Afloat is a multi-dimensional bridge that aims to reinforce the health of both humans and surrounding environment. The proposal is situated at the opening of the Kai Tak channel and connects the former runway to South Apron Corner, which is now the site of the first and only Children’s Hospital in Hong Kong and will soon be home to a new acute hospital which is scheduled to open in 2025.

Joel Austin Cunningham 
SMarchS AD

Kwan Queenie Li

More than bridges

Aligning with the latest governmental plan for a recently revised multi-modal transportation service for the district, Afloat offers more than a generic bridging solution. In this project the connotation of ‘bridge’ extends to a multitude of connections between people and the surrounding natural context, and aspires to resonate with the future strategic health zone of Kowloon East.

Myraid temporalities

In an incremental approach, the only permanent component of the proposal is a footbridge that offers a new 200m walking route between the green spaces of the Kai Tak runway and the centre of Kowloon Bay. The meandering form of the bridge then creates a series of pockets which can host a series of flexible and economically constructed floating structures. These installations can be specified to host a panoply of functions under a collective goal of improving the district’s health. These include human oriented spaces which promote an active lifestyle, enriching our cultural quests, and re-channeling the calming power of water for meditation and reflection.

They can also feature elements which look to improve the health of the natural environment and connect the local community to it. This can be achieved through devices that monitor and cleanse the water quality through biological intervention, or an art-tech element that visually communicates the monitoring of the water below with distant viewers, creating an inspiring atmosphere that extends to the residents of the broader neighbourhood, especially those located in the district’s hospital.

Participatory design

The bridge has been designed to accommodate a wide range of floating structures which can be commissioned by local institutions and community groups. This form of participatory design not only responds to the evolving needs of the district, but continuously aggregates different local groups and engages them in reimagining the development of their social fabric. Serving a wide spectrum of users from hospital visitors to general residents, this urban intervention strives to exemplify an understanding of health and accessibility in diverse formats: physically, sensorily, and sustainably.

For Kowloon East, this bridge provides an infrastructure that not only connects the community, but allows it to grow, change and stay afloat in dynamic waves.

Site Analysis

An evolving Kowloon East

Since the Energising Kowloon East Office (EKEO) was inaugurated in 2012, Kowloon East has been a work-in-progress, dynamic, one-of-a-kind urban redevelopment project in Hong Kong. Striving towards the goal of turning Kowloon East into HK’s second central business district (CBD), within less than a decade, Kowloon East has seen significant improvement from being an aging, industrial district.

Kowloon East is identified by the Government as a “smart city pilot area” in Hong Kong. In its Conceptual Master Plan published in 2015, five development focuses were identified: Walkability and Mobility, Green CBD, Smart City, Socio-economic Vibrancy and the Spirit of Green. In recent years, we witness the successful implementation of diverse projects including the increase of green and open space such as the Kwun Tong promenade and the CIC–Zero Carbon Park, as well as the improvement of street lighting, traffic directional signs, urban greening and streetscapes.

A strong local persona
Kowloon East sits within the second largest district in Hong Kong, Kwun Tong, a district that has the largest number and proportion of elderly, plus the most retired citizens.

On one hand, Kowloon East is getting more and more ready to welcome the influx of a new working population, living up to the vision of a vibrant premier business district in Hong Kong. On the other hand, there is a genuine concern of whether long-time residents in this district are connected to this grand vision.

In 2016, the HK government published a guiding blueprint for a planning vision and strategy that transcends towards a goal of Hong Kong continuing to be liveable, competitive and sustainable “Asia’s World City”. The territorial development strategy pinpointed three underlying aims: enhancing liveability in our high-density compact city; embracing economic challenges and opportunities; and creating capacity for sustainable growth.

Especially under the goal of improving liveability, the document highlighted the importance of becoming a healthy city through promoting an active lifestyle, a reconnection to nature and a more comfortable environment.
Proportion of Elderly in Hong Kong and Kwun Tong

An new hospital cluster

Opened in 2018, the first and only children’s hospital (HKCH) has significant value to the development of paediatric medicine in Hong Kong. It serves as the tertiary referral centre for complex, serious and uncommon paediatric cases requiring multidisciplinary management, whilst offering diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation services for patients with relevant clinical needs, from birth to 18 years of age territory-wide.

Next to HKCH will be a new acute hospital that is expected to open in 2025 with 8 hospital buildings, 2,400 beds, 37 operating theatres, offering comprehensive services from acute facilities, research laboratories to oncology centres. As one of the largest hospitals in Hong Kong, the arrival of the new acute hospital would double the number of hospital beds in the entire Kowloon east district and help meet rising healthcare demands driven by the growing and ageing population of Kowloon.

