Thursday, 18 November 2010

On West Kowloon Cultural District

I feel guilty of not sharing my two-cent worth on the West Kowloon Cultural District as early as I want. But the tremendous workload at school just leaves me with little energy to thinking and writing other issues of interest and significance.

My understanding of the purpose of having the six-month public consultation and exhibition is to answer this simple question: "Which option do you choose?" If this is true, then let me give a simple answer: The blueprint of Rocco Design Architects that was inspired by Qingming Shanghetu, a masterpiece of painting that captured in incredible details the metropolis life of Kaifeng in the heyday of Northern Song (960-1127). An animated version of this painting is now on display in Hong Kong, but the official English translation of Riverside on Qingming Festival may not be fully accurate, because the words "Qingming" carries two different meanings in Chinese and there is no evidence to confirm which one was meant by the painter.

So much off-topic for now. Let me get back to the key issue. If I opt for Rocco Design Architects' proposal, the next question would be: "Why?" To explain the reasons of my choice is surely more difficult. But let me try to articulate my thoughts in simple and straightforward terms. I choose Rocco Design Architects' proposal because I think it resonates well with the metropolis character of Hong Kong.

For one thing, I think Mr Rocco Yim and his team have a good grasp of what Hong Kong needs and how we can make the most out of this mega project. Their conceptual framework of the project is succinctly summarised by the title of the project, "Cultural-Connect: Key to Sustained Vitality". To me, "Connect", "Sustained" and "Vitality" are the three key words to the whole project. "Culture", ironically, does not matter too much now because it is such a notoriously broad concept that we would never be able to reach consensus on it. Why waste our time then? We have already wasted too much time on meaningless criticism and debate since the project was first initiated. Our priorities should now focus on how to move things forward. In my opinion, however, it is important to ensure that the facilities in the project are flexible enough to accommodate different forms of art and cultural activities to be performed there.

Connectivity of the design is by all means impressive. I really appreciate the idea of having ferries to connect Central, Wan Chai, Tsim Sha Tsui and North Point. In fact, if the government refuses to reverse its decision to remove the Star Ferry Pier at Tsim Sha Tsui, perhaps it could be relocated to the West Kowloon Cultural District instead.

For sustainability, suggestions on renewable energy, waste reduction and recycling are to be applauded, but the effectiveness of these devices remain to be seen.

What impresses me most is the layout of the so-called 3D public space. Actually I don't really care if this is 3D or 4D. It is the logical and thoughtful layout that warrants my vote. It looks obvious to me that broad and deep thoughts have been given in the allocation of space with the need and convenience of users as the priority.

For example, the Xiqu Centre and the Xiqu Square will be located to the east end of the project, near Jordan and Yau Ma Tei. Arguably, the Xiqu compound will be the most accessible due to its proximity to public transport networks such as MTR, bus and minibus along Austin Road and Canton Road. Jordan and Yau Ma Tei are also among the oldest areas of development and home to many elderly people. Presumably, they are the largest group of target audience of Chinese opera programmes. Easy access to public transport and proximity to their homes can be expected to attract more attendance for Xiqu performances. It also makes sense to assign workspace and the humanities centre in the more accessible locations of the project for the convenience of users and people who will work there. With these thoughtful devices I feel confident and convinced that the project will be able to connect other parts of Kowloon and evolve into an organic, sustainable project.

However, my primary concern with Mr Yim's proposal is the residential property at the back of the project. As we have seen in many residential complexes developed on or near MTR stations, there is little connection and organic development with the local communities around them. It will be an immense challenge to integrate the new residential blocks with the existing, old communities around them and regenerate them into an organic creature.

The proposals put forward by Foster & Partners and OMA have some distinctive advantages. The concept of City Park with extensive green space and heavy vegetation ("Urban Forest") is by all means refreshing and motivating. But there does not seem any logic in the layout of facilities. Or perhaps I'm just too stupid to figure out. For OMA's proposal, I think the height and density of buildings are too high, and, more importantly, the concept of "village" just doesn't sound right for Hong Kong. The idea of putting a wet market in the project is great in terms of showing the hybridity and daily life of Hong Kong, but I am concerned how it can be coalesced with the rest of the project.

So, my vote goes to Mr Yim and his team.

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