New Cultural District Takes Shape in Hong Kong

The West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA) in Hong Kong has released three conceptual plans for a new 40-acre, US$2.7 billion harborfront cultural district by famed architecture firms Office of Metropolitan Architecture (Rem Koolhaus’ firm), Foster + Partners, and Rocco Design Architects. The plans present three distinct visions for how this new development on reclaimed land can become a “cultural centerpiece” in one of the world’s great cities. All concepts include lots of open green space, more than 15 new cultural venues (including museums, arenas, and cultural facilities) as well as sustainable transportation and water management features. Some proposals aim for carbon-neutrality.

Henry Tang, Chief Secretary of WKCDA said each of the three cultural district plans will be evaluated to see if they:

  • “have multiculturalism as their anchor and serve as a rendezvous point for people and the arts;
  • showcase the unique features and identity of Hong Kong;
  • serve as an engine to propel the growth of Hong Kong’s culture and creative industries;
  • grow organically and synchronise the development of the site’s hardware and software;
  • are accessible to people from all walks of life;
  • are well-connected internally and externally;
  • emphasize vibrancy and sustainability – including people flow, use of public space, relation to the harbourfront, environmental friendliness, and the sustainability of business model.”

The plans will also be put through a rigorous 2nd round comprehensive public review process.  Once public comments have been addressed, a final development plan will be created and presented to the town planning board in 2012. According to The HK Standard, Chief Secretary for Administration Henry Tang Ying-yen argued that “the final shape of the long-awaited West Kowloon cultural hub will not be a mishmash of incoherent elements” — only one design will be selected.

There have already been disputes over the amount of space that will be dedicated to residential homes on the site. However, it seems the idea of a mixed-use residential, commercial, and cultural district has won out at least for now, particularly considering that affordable residential real estate is already very scare in central Hong Kong. The Standard says Stephen Cheung Yan-leung, chairman of the consultation panel of the WKCDA, “has insisted one-fifth – or 145,000 square meters – that will go on homes will not turn the hub into a property project.” Another WKCDA representatives said: “What I hope is to avoid flats from falling into the hands of speculators. Flats can also be regarded as artworks. They are not necessarily luxury flats. They can be flats with restricted prices.” At the presentation of the concepts, Rem Koolhaas, who heads the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, added that subsidized housing can be integrated into the project.

The three conceptual plans include:

City Park, Foster + Partners: “We have created the framework for an urban quarter in West Kowloon with all these ingredients – a magnificent park, a continuous waterfront, iconic cultural venues, colonnaded avenues, tree-lined streets and intimate lanes; green spaces offering tranquility, and urban spaces that are inspired by the energy and rich mix of Kowloon’s streetscapes. All these places and spaces are supported by a network of service roads below ground and a public transport system above. The whole quarter is carbon neutral.” Inhabitat has more details and images on Foster’s proposal.

Cultural Connect: Key to Sustained Vitality, Rocco Design Architects: “Health depends on a robust and un-impeded field of invisible paths through one’s body. The WKCD will establish that un-impeded cultural-urban field that ensures fluidity and connectivity. Connectivity between art forms, between life and culture, space and movement, inside and outside, art and community, Hong Kong, South China and overseas. Ultimately this would bring about not just brief flashes of brilliance, but long-term and sustained vitality.”

Project for a New Dimension, Office of Metropolitan Architecture: “This cultural masterplan works in tandem with the physical plan, each informing and empowering the other. It tries to establish a new zone of creativity, interplay, and production on the basis of an existing infrastructure that, I can already testify, makes a mockery of the notion that Hong Kong has ‘no culture’.”  Bustler also has a video presentation from OMA.

The WKCDA will need to ensure the big plans stay under the HK$21.6 billion (US$2.7 billion) budget approved by the Legislative Council. 
Check out Bustler for brief overviews and more images and go to the WKCDA Web site to keep up-to-date on developments.

Image credits: (1) West Kowloon, Skyscraper City Forum (2) Foster + Partners, (3) Rocco Design Architects, (4) OMA

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