Architecture: Jockey Club Innovation Tower (Zaha Hadid)

Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid), view from the podium of the university’s campus

The visually stunning Jockey Club Innovation Tower (JCIT) at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University was designed by renowned British Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid ( and was completed in 2014. The building is representative of Hadid’s bold architectural style and love of curves. The building hosts the university’s School of Design (; studying in such a futuristic and unique building must be inspiring for many of the school’s students.

View from the opposite side (from Block Z of the university campus)

In terms of its architecture and design, there are some things I love about the building and other things aspects I would question.

The Positives

Let’s start with the positives. The building has an intriguing, almost amorphous shape, created from curves, irregular angles, overhangs, leans, bends and creases. Its shape looks different depending on where you are viewing it from. Viewed from the northeast, it resembles the prow of a massive ship rising up from the water.

Jockey Club Innovation Tower (view from the northeast)

Viewed from the main campus podium to the southeast, it looks like a hillside that someone split open, revealing a cross-section of geological strata.

Jockey Club Innovation Tower (view from the southeast)

These are two satellite images taken from Google Earth. I had no idea the building was shaped like this—with two oblong sections joined together (note: the green color is scaffolding erected for renovations).

Jockey Club Innovation Tower: Image from Google Earth

Looking at the building from straight above, it looks like it could be a Star-Wars-style spaceship.

Image from Google Earth

Let’s see how it looks from other angles.

Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid)
Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid)
The building catching the late afternoon sun
Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid)
View from the north
Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid)
A pedestrian footbridge links the JCIT (and the main campus) to Block Z of the campus
Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid)
View from the campus podium
Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid)
This section is particularly ship-like
Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid)
Interior (looking down)

The Flaws

Although I love the way the building looks, in my opinion, it doesn’t fit in well with its surroundings, particularly the existing architecture of the campus. It is almost entirely boxed in by the chunky and blocky, reddish-brown buildings of the fortress-like university campus, which is itself boxed in by large highways and overpasses on all sides, with a huge highway-cloverleaf to the northwest (beyond which are two more large red brick buildings). When the building is viewed from a distance, all that brick, concrete and traffic makes it look small and out-of-place (and if you are not actually on campus, there are only a few places where you can get an unobstructed view of the building).

View from the north: highways and brick buildings (there are more brick buildings behind Innovation Tower)
Jockey Club Innovation Tower (designed by Zaha Hadid)
Innovation Tower (center) and Block Z (right)

Should Zaha Hadid’s design be criticized for what is essentially the brutally ugly design of the campus in which it resides? Probably not. It is difficult to think of anything except for a chunky, red brick building that would fit in with the existing buildings. Perhaps the problem lies with the university’s decision to build yet another complex of chunky, red brick buildings (called Block Z) to the northwest of Innovation Tower at the same time as Hadid’s project was under construction. This new block only served to obstruct views of Innovation Tower and further box it in.

Another problem with the design of the building is that if you are up close at ground level, some parts of the structure are not very inviting..

Jockey Club Innovation Tower: a less attractive view
 Jockey Club Innovation Tower: a less attractive view
Four years after completion, the exterior is starting to show stains.

It seems that when viewing the building, to fully appreciate it’s beauty, you need to find a Goldilocks vantage point—one that isn’t too far away and one that isn’t too close. .

Another flaw is that the interior is not particularly engaging. It is full of interesting angles, and the windows let in a lot of natural light, but the grey tile floors, plain off-white walls, relatively low ceilings and narrow passageways give some parts of the interior a utilitarian feel.


For example, on one floor (see the photo below), a staircase occupies the center of the interior, making it the visual focal point, but there is nothing interesting about the staircase; it is just just a concrete staircase that extends straight down. The staircase also serves as a kind of light well for the floor below, but for a design feature that dominates two floors of the building, the staircase is not very attractive. It does create ‘space’, but it also removes space where people could actually congregate and forces them into narrow passageways on either side of the stairwell.


Some of the rooms look spare, utilitarian and uninviting. This meeting room (see the photo below) shows one of the issues with having angled exteriors. They provide interesting shapes on the outside but can cause inconvenience for the actual users. For example, if you are fairly tall, you wouldn’t want to walk near the this room.

Meeting room

In his overall-very-positive analysis of the Jockey Club Innovation Tower, Hakan Anay notes some of the problems with the interior:

JCIT is essentially based on floor plans. For each level, plan organization tries to address two apparently incompatible things: on the one hand, it tries to establish a spatial organization with reference to the programmatic requirements; on the other hand, it tries to fit itself into the confines of the outer shell, which was already there. As a result one can identify a number of dead-ends, cramped, leftover spaces, or spaces those do not exactly fit to their respective functions.

