Branding cities 1 – Hong Kong

In 2015, we took a team of multi-disciplinary students for a study tour to Honk Kong. The purpose was to compare the branding city of Hong Kong to Melbourne. Hong Kong  was perceived as a giant shopping mall with brands and products all competing for attention. The students were carefully selected to encourage multi-disciplinary collaboration between: interior architecture, communication design, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Students worked together to understand the value of branding cities and the different disciplines involved in establishing and marketing brands, shops,  buildings, streets, neighbourhoods, and cities’ identities.

Brands attention. Hong Kong Harbour City Mall shopfront
Brands attention. Hong Kong Harbour City Mall shopfront

The above image was taken from a shopfront of Habour City Mall, one of the largest shopping Malls in Hong Kong. The reflection of Channel onto a Louis Vuitton’s shopfront describes the loud branding in this area. The entire streetscape is full of neon lights of luxury brands, taking on an oriental Hong Kong style.

During one of the site visits I took the students to the Hong Kong Habour City Mall street and asked them to stand there for a while, absorbing the lights, the brands, the noise, the colours, the smell, the way that people moved, and the different place-making of the brands themselves. Then I asked them: ‘Take the shops away, the signage, the shopfronts and the brands, what do you end up with?’ The students replied: ‘Nothing an empty street’. That is the power of design in creating branding cities identities. The shopfronts (interior architecture) and the signage (communication design) represent the value of the brand (marketing), which attract the demographics (business) and determine the identity of the street, and the city (urban design). The place-making on the interior determines the typography of the street on the exterior.

Hong Kong Harbour City Mall
Hong Kong Harbour City Mall

Hong kong is the city of shopping malls; we counted eleven shopping malls in a one Kilometre area around Tsim Cha Tsu in Kowloon. Each shopping mall has a different identity and was established for a different purpose. Here are few shopping malls to show: Hong Kong Habour City Mall, Landmark Mall in Central, K11 Art Mall, and Timesquare Mall in Central.

Hong Kong Harbour City Mall was designed for quick shopping trips, the loud neon lights attract people from miles away and leave them ‘brand star struck’ and overwhelmed with choices. The brands are at a very close proximity to each other and the mirrors, the loud colours, the highly polished and reflective materials and the signage add to the visual confusion, and silence the brain through loud stimuli

On the other extreme Landmark Mall in Central is part of the five star Landmark Hotel, and the Mall has to represent this brand value. It was designed to attract the western expatriates. The subtlety and the control of the brand representation show a different brand value and place-making to Hong Kong Habour City Mall. The Mall was designed according to the layout of a European Piazza with the shops and cafés radiating around a central fountain for encounters. In Landmark, the shopping experience was created for people to stroll, dine, shop and meet friends, just as they do in a real city experience.

Landmark Mall is located next to the design SOHO district, hence the refinement in representing the brands, which rely on form, and patterns instead of loud bright materials. In 2015, I managed to find the only Elie Saab Boutique in AustralAsia, which describes the branding identity of the shopping centre, catering for the demographics of luxury brands.

K11 Art Mall is exactly as its name says, it promotes local artists and it is a quiet mall, with restaurants limited to the ground and top floors. The Mall has many design-oriented shops and art pieces at every corner. At the entrance, you will encounter the Toast Mosaic Mona-lisa. At the upper floor, sitting next to a sports shop the most exquisite Diary of Clouds by Tony Ng. The art piece is about 1600mm in length and it captures time lost in the clouds through clear and frosted glass.   

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2015, Times Square, Central, Hong Kong, Anchor store Lane Crawford

Time Square in Central, designed to astonish and to show the magical wonders of  shopping malls with the cantilevering escalators that carry you to shopping heaven. With Lane Crawford as the anchor store, the shopping experience never ends: ‘shop until you drop’ and you stop at La Durée French Patisserie and you take it all in from an indoor balcony. The view is the thousands of choices that the Mall has to offer. Here is where you will find a gold-leaf ornamented cakes and you leave still wondering what it is like to have seen all these shops, so you just have to come back.

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2015 Pink flamingos Kawloon Park Hong Kong

After this mall hopping and wondering from one market to the next, the final stop has to be Kowloon Park, where you would sit and just look and sketch pink flamingoes. The park used to be a military fortress and what a difference nature can make in a vibrant city such as Hong Kong. Kowloon Park is the sweet haven, where silence is a luxury and you get nature, peace and pink flamingoes in what used be a military fortress.

This is Hong Kong, similar to any other city, full of contrasts, where art, design, kitsch and silence all have their moments to enjoy. This is what makes cities so fascinating, that paradox of events all happening at the same for different people and tastes or for the people who want to try different tastes.

Hong Kong is the branding city of shopping and we have not even explored art, design, food, temples, islands, and tower lounges such as Aqua, the Felix in the Peninsula Hotel. We visited Hong Kong as the branding city of shopping and that is what we saw. If we would have visited Hong Kong as the city of temples this is what we would have seen. Each city has its identity to reveal according to the perception of people that visit it at the time… the next city is to come….

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