A Fresh Take on Urban Living: AIRSIDE, the Kai Tak Mall with a Sustainable Approach

AIRSIDE, Nan Fung Group’s latest commercial project, was recently unveiled on September 28. Situated on the site of Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak airport, the 47-storey mixed-use development is the tallest landmark within the old airport area. 

Combining a spacious Grade A office space with a shopping mall brimming with lifestyle, retail and dining offerings, AIRSIDE is set to be Kowloon’s latest cultural destination. 

The skyscraper is a breath of fresh air in an area that has been mostly underdeveloped since the closure of Kai Tak Airport. As the first Hong Kong project headed by Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta, its design is based on the concept of “wholeness”, which refers to the connection between the urban and natural environment.

At 200 meters above ground, AIRSIDE will be the tallest landmark in the revitalised Kai Tak area. (Image Credit: Snøhetta)

Robert Greenwood, the managing director of Snøhetta in Asia, said that initial ideas for the development of AIRSIDE had been influenced by Kai Tak’s history as an aviation site. 

To inform the design, Snøhetta drew inspiration from photos of the vertiginous aeroplane landings that were the norm when the original airport was still in service. 

Citing the “visual impressions” from the renowned takeoff and landing descent of Kai Tak airport, AIRSIDE’s interiors are awash with natural light. Its plazas and rooftop gardens open up to broad, expansive views of the city.

The expansive interiors of AIRSIDE, opening up to natural lighting and the surrounding environment. (Image Credit: AIRSIDE)

Instead of following a standard tower-and-podium approach, the firm pursued a “hybrid solution” for the building. Snøhetta made the most of AIRSIDE’s multi-purpose function as a retail, recreational and commercial complex, blending the diverse elements to create a “holistic urban structure”. This is apparent in its abundance of green spaces, which take up over one-third, or 18,000 square feet of the mall. Snøhetta seamlessly integrates a rooftop garden, open-air terraces, a sky farm, and an amphitheatre into the building. 

Doubling as a sitting area, visitors are able to delight in a wide range of native plants at the spacious roof garden. The AIR Farm not only hosts educational farming workshops available to the public, but also houses an assortment of seasonal crops, which then are harvested as produce and distributed across the mall’s food outlets.

Featuring over 50 types of plants and vegetables, the AIR Farm promotes an ecological lifestyle. (Image Credit: AIRSIDE)

With the low-carbon-footprint system in place, diners are able to enjoy a fresh, farm-to-table experience, while the excess produce is donated to non-profit organisations and the rest of the community. This ensures that the project is waste-free and ergonomic for all stakeholders. 

AIRSIDE also incorporates built-in green initiatives, such as natural ventilation, an automatic refuse collection and storage mechanism, as well as a water-saving and rainwater retention management plan. To encourage eco-friendly transportation, the complex will also feature Hong Kong’s first smart bicycle parking bay, and over 800 car parking spaces with EV charging systems.

“While I don’t think sustainability in of itself has shown up as a cohesive theme in the conceptual pieces of architecture in Hong Kong, I think AIRSIDE is a promising start,” said Jane Chan, a 23-year-old environmental consultant. “This is especially because a lot of Hong Kong’s sustainability efforts aren’t necessarily within the architects’ realm, but more so in the engineers’.”

“A lot of what sustainability is has to do with the production methods behind buildings, and their compliance with various types of awards schemes,” added Chan. “We do see a lot of that in AIRSIDE.”

As a pioneer in sustainable design, AIRSIDE is the first building in the city to be awarded five of the most significant green building certifications, some from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design programme and the Hong Kong Green Building Council. 

“In the future, I would like to see more architects in Hong Kong take on the challenge of the city’s verticality,” remarked Jane Chan. “It is difficult to implement methods of adaptation and cooling specific to Hong Kong’s climate in most skyscrapers, but AIRSIDE has successfully introduced features such as extended terraces.”

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