Not completely immune from controversy, this project has itself been a small drama, raging off and on since April 2001, when the Hong Kong government launched a competition for an expansive cultural district on a 40-ha wedge-shaped plot on the waterfront of the West Kowloon Reclamation. The firm’s initial design – with associate architects Rocco Design Ltd and consultants Arup Acoustics – featured an elaborate canopy roof covering a high percentage of the complex, distinguishing it from the towering urban neighbourhood.
This original competition faltered when, in 2006, doubts were cast on financing models and a lack of adequate planning. Later in the year, the project returned at full steam and with much public consultation business resumed as before. However, the fresh masterplan released by Foster and Partners on Friday bears very little resemblance to the original much more ambitious plans, perhaps supporting the initial fears that halted the project several years ago. Gone is the distinctive roof, the heavily horizontal plans now replaced with an undulating, yet chic skyline and a wide expanse of greenery graces the water’s edge.
Foster and Partners explain that the centrepiece of its concept is Xiqu Plaza. Forming the ‘social heart’ of the new complex, the plaza takes a strategic position connected to the forecourt of the Express West Kowloon Terminus Rail Link, ensuring that visitors to the new district are immediately immersed in a community of vibrancy and cultural diversity. The plaza will be filled with food stalls, organic markets, restaurants and cafes, heavily influenced by the adjacent Chinese Theatre, whose overhanging roof conceals a fresh variety of social facilities.
Taking pride of place on the waterfront is The Great Park, with 23 acres of organic landscape encasing three major venues – the Arena, the Exhibition Centre and the Opera House – and dotted with tea houses, small temples, picnic areas and informal sports pitches. The Arena/Expo Centre is a curious stacked design, combining two functions in a single compact formation. The Expo Centre is dug into the ground with the Arena resting on top, allowing for additional open-plan green space for public use.
Acting as the backbone to the cultural district, The Avenue runs east-west almost the entire length of the site, supplying a measure of efficiency to both pedestrian and vehicular traffic between the Great Opera House at the edge of the Great Park and the Black Box Tower and Canton Road Plaza Gateway. Offering private galleries, artists’ shops, workshops and residential apartments diffused by noodle bars and specialist artistic outlets, The Avenue attempts to pull all elements of West Kowloon Cultural District together in a single architectural motion.
Foster and Partners is currently in the final stages of an international design competition for this project. The proposals will be exhibited at the Hong Kong Convention Centre and other venues around Hong Kong until December 2010 whilst the public comment on the revised design.