Norman Foster promises accessible arts for Hong Kong Kowloon project – Time Out

HONG KONG ART DISTRICT DEVELOPMENT

In a recent Time Out Hong Kong interview, Lord Norman Foster, who has designed iconic buildings in Hong Kong, talks to interviewer Jake Hamilton about his plan for the West Kowloon Cultural District, the biggest cultural project to ever be built in the region.

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Aerial view of City Park. Image courtesy Foster + Partners.

Foster + Partners, headed by Lord Norman Foster, is the architectural and planning firm that designed City Park, the winning masterplan for the development of the somewhat embattled West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD). The design, selected in March 2011, includes a nineteen-hectare park and a green avenue that will provide a landscaped setting for seventeen arts and cultural buildings. It is estimated that it will cost HKD21.6 billion to complete the project.

Click here to read the full interview with Lord Norman Foster in TimeOut Hong Kong.

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Artist's impression of City Park. Image courtesy Foster + Partners.

Integrating different arts sectors

The City Park plan aims to link different sectors of the arts through seventeen core arts venues, each of which will have cultural educational facilities embedded within them. “All the different arts will be close to each other for maximum interaction and integrated with places to live, work, shop, browse, eat and enjoy,” Foster explains. The waterfront park, which Foster refers to as “the 18th venue,” could be ready “very soon,” and will incorporate open air performance spaces and works of art.

Seamless integration with existing Hong Kong development is a key feature of the plan. Access to the West Kowloon Cultural District, or “quarter” as Foster prefers to call the area, will be supported by a network of roads and services below ground and an elevated public transport system above. The architect describes accessible and inexpensive public transport options, but also points out that “…connections are not just physical links, we are designing a place where people can interact. We can spark exciting relationships between different art forms when we place them close together….”

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Different layers of City Park. Image courtesy Foster + Partners.

Capturing the essence of Hong Kong

In their plan, Foster + Partners have attempted to recreate the special characteristics of Hong Kong. Says Foster, architects studied not only the physical proportions of the streets, alleyways, and promenades but also signage, retail facades, street layout, traffic movement and people in the context of urban activities.

We looked at the layering of the streets, the activities that take place one above the other, as well as their dimensional proportions. The dynamic of Hong Kong is also about the very narrow pedestrian laneways, which are very intense. We explored and captured the qualities and quantities that bring life to the streets. The cultural buildings can then be integrated within this new, yet at the same time familiar, urban environment.

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Artist's impression of City Park along the waterfront. Image courtesy Foster + Partners.

Boosting the art scene in Hong Kong

To Foster the Hong Kong arts scene is thriving, a statement that stands in marked contrast to the claims of many critics that, despite the presence of so many art-oriented organisations and institutions in the city, the local arts scene is in a coma.

Hong Kong’s art scene is alive and well and its members have been passionate and articulate about what they want to have at WKCD. Affordable studios, education spaces and the cultural ‘software’ are an important part of the district. We created an additional 17,000 square metres of space for cultural educational facilities, on top of the 15,000 square metres allocated in the brief. This includes low-cost, flexible rehearsal spaces and exhibition venues, schools for the performing and visual arts, and recording and post production facilities. The artistic and creative communities will also be supported by a dedicated centre for the exchange of ideas. These facilities will nurture the artists of tomorrow so that Hong Kong’s cultural life can evolve and grow from within.

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Artist's impression of the green expanse in City Park. Image courtesy Foster + Partners.

While these comments may relieve local concerns that the arts are being overlooked by competing residential and commercial development interests, some Hong Kong arts bodies believe they are not being fully consulted in the development of the project.

Major criticisms of the contentious district are discussed in the HK Online article “Cultural Clash” by Hana R. Alberts, among them the project’s bloated price tag, the precedence of foreign cultural programmes over those locally produced, the seeming focus on a space for arts consumers rather than arts producers and a preference for visual arts over literary and other art forms.

In a talk at the Fringe Club last week where the three architecture firms in the running presented their plans and took questions, even more issues cropped up: How can the flagship museum M+ be so massive when there isn’t even any art to put into it? How much emphasis should be placed on Chinese opera and other traditional arts compared with Western ones? What good is a park if stringent Hong Kong law prohibits doing many activities in them? Does Hong Kong have enough theater buffs to fill so many venues?

Do you have concerns about the development plans for the West Kowloon Cultural District? Do you believe it will play a substantial role in reinvigorating the arts scene in Hong Kong? Leave a comment below.

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Related Topics: art districts, art and the community, Hong Kong art venues

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