Since the building’s completion in 2014, the building has been frequently covered with scaffolding, which leads me to believe there may be issues with the exterior cladding and louvres. I wonder how the building will hold up to the ravages of time and weather (and I wouldn’t want to try cleaning the windows!).

Jockey Club Innovation Tower & Scaffolding

To sum up, I get the impression that the university wanted a visually striking showpiece and an example of cutting-edge architecture, and that is what they got. However, the architects and university planners could have done more to (1) integrate the design into the campus, (2) create a more attractive and inviting ground-level experience and (3) create a more vibrant and engaging interior.


Photo Galleries

To view the images at a higher resolution (2048 x 1365), you can go to the following galleries:

Three Questions

  1. What do you think of the overall design of the building?
  2. How could the building be better integrated into the university’s campus?
  3. What changes can be made to the interior?

Art Challenge

Draw a building in a similar style.

photos & text by longzijun


Return to Artjouer’s Architecture Page


Visit to a Studio Ghibli Diorama Exhibition

Diorama: Kiki’s Delivery Service (The World of Studio Ghibli’s Animation), Hong Kong)

The photos on this page are from a visit to an exhibition entitled The World of Studio Ghibli’s Animation. This Hong Kong exhibit featured dioramas based on some of animation studio’s most popular anime. It was a pleasant trip down memory lane for fans of director Hayao Miyazaki.

However, there was one flaw with the exhibition. The human characters didn’t look very good. The problem was the human figures had the very smooth features of their animated counterparts, but they inhabited very detailed, textured and realistic settings. The contrast was unsettling. The curators seemed to be aware of this problem and compensated for it by putting some of the human characters in the shadows or by placing the figures so that they faced away from the viewer.

Spirited Away

There were three main dioramas for Spirited Away: the interior of the train, the exterior of the witch Yubaba’s bathouse and Yubaba’s office.

Maggie (a real person, not part of the diorama!) takes the train with Kaonashi (No-face). This was one of the only dioramas that visitors could actually enter.
San outside Yubaba’s bathhhouse
The witch Yubaba’s office
The Kashira (heads) in Yubaba’s office
A detail view of a railing at the Spirited Away diorama.

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke is my favorite anime. It”s action-packed and gives both sides in the conflict—San and the forest gods versus Lady Eboshi and the residents of Irontown— their own benevolent (though clashing) motivations..

Ashitaka riding Yaku
San and Moro
The Forest Spirit

My Neighbor Totoro

This anime—about two young girls vising the countryside and encountering the magical creatures there while their mother recuperates in hospital— was a breakthrough hit for Studio Ghibli

Satsuki and Mei running home
Diorama detail (seeds and a letter)
Totoro sleeping in the forest

Kiki’s Delivery Service

This is an anime about a young trainee witch, who, as part of her training, has to go to another town and lead an independent life.

Kiki and Jiji at the bakery
Kiki and Jiji and Tombo’s bicycle. Tombo seems to be absent from this diorama, but his shadow is still there.

Porco Rosso

Let’s have Wikipedia sum up the plot of this anime for us: “The plot revolves around an Italian World War I ex-fighter ace, now living as a freelance bounty hunter chasing ‘air pirates in the Adriatic Sea. However, an unusual curse has transformed him into an anthropomorphic pig. Once called Marco Pagot, he is now known to the world as “Porco Rosso”, Italian for ‘Red Pig’ or ‘Red Pork’.”

Diorama: Porco Rosso (Exhibition: The World of Studio Ghibli’s Animation, Hong Kong)
Porco Rosso

Howl’s Moving Castle

This anime is based on Diana Wynn Jones novel of the same name. It tells the story of Sophie, a young woman who is transformed into an old lady by a witch and who then falls in with Howl, a wizard who is trying to avoid getting involved in his kingdom’s war.

Howl’s Moving Castle
The wizard Howl and the scarecrow.

Pom Poko

This is an underrated anime about tanuki (also known as racoon dogs), who rediscover their shapeshifting abilities in order to fight against human encroachment.

Shoukichi, one of the protagonists
The tanuki can shapeshift into objects such as this daruma doll

Laputa: Castle in the Sky

To conclude, here are dioramas based on Laputa: Castle in the Sky.

