One thing Hongkongers have come to appreciate more in the last few years is the importance of ecology and the need to look after the local environment. In doing that, they have also started to pay closer attention to the efforts and achievements of certain professionals whose work is to make our day-to-day surroundings a little better for everyone.
"Landscape architecture is a very worthwhile profession," says Andrew Hall Lewis, senior landscape architect with the Architectural Services Department (ASD). "It has great benefits for the public in terms of what we can achieve and how we can help to improve the living and working environment." He explains that members of the ASD are responsible for designing all government buildings, parks, recreational facilities and public spaces. "We also offer advisory services to other departments and the private sector," he adds.
Being involved in a wide variety of projects and advisory work has taught Mr Lewis to identify what is most urgent, and to react quickly. "I'm handling quite a large amount of public money, so any delay in action can result in huge costs," he says.
For each project, ASD's approach is to create a multi-disciplinary team made up of individuals with diverse expertise. It will usually include a landscape architect working on the design, an architect, a building services engineer, a structural engineer and a quantity surveyor. For projects which are predominantly landscape in nature, even if they include large buildings such as the Hong Kong Wetland Park, a senior landscape architect takes on the role of project team leader.
"Forming a perfect team can be difficult because you need people with all those skills," he notes. "It involves good communication, coordination and trouble-shooting. Part of my job is to get all these guys to work together happily as a team."
Work on a development project starts out with a series of meetings with client departments. Often, many different designs need to be produced before agreement is reached. Then, during the construction phase, there are regular site inspections with the contractors in order to monitor progress and discuss any modifications.
The key challenge, according to Mr Lewis, is to meet all the client's requirements, while also producing an exciting and creative design. "The long-term management and maintenance costs can be the major concerns for a client," he explains. "A very interesting and creative design may cost a lot to maintain, so we need to maintain a balance between art, practicality and cost effectiveness."
In a 26-year career with the government, he has worked on some of the early new town developments and numerous urban enhancement projects. In the past 12 years, though, the focus shifted to larger-scale building and landscape projects, such as the recently opened Hong Kong Wetland Park in Tin Shui Wai, which Mr Lewis describes as his "best piece of work" so far.
"The park is a good example of a complex project," he says. It involved the re-creation of different types of natural environment and constructing a number of buildings to make it both an educational experience and a tourist attraction. An exhibition installation with space for interactive games and galleries, wetland habitats, and an area of tropical rain forest with live crocodiles and 15-metre high trees, also had to be designed. "It was a challenge because, at the same time, we had to demonstrate a sustainable and energy efficient approach to design which included Hong Kong's first geothermal heat pump hybrid air-conditioning system," he says.
Mr Lewis stresses that, nowadays, every project is unique. For example, while the Wetland Park focused on the ecosystem, the waterfront project at Stanley required a totally different approach. Specifically, it has to take into account existing and planned retail space, as well as residential, recreational, tourism and environmental needs. For the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park project, on the other hand, it was necessary to do extensive research in view of the cultural and political sensitivities. "All this makes the job very interesting," he notes.
In his opinion, the best thing about his role is that it has so many aspects, involving art and design, technology, earth sciences, contract law and administration, and soft skills. "You have to put all that together to become a successful landscape architect," he says. "You also need a wide range of knowledge about urban design and town planning issues, how to use the space between buildings in different ways, and how to deal with other professionals."
All things considered, he still gets great satisfaction from his job and can never see the point of taking a job simply for the money. "There is the huge benefit of seeing your ideas being built, used and enjoyed by people," he says. "You can see that you're helping to improve the environment and people's lives."