Lifestyle

A dragon among mortals

interview

Chances are any avid cyclist or hiker who has been to the southside would have made the precarious trip across the Tai Tam Dam. They will most likely then follow up with a story about how they narrowly escaped the jaws of death by vehicular collision. This year marks the centenary of the dam on Tai Tam Reservoir, and the lovely structure has been plagued by a series of problems in the later years of its service to Hong Kong. One man has since stepped out with a unique solution to the myriad of issues caused by the existing narrow roadway on top of the century-old structure. 

Since moving to Hong Kong in 2009, Scott Myklebust, president of architectural firm M CO Design, has spent a lot of time cycling around the island, in particular from southside to Shek O. “These rides have taken me over the Tai Tam Dam well over 1,000 times,” he says, “so I’ve experienced all sorts of traffic problems and accidents that occur along the route on a regular basis.” Due to the narrow path on top of the dam, traffic easily gets bottlenecked. Pedestrians and cyclists are technically barred access, but as with our own trip onto the structure, this rule goes largely ignored and unregulated. During seasons with heavy rainfall, the top of the dam is also susceptible to flooding, further contributing to the existing traffic problems. Against this chaotic backdrop of hikers edging their way down the road, with motorists screaming and honking at each other, a frustrated Myklebust then started to speculate on solutions to solve this range of problems.

M CO Design first launched the Dragon’s Link proposal in November 2015. This bridge’s initial design was approximately 900 metres long, running parallel to the Tai Tam Dam, with a modern design intended to contrast the old structure. There were to be three scenic overlook points located at strategic spots along the length of the Link, intended for travellers to stop and fully enjoy the beauty of the area. According to Myklebust, the existing drop off point which consists of a bathroom block and some old drinks vending machines is “inadequate, poorly designed and unattractive”, so his plan for Dragon’s Link includes converting the area into a shady outdoor plaza which would serve as a meet-up point for hikers without blocking the views of the reservoir as it does currently.


interview

The Link itself forms a ribbon-like flowing line, which mirrors the surrounding hilly topography and subtly references the local tradition of the dragon dance. It would take on the north-bound road traffic while the dam would carry vehicles going the opposite way. The idea was first pitched to District Councillor Paul Zimmerman, who felt it had enough merit to be included on the agenda of a Southern District Council meeting in early 2016, and also ran an opinion poll from his non-profit Designing Hong Kong. Respondents almost unanimously acknowledged there is an issue that needs to be tackled, but concerns were also raised in relation to environmental protection. Because this proposed structure stretches across the reservoir—part of the protected country park—it was met with disapproval from different city department heads, namely Country Parks, Water and Historic Monuments. Taking on board the feedback, Myklebust then edited his design, shortening the Link by almost two-thirds its original length and bringing it closer to the dam, almost running alongside it. “This change significantly lowers the environmental impact of the construction and frankly is also much cheaper to build,” he grins. This latest version, dubbed Dragon’s Link II, would see all vehicular traffic removed from the dam and transferred fully to the bridge. The dam would then have green amenities and be soley dedicated to pedestrians, hence forming the missing ‘link’ between the Heritage Trail and Dragon’s Back sections 6 to 7—an idea much like the High Line in New York, an elevated linear park built on an old train rail.

When asked if he resented the fact he had to redesign the concept, Myklebust firmly maintained that environmental issues should always be addressed. He makes it a point to be as green as possible in projects, even if not requested by clients, finding one of the best ways to approach sustainable designs “is to try and make it an integral part of the design that can’t easily be cut”. He also prefers his designs to fit the site and context. The original dam was built in a Victorian style which is reflective of the colonial period, so Dragon’s Link 100 years later should pick up this thread of reason with a modern focus on sustainability.Maxine Yao, chairperson of the Stanley and Shek O Society for Community Organisation and member of the Stanley Resident Concern Group, says this new rendition has been met with much more support than disapproval. When residents first highlighted the traffic problems, they had brought up the idea of installing traffic lights. “It was brushed aside then, but now that a way more extensive plan has been brought to light, the government are then leaning towards the traffic lights option!” There have now been several trial runs for traffic lights, with the third run occurring at time of print, but Yao posits that the lights would merely be a short-term solution. Zimmerman commented that councillors had been pushing for lights for years, and to avoid the cost of Myklebust’s highly supported proposal they have finally taken action, so something good has already come of Dragon’s Link II.


interview

Part of Myklebust’s impetus behind the project is the preservation of this century-old structure, and at the current rate of daily traffic over it, there is no doubt its condition would deteriorate rapidly. “100 years ago, not many people even lived on the southside, and the road on the dam just wasn’t designed to accommodate so much traffic. Shouldn’t we work towards preserving this beautiful dam and giving it another 100 years?” In April this year, Myklebust pitched Dragon’s Link II to the then newly elected Legislative Council member for Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape, Tony Tse, who also agreed that preserving the dam would be a more appropriate plan. Despite the multitude of people he has had to convince over the two and a half years since the design conception, Myklebust is pushing ever onwards; the next step is presenting the proposal to the head of the Transport Department.

Even though his claim to fame is having been one of the key designers of the original Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, Myklebust is grateful to be part of the community here. His proposal for the Tai Tam Dam has elicited some very passionate responses from the public—“our Facebook page has seen both funny and vicious trolling!”—but he is still keen on continuing down this path. In addition, M CO Design has also recently proposed an innovative new scheme for revitalising the Central Market called Central Oasis. Socially responsible designs to improve the quality of life in Hong Kong? We say this is the opposite of sowing dragon’s teeth!