As The University of Hong Kong approaches its centenary, it continues to make history - with a bold new campus that combines cutting-edge teaching and research facilities with a desire to protect heritage and the environment.
For nearly 100 years, HKU has been the backbone of Western District and the university's alumni register reads like a Who's Who of the top names of Hong Kong society. So when plans were announced to expand the main campus, many in the community were interested - and a few, concerned. Both on campus and off, people wanted sustainability to be a top priority.
The expansion will enable the university to accommodate an expected 40 per cent increase in student numbers, partly due to the new four-year university curriculum which begins in 2012.
Both formal and informal learning will be supported through a campus design that promotes interaction among students and staff, and offers a 24-hour "learning commons" that has a wide range of software and multi-media materials for study and research.
However, the planned expansion to the west of HKU has raised concerns about the impact on the environment and three heritage buildings.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Lap-Chee Tsui and his team have been collecting feedback since the new campus plan was first unveiled early last year. Several adjustments have been made in light of comments received and he is confident the Centennial Campus - so called because it will open in 2011, HKU's centenary - will benefit the neighbourhood.
"There are two things we would like people to bear in mind about the Centennial Campus. First, the university is committed to sustainability. Although the main purpose of the new campus is to provide stronger and more advanced support for learning and research, we also want it to set an example in conserving the environment and cultural heritage," he said.
"The other point is that our whole approach to campus development has been open and transparent. We want the expanded campus to be a unifying force in the neighbourhood, not an isolated ivory tower, so we've consulted many people and taken on-board their views."
The new campus will be built on a site now occupied by the Water Supplies Department (WSD) to store fresh and salt water supplies for western Mid-Levels, Kennedy Town and the Peak. The site also includes three buildings of historical interest.
The Centennial Campus project team has identified alternative storage for water supplies and come up with a design that integrates the three heritage buildings.
Their plan, agreed by WSD, is to use a revolutionary tunnel system to store salt water under the slope behind the new campus and keep fresh water in two large tanks between the campus and the slope. The tanks will be covered and the WSD will allow HKU to develop the rooftops for public usage.
One heritage building, the Elliot Treatment Works Building, will remain in place next to the fresh water tanks. The other two will be located on either side of the main entrance, with an open plaza linking directly to a new MTR station that is projected to be in service by 2012.
That link will be an important symbol of the university's effort to be seen as the heart of the neighbourhood.
"Universities need a steady flow of ideas and stimulus from the outside world to produce important research and talented graduates who understand how to move their community forward. I think the new Centennial Campus can do that. It's going to be a dynamic and exciting new development for higher education in Hong Kong, and it will enable HKU to continue to be a leader in the region," Professor Tsui said.
HKU's world-class campus: unifying the neighbourhood
Tapping the public's views
The first proposals for HKU's expansion were unveiled early last year and offered four different visions for the new campus. The extensive public consultation that followed has resulted in a design that emphasizes sustainability and unites the campus with the neighbourhood.
Nine public exhibitions of the campus plans attracted over 18,000 visitors. Five workshops and a public forum were also organised for nearby residents, district councillors, green groups, heritage experts and other stakeholders.
No major objections were raised, but sustainability and heritage conservation were singled out as priorities.
According to Professor Tsui, the proposal by Wong & Ouyang (HK) Ltd / Sasaki Associates was chosen because it best addressed these issues, while still adhering to the university's strategic goals of promoting formal and informal learning and life-long education.
He added that campus development was an ongoing process and the university would continue to engage interested parties - including staff, students, alumni, nearby residents, government departments and community organisations - in the detailed design of the campus.
"After all, it's a campus that will stand at the heart of the community and serve Hong Kong society for many generations to come," concluded Professor Tsui.