Why Not Turn Central Market in Hong Kong into a Marketplace with an Emphasis on Food?

Comment + Analysis

Hong Kong’s Central Market should be re-purposed into a modern day marketplace with an emphasis on food. They can do whatever they want with the interior, but the exterior should be restored to its original appearance.


Central Market as it appeared back in the day.


Central Market was a fresh food market, a.k.a. a wet market, in Central, Hong Kong. It was located between Jubilee Street, Queen Victoria Street, Queen’s Road Central, and Des Voeux Road Central.

The Town Planning Board on 18 March 2016 approved a HK$600 million (US$77.34 million) design to replace the historic Central Market in the heart of Central on Hong Kong Island.

The design features “a four-storey building with a new façade made of transparent materials and 1,000 square metres of public open space”, the South China Morning Post reports.

Built in 1938-39, the market was abandoned in 2003, except for a strip of small shops that lines a 24-hour pedestrian corridor through the building.

Former proposals for the historic structure were kitschy at best, and I am glad that none of them were implemented.

Historic Significance

But will this one be any better? I must say, “transparent materials” doesn’t sound like a winning concept.

Is that a new way of saying “curtain wall”? Don’t we already have enough curtain walls in Hong Kong?

(In case you are curious, a “curtain wall” is non-structural wall (often made of glass) that keeps the weather out and the occupants in. Many if not most of Hong Kong’s high-rise commercial buildings are clad in curtain walls.)

Central Market occupies a city block in the centre of one of Hong Kong’s most important commercial districts.

That its four-storey height will be preserved is good news. But I have serious reservations about the design.

I also worry about that “1,000 square metres of public space”.

Does that mean yet another historic structure with a gaping hole in the middle where the occasional exhibition or performance can be held?

Sound pretty unimaginative, if you ask me! And what a waste of space!

Collective Memory

The building’s significance is more historic than architectural, but that does not mean that its original architecture should not be preserved.

In respect of our “collective memory”, one of two things should be done. Either the exterior of the original building should be restored as closely as possible to its original appearance.

Or, if that is not feasible, a duplicate building should be built to the exact same size and appearance, and I do NOT mean a cheap, Disneyesque reproduction such as was built to serve as the new the Star Ferry Terminal in Central.

In addition, old photographs should be consulted, and authentic reproductions of period lampposts and other street furniture (if there was any) should be installed along the sidewalks surrounding the building.

The sidewalks should also be paved with traditional materials.

The interior of the building, meanwhile, should celebrate its origins as a wet market while reflecting current lifestyles.

All of the businesses inside the structure should be related to food. Perhaps the roof of the market could be turned into an organic farm, growing simple crops such as spices and herbs, which don’t require a lot of soil.

Let’s take a look at two examples of successful urban marketplaces that could provide inspiration for the future of Central Market …

Pike Place Market – Seattle



Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington. Photo Credit: David Schwen.

While a traditional wet market is out of the question, what about a world class marketplace or food emporium such as Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington, or the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco, California?

With a history of more than 100 years, Pike Place Market is sprawling complex of interconnected structures located on the waterfront overlooking Elliott Bay.

There is a wide mix of tenants, and many of them are small farmers, fishmongers, craftsman, and other small business owners.

Pike Place Market has evolved over the decades. More than 10 million visitors shop there every year.

It is the world’s 33rd most visited tourist attraction. It also serves the needs of the local community.

Ferry Building Marketplace – San Francisco



Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco, California. Photo Credit: DXR (above); Caroline Culler (below).

While Pike Place Market can provide inspiration, the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco might serve as a better role model for Hong Kong.

First of all, if you discount the clock tower and the offices upstairs, it is closer in scale to Central Market.

It was also an existing structure (originally a terminal for ferries) that was entirely re-purposed to new a use.

During the planning stages, it was determined that no fast-food chains should be allowed, and a careful mix of tenants should be maintained.

The focus would be on local farmers, artisan producers, and independently owned and operated food businesses.

As a result, the Ferry Building Marketplace has shops and vendors selling …

  • Specialty groceries;
  • Prepared foods;
  • Fresh meat, poultry, and fish;
  • Cookware and tableware;
  • Wines and spirits;
  • Cheese;
  • Chocolate;
  • Fresh breads and pastries;
  • Farm produce, flowers, and gardening equipment.

There are also numerous cafes and small eateries as well as a food-related bookshop.

Needless to say, the mix of tenants at Central Market would have to be adjusted to take into account local needs and what is locally available.

Considering the growing popularity of organic produce and other specialty products in Hong Kong, however, the tenant mix at the Ferry Building could be instructive.

Preference should also be given to entrepreneurs and small business owners rather than chains.

Key Advantage

Central Market does have one key advantage over both Pike Place Market and the Ferry Building, both of which are a bit removed from the centre of town. 

Because Central Market is located in the heart of a key business district, it could not only be an attraction for tourists, it would also be able to serve the needs of people working in the vicinity.

Employers working in nearby office buildings, hotels, and malls could have breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner there. They could consume food on site or take it to go.

They could also buy prepared and unprepared foods to take home after work.


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