Stand TallIn early June, the Quality Building Awards and the Green Building Awards were doled out at the JW Marriott and the Convention Centre respectively. Just as well too. Around the same time science journal Nature published a joint study conducted by 22 scientists from various respected universities (in Chile, Canada, Finland, the UK, Spain and the US) that hypothesised the tipping point at which the planet will suffer a catastrophic and irreversible environmental collapse is much closer than we think. Harsh measures are needed, fast, and one of those is a move towards high-density urban living. Looks like the building awards are at least on this curve, if not ahead of it.

The QBA were founded in 2001 to publicly acknowledge outstanding building quality and promote a collective commitment by the building industry to maintain the highest standards of professionalism. This year’s driving theme, “Building Excellence for the Future,” is about public recognition for buildings of outstanding quality that have demonstrated excellent teamwork and to promote an industry commitment to maintaining high standards of professionalism and competitiveness.

Conversely, the GBA (founded in 2006) are more self-explanatory: they’re to recognise the best of the best among buildings that displayed strong sustainability initiatives. Its “Towards Zero Carbon” theme aims recognise building-related projects with outstanding contributions to sustainability, and to encourage broader adoption of sustainable planning, design, construction, management, operation, maintenance, renovation and decommissioning of buildings.

So why does Hong Kong, or any city, need awards like the QBA and GBA, much less both? Lead architect John Puttick at Make Architects thinks it’s all about design awareness. “Buildings have an important impact on the people who use them, and contribute to the life of the city as a whole,” says Puttick. “Holding an award process helps to stimulate discussion about how buildings can make the most positive impact, and highlights the key issues being discussed today – both in Hong Kong and internationally.” And by showcasing outstanding work the trickle down is encouraging other builders to do the same. “Overall, architectural awards keep building design on the public agenda, and encourage innovation and the pursuit of quality.”

So who are this year’s winners. For both awards, entries came from across Asia-Pacific and the winners are as diverse as the geography. But awardees from here in Hong Kong included in the new non-residential sector were Clinical Block and Trauma Centre of the Prince of Wales Hospital, Diocesan Girls’ School and Diocesan Girls’ Junior School and Chai Wan’s Siu Sai Wan Complex. Winners in the renewal and renovation section include Causeway Bay’s stalwart Windsor House (so you can feel good about shopping) and David Trench Rehabilitation Centre. In the residential categories (in case you’re looking) Lam Tin Estate’s redevelopment was the Gold winner for multi-structured projects, with 39 Conduit Road and the Upper House taking the single structure category. The big winner of the night? ICC, once noted mostly for opening delays. Now the Kowloon Station tower is an award-winning facility. It took the ultimate Quality Excellence Award as well as the Grand Award for non-residential buildings. So you can feel good about shopping there too. As QBA chairman Dr Eddie Lam noted, “Not only did many winning buildings exhibit all the hallmarks of being Hong Kong landmarks, they also lead the way in terms of innovation and use of space. What we are looking for, ultimately, are designs that can serve as a blueprint or model for other similar projects in the future.”

Though independent of each other, it’s hard not to play favourites when sustainability and environmentalism are among the most important of current buzzwords. Without downplaying the value of quality in a building, the GBA are the ones most laymen listen to. Co-organised by the Hong Kong Green Building Council and the Professional Green Building Council, this year’s winners came from Beijing, Taipei, Kaohsiung, Singapore and of course, Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s greenest new building? Once again the Siu Sai Wan Complex (time to go check that out) topped the list, but had company from Green 18, HKDI & HKIVE Lee Wai Lee Campus, and the under-construction CIC Zero Carbon Building, Academic 3 at City U, the new cruise terminal at Kai Tak and Hysan Place.

With the vast majority of Hong Kong’s buildings existing non-green structures, the most interesting category is indeed that one. The winners this year include Caritas Jockey Club Institute of Community Education and Clinic in Tsuen Wan, Landmark North, SK Yee Healthy Life Centre, Millennium City 1, Exchange Tower, Noble Hill and — no surprise here — the interiors for the HKGBC office. And the GBA added a product category this year, which GBA chairman Sam Cheng hopes will extend the, “idea of green building approaches … to the multifarious types of green products in the life cycle of buildings, so as to encourage contractors to adopt more green building products and technologies.” Notable by their absence in the winners’ circle: Residential structures.

Clearly there’s a bit of room to move regarding what’s recognised, but this is a start. But why do we need both? While a secretariat spokesperson for both awards cited a bit of a conflict in comparing the two to each other, Make’s Puttick believes both awards send an important message. “Architectural design is a synthesis of many things, and a successful project is able to combine social, environmental, technical and aesthetic issues to name just a few. Having said that, at times, issues come to the fore that have particular importance. Today, environmental issues are central to the future of cities, and so recognising projects for their success in reducing the energy they consume encourages a greater understanding of this area. It also gives concrete examples of what has been achieved, and so raises the bar for future projects.”