vibrancy that creates memorable places. Another issue may be the heat and humidity that can make sitting outdoors unpleasant in Hong Kong. The plaza does have some vegetation and water features, but not enough to make a real impact on heat levels. Namba Parks in Osaka is a great example of how vegetation and shading can achieve a significant reduction on the urban heat island effect.
Despite this, Civic Square is still a notable achievement and years ahead of comparable efforts in North America. Elements Mall is a component of the Union Square development, an incredibly dense super-block that dominates West Kowloon with nearly 12 million square feet of GFA built on a 33.5 acre site. Civic Square is just one small piece of a sprawling rooftop garden system that measures approximately 10 acres in size. North American planners might snub their noses at the isolation of the open spaces from the surrounding public streets, but at such an extreme scale of density I can respect their ambitions to create a sheltered urban oasis.
Photos by Ronald Chen