Pazu and Sheeta trying to escape from the air pirate Captain Dola
The destruction of Laputa

Studio Ghibli Merchandise (other stores)

At the exhibition there was a lot of merchandise available. I didn’t buy anything at that time, but I got a plush doll for my school’s English Corner from a local Studio Ghibli store. In our English Corner, we have a lot of Studio Ghibli DVDs for students to borrow.

A mini-totoro in our English Corner anime section

During a visit to Kyoto, I also stopped by the Studio Ghibli store there. I found the planters quite attractive.

At the Studio Ghibli store in Kyoto
At the Studio Ghibli store in Kyoto
At the Studio Ghibli Store in Kyoto
At the Studio Ghibli store in Kyoto

Photo Galleries

The photos of exhibition are available in higher resolution (2048 x 1365) at:

Three Questions

  1. Why would an exhibition like this be appealing to fans of the anime?
  2. Would the exhibition be of any interest to people who have not seen the anime? Why/why not?
  3. How can the exhibition artists solve the problem of having simple human figures in realistic, detailed and settings?

Art Challenge

Create a diorama! A diorama is simply a three-dimensional model of a scene. People who are into making models as a hobby often create dioramas to showcase their models.

~text and photos by


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Art Inspired by Vintage Photos

The artworks on this page were inspired by vintage photographs of young women and girls. In his East Meets West series (, British artist Gavin Mitchell paints over old vintage monochrome Japanese photos of girls and young women, adding western cultural elements from different time periods.

Gavin Mitchell: Monster Book for Girls (Pigment print with hand applied acrylic UV varnish on paper, hand finished with gold leaf & metal leaf; Affordable Art Fair 2019; Turner Barnes Gallery)

In the above photo, for example, the artist has painted in a few books that girls in the mid-20th century England might have been reading. The book that gives the painting its title, The Monster Book for Young Girls, was a popular series of short story anthologies.

In his Aging 2017-2018 series (–Aging-Painting/B888339EF2D5523F), New York-based Japanese artist Takahiro Yamamoto uses photorealistic painting techniques to produce recreations of antique postcards and photographs.

Takahiro Yamamoto: Untitled, from the series Aging, 2017-2018 (Oil on canvas, Art Central 2019, Masahiro Maki Gallery)

In the portrait shown above, the folded edge of the paper at the top left corner is a kind of trompe-l’œil—that is, it is a painting of a damaged corner that is meant to give a 3D effect (and is not an actual damaged corner). Similarly, the artist is trying to recreate in his painting the fading caused by the passage of time and all the imperfections—the scratches, tears and folds—caused by the people who handled the photo.  

In his News from Nowhere series (, Japanese artist Satoru Aoyama adds his own drawing and embroidery to old newspaper photos. In the following artwork, the artist has taken an 1880 photo from the Illustrated London News and has used embroidery to colorize the clothing. He has also drawn over the print of the original, giving the woman in the portrait the face of modern-day actress Shailene Woodley.

Detail view: Satoru Aoyama: News from Nowhere (Shailene), 2017: Detail view (Embroidery and drawing on vintage print, gold leaf; Art Basel HK 2018; Mizuma Art Gallery)
Detail view

In another piece from the same series, the artist transforms a picture of three Japanese dancing girls from the London Times Supplement (1874) so that is now features the three lead singers of the Japanese heavy metal band BabyMetal.

Satoru Aoyama: News from Nowhere (Baby Metal), (2017 (Embroidery and drawing on vintage print, gold leaf; Art Basel HK 2018; Mizuma Art Gallery).

The three artists—David Mitchell, Takahiro Yamamoto , Satoru Aoyama—are all exploring themes related to time. David Mitchell juxtaposes images from different cultures and eras, Takahiro Yamamoto seeks to recreate the imperfections caused by the passage of of time and Satoru Aoyama updates vintage news photos with modern pop culture icons.

Photo Galleries

The photos are available in higher resolution (2048 x 1365) at:

Three Questions

  1. Which artwork on this page do you like best? Why?
  2. Gavin Mitchell adds Western props to Japanese portraits while Satoru Aoyama’s updates old photos by transforming the subjects in the pictures into modern pop icons. Do these changes emphasize how similar people from different cultures and time periods are or does it emphasize their differences?
  3. What do you think Takahiro Yamamoto’s purpose is in trying to recreate in his painting the exact look of vintage photos?

Art Challenge

Find an old photo or postcard and add your own changes to it.

~text, video and photos by


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