However, hospitals are never a pleasant place to be. Imagine children at the end stage of diseases, frail elderly suffering from chronic illnesses, patient families bearing immense mental stress, to name but a few. Recently, local news reports have covered complaints from HKCH’s users regarding new playgrounds opened outside the hospital. The increased traffic has worsened the current bottleneck in accessibility and has induced negative emotions from children patients who are hospitalised.

This hospital cluster will attract a constant flow of citizens with a wide spectrum of health conditions. From the perspective of urban planning, there lies an apparent opportunity to transform this hospital cluster from a disease-centric atmosphere to a more holistic, health-building social hub. Most importantly, a sensitive design is necessary to foreground interests of hospital users whilst accommodating the need of a greater community.

Natural assets
Hong Kong is often addressed as an urban jungle, where natural beauty is hidden at the fringe of the city. However, more and more people have become aware that there is indeed substantial life and biodiversity existing in every piece of urban fabric.

Kowloon East is also no exception. Back in 2006, an environmental impact assessment report had already pointed out that there were at least nine bird species of conservation importance around the Kai Tak district.

Containing a rich biodiversity itself, water underlines the essence of the selected site. In a unique way, the Kai Tak Channel is connected to the greater Victoria Harbour, a signature of Hong Kong.

Water carries strong signifiers to locals, remembering the living legacy of Star Ferry, the historic cross-harbour race, the iconic Jumbo Kingdom Floating restaurant which, until its COVID-19-induced closure, had topped travel bucket lists for decades.

Especially responding to the specific context of two neighbouring hospitals, the presence of water in the Kai Tak Channel is a strong biophilic design element; its poetics serve tremendous benefits to hospital users and general residents, if not a precious space for a temporary relief from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Whilst it is urgent to resolve and break the bottleneck of the accessibility issue, the particular landscape of Kowloon East demands new urban design to play to the strengths of this water-surrounded environment.

Upcoming influx of population
The population in the Kai Tak area is expected to rise to 134,000 residents and 119,000 workers by 2031 (SCMP/2020). In addition, the two hospitals are estimated to meet an annual demand of approximately 212,000 inpatients, day inpatient discharges and deaths, taking reference from existing service statistics of the Queen Elizabeth hospital (which will be relocated to the Kai Tak Acute Hospital) and the Children’s hospitals (Hospital Authority Data Sharing Portal/2019-20).

With the Kai Tak Channel situated next to the Kwun Tong Promenade, an improved continuity of accessibility will naturally bring in more local residents from the greater Kowloon East district that are seeking public space for an active lifestyle.

Anticipating new housing estates being completed on the Kai Tak runway, and the opening of the Kai Tak acute hospital in 2025, in the coming decade we can foresee a rapid formation of new communities and a greater influx of visitors, in addition to the new CBD identity.

What is urgently needed is a multi-dimensional bridging innovation that does not only enhance the physical accessibility of the area, but serves as a threshold to welcome hospital users, CBD’s workers and the local residents of Kowloon East into this context. A bridge that not only surpasses the water body, but meanders into it and seizes the generative power of the water, which has always bought inspiration, memories and console to people who call this place home.

a multi-dimensional bridge



This project is anchored in a “co-health” concept, taking into consideration both human health, as well as environmental health.

The Meikirch Model of Health indicates that health occurs when individuals use their biologically-bestowed and personally-acquired potential to manage the demands of life in a way that promotes well-being. This process continues throughout life and is embedded within related social and environmental determinants of health - individual, social and environmental. The latter is further defined as the quality of our environmental agents in terms of air, water, soil, food, and other media that may have a potential influence on human health.

This intervention design also takes reference from different health drivers highlighted by the World Health Organisation’s framework of Health Impact Assessment (HIA). Drivers that particularly speak to our core theme include environmental determinants of health (such as noise, clean air and water), park and recreational facilities, access to medical care but also cultural wellbeing.


This proposal bears the fruit of six in-depth interviews with domain experts in healthcare, public space and environmental conservation, following this project’s focus on synergising human and environment health towards public interests.

The authors are thankful for interviewees’ generosity in shaping a collective design process.


Contextual Response

Having identified the Kai Tak Channel as a site, Afloat aims to respond to the area’s existing urban fabric. The map shown opposite (above) highlights an abundance of new green spaces that will be situated on the former runway site, while the circles and crosses show the locations of the district’s existing schools and hospitals.

The new hospital cluster, shown in orange on the axonometric drawing (below), is currently a 1.4km walk away from Kai Tak’s major green spaces, making a return journey unfeasible for many physically disabled persons or parents with young children. Therefore, the proposed bridge location spans the channel at its intersection with the typhoon shelter, a location that does not hinder existing boat moorings or water taxi routes.

This location reduces the distance from the hospitals to the green spaces of Kai Tak by half a kilometre, but also provides a connection to Kwun Tong’s existing waterfront promenade and creates a more accessible walking route from the schools and housing of Ngau Tai Kok Estate. In addition, a concise 1.4km walking route would be formed directly in front of the hospital cluster, making independent outdoor walking a much more realistic option for physically impaired residents and visitors.

Incremental Approach

Due to the scale of this intervention, it is proposed as an incremental construction sequence that can be implemented over an extended period of time as demand and resources allow. The primary and only permanent feature of the design is the footbridge itself, a simple 4-metre-wide meandering route that conforms to the construction limits enforced by The Protection of the Harbour ordinance.  

Over time this route can be extended to provide resting spaces, while its form also creates niches where floating modules can be installed. Some of these can be accessed by people, while others would be inaccessible and serve functions that benefit the natural environment.

Adaptive Programming

While providing a much-needed connection from one side of the water to the other, this bridge proposal also aspires to become a destination. As a large body of water that’s separated from the urban intensity of the surrounding districts, we feel the natural setting of the Kai Tak Channel provides a perfect site for health focussed activities.

The bridge accommodates spaces for these activities in the heart of the channel and allows them to define the form of the bridge. Rather than providing users with the fastest connection from A to B, this creates a meandering route and a series of pockets into which additional programs and activities can be placed.
These floating surfaces can be added and removed in response to demand and do not alter the primary construction or function of the walking route. Additions can also be commissioned by local groups and social initiatives, while installing sensors would allow them to evolve and be repurposed in response to use. Therefore, as well as being a connector, this proposal is also a smart social aggregator that can continually adapt to the needs of the local community.
Shown opposite are a series of example additions that look to benefit both human and environmental health.

The bridge’s walking route undulates and creates a piece of infrastructure that priorities an engagement with the natural environment. Similar to the meandering form of a river, this route is not the most direct, but creates a flowing sequence of interactions, activities and engagements with the surrounding landscape.

The meditation circle (opposite below) is a level extension of this route that provides space for seating while using its form to frame both the water below and the sky above. This space aspires to be a calming resting spot that allows people to take time to appreciate the often forgotten and underappreciated beauty of both the water and the landscape that surrounds the site.

Smart” Solution

Dropping down to the water’s surface, the proposal situates a series of activities upon floating pontoons. These include a sports circle shown here in the centre of the bridge. Due to the size of this pontoon, and the bridges’ location in a particularly calm and sheltered area of water, this surface remains flat and stable, allowing it to be used for sports, fitness and dancing at different times of the day. This floating level can be accessed by a ramp that pivots to accommodate the rising and falling tide, a process that will also expose the bridge’s structural columns.

These columns also form a “smart” response, as they will be wrapped in oyster shells which provide habitats for existing molluscs located in the water and are proven to naturally remove pollutants, helping to improve water quality over extended periods of time. The structure of the bridge therefore becomes an environmental feature and an education device that shares this natural cleansing process with the public.

Extended Audience
The design also features both natural and human oriented programs which can be detached from the bridge and moved to other locations for specific events.

Local researchers current have a desire to sense and record the water quality and the presence of sea life in the channel. This data is of use to scientists investigating remedial strategies and can also be shared with water sports enthusiasts through digital platforms. The proposal’s “sensing circle” not only monitors activity below the surface of the water using sonar detection, but also projects the sonar image onto a fabric canopy to share it with the surrounding public.

Detaching this element from the bridge allows it to be deployed in different locations to the benefit of both scientific research and the local community. This allows the proposal to engage with a wider audience, including hospital residents who may not be able to leave their rooms on a regular basis.

As illustrated overleaf, the amphitheatre is also an ephemeral component that looks to directly engage human visitors. It can be used for leisure, relaxation and gathering, though we propose that this element can be detached from the main bridge on special occasions and allowed to float freely on the water’s surface.

This would be a visceral experience for participants that allows them to engage with and appreciate the influences of nature in a truly unique way. Similar to the sensing circle, this process can be watched by passers-by and the residents of surrounding buildings. An activity that would be particularly provocative at night-time and allows our proposal to engage an audience far beyond the primary users of the bridge.