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designing hong kong
CitySpeak: The Battle for West Kowloon
30 October 2010, 10:00am-12:30pm, Fringe Club.
Book your free seat with an email to
[email protected] or call 2521 7251.

Three leading architects - Rocco Yim, Rem Koolhaas and Norman Foster - have developed concepts for the future West Kowloon Cultural District. Their firms will join CitySpeak on 30 October. Each will explain why their proposal is the best and answer challenges by critics. Join this battle over how to develop West Kowloon, and how to move forward with culture in Hong Kong.

For information on the three proposals click here
. To see the models for yourself, check the exhibition calendar here.
Vincent Ng's perspective on the three concept proposals
The following review of the three concepts for West Kowloon by Vincent Ng Wing-shun (吳永順), architect and well-read commentator, is his personal perspective and does not represent the view of any organization to which he belongs. When in doubt refer to the original Chinese text posted on Vincent's facebook and appended below the English.

Norman Foster: City Park

The concept by British architect, Sir Norman Foster, is based on the 'City Park' theme. The design is straight forward and very easy to understand. The selling point is a 19 hectare promenade park with over 5,000 trees and the design is claimed to be sustainable and to reduce emissions.

Driveways and car parks are located underground, resulting in green streets above the ground. Hotels and residential buildings are erected at the north, the harbourfront promenade and the park are situated at the south and west, and the cultural facilities are located within squared street blocks in the centre. 

There is just one sky-bridge linking the east side to Kowloon Park, which in my opinion is far from ideal to integrate the new development with the 'old city'.

From and urban design perspective, it is the weakest proposal as it lacks creativity and an indigenous character. It could be in any world city.

I believe there would be limited difference between Tsimshatsui East and West Kowloon if this design was adopted. The strength of this proposal is merely its simplicity, and nothing else.

Rocco Yim: ‘One Step, One Surprise’

'Cultural Connect: Key to Sustained Vitality' is the theme put forward by local architect Rocco Yim. His concept is inspired by the famous Chinese painting 'A City of Cathay' (Qing-Ming Shang He Tu).

The architect believes the attraction of the cultural district does not come from building landmarks, but from the activities people are engaged in within the cultural district. The only way he sees the district become vibrant and energetic is by having many different activities in the same place at the same time.

Rocco Yim has divided the district into three zones: A 'City Zone' near the luxury residences above Kowloon station, a 'Green Zone' next to Victoria Harbour and a 'Cultural Zone' in the middle which is filled with facilities. The overall layout is similar to the design by Norman Foster. However, the urban fabric of Rocco Yim's design is more diverse and playful.

Most of the elements begin in the north ending at the south where the harbourfront promenade is located, giving panoramic views of Hong Kong Island. Narrow streets with different spatial character passing through piazzas of varrying sizes create many opportunities for fun. As a result every step is another surprise and offer ‘sparks of hope in a mist of bewilderment' as suggested by the architect. In comparison, the streets and urban spaces provided by Foster's design appear somewhat boring.

A ribbon-like pedestrian sky-bridge links the cultural district with both Kowloon Park and St. George’s park in Yaumatei. Among the three designs, it offers the best connectivity with its surroundings.

Rem Koolhaas: Project for a new dimension

The theme of the design by the Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas, is 'Project for a New Dimension'. This sounds abstract, however, it is the most innovative and creative design among the three concept proposals.

The layout and zoning is very different from the previous two designs. Koolhaas divided the site into five areas from east to west, with three villages and two parks in between them.

The 'M+ village' at the east is designed using a typical OMA approach of 'staggering blocks'. It comprises a M+ museum, visual arts factory, residential buildings and hotels.

At the west side is the 'Theatre Village ', where the music hall, concert hall, performance arts factory, Great Theatre, and other theatres of various sizes are situated. A selling point of Koolhaas' design is the inter-connectivity of these different venues.

The ‘Middle Village’ bears remarkable resemblance to the 'old city' of Hong Kong. All the buildings are small in size and closely knitted together, with the exception of the première cinema and theatres, which are located at the east and west end of the middle village.

In addition to a street market, shops offering local themed products exist at ground level on both sides of the streets and are complemented with traditional signboards above in order to achieve a local atmosphere.

It's worthwhile to point out that, in contrast to the other two designs, Koolhaas' proposal explicitly addresses recent public opinion on the development of Hong Kong, and appears to act like a spokesman for community groups concerned over urban planning and heritage preservation.

Ingredients in this master plan including village farming, open-air markets, hawking and the art works of “The King of Kowloon City” make his design the most 'grassroots' and even 'anti-high-end'. Criticising the restrictions imposed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department in their management of Hong Kong’s public parks echoes the view of many and is likely to be welcomed by the “Post-80s” generation.

Nevertheless, these could be seen as superficial gimmicks. The identity and culture found in old city fabrics is the result of organic development over many decades. Replicating an entire 'Old city' in one go risks becoming a theme-park.

No “love at first sight"

As the Chairman of West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, Henry Tang, said there is no “love at first sight” and the three designs should be judged from many perspectives and different angles. They ought to be viewed many times and every time new merits will be discovered. Likewise, what I have said here are only my preliminary observations. Hopefully, I will be able to share more thoughts after future reviews of the three designs.

Vincent Ng, Architect



英國建築師Norman Foster 的設計,以「城市中的公園」為題。簡單直接,市民一看便明白。賣點自然是那面積十九公頃、種植五千棵大樹的超級無敵海濱大公園。該方案更主打零排放的環保概念,除了把街道大量綠化外,還把行車道和停車場全部置於地底。作者把酒店和住宅區設在北面,南面是公園和海濱長廊,中間劃成多幅近方形地塊,放置文化設施。東面以一條天橋接駁至九龍公園,與舊區的連繫談不上理想。


本地建築師嚴迅奇設計的「文化經脈,持久活力」,靈感來自《清明上河圖》。作者認為文化區吸引人之處不在於地標式的建築,而是來自人的活動。不同的活動可以同時在同一地點發生,文化區才會朝氣蓬勃,充滿活力。嚴迅奇把西九文化區自北至南分成三個地帶,最接近九龍站豪宅群的一端是「城市帶」,維港海旁是「綠化帶」,中間則是滿布文化設施的「文化帶」。在整體布局上與Norman Foster的方案頗為接近。

相對於Norman Foster,嚴迅奇的街道脈絡則較為活潑多元。多條由北往南的狹窄街道各有特色,而且全部直通海濱遠眺港島景致。途中又穿過大大小小的廣場空間,充滿趣味。做得到作者所說「一步一驚喜」和「柳暗花明又一村」的效果。相比之下,Foster的街道空間便顯得刻板沉悶了。


至於荷蘭建築師Rem Koolhaas 的方案,命題是「文化新尺度」。名稱最抽象,單看題目實在不清楚在搞甚麼。再看設計,是三個方案中最大膽的,創意成分亦最高;規劃布局上亦與前兩者大相逕庭。作者把文化區土地自東至西分成五份,三條村落和兩個公園梅花間竹地並排,東部的「視覺藝術村」以OMA一貫風格的井字形建築設計,內裏包括M+博物館、視覺藝術工場、住宅和酒店。西面是「劇場村」,音樂廳、演奏廳、表演藝術工場、大劇院、大小劇場都在這裏。Rem Koolhaas的賣點,是場地都互相打通。


值得一提的是,有別於前兩者,Rem Koolhaas 的方案非常刻意地表達了對香港近年城市發展和規劃模式一籃子的控訴,彷彿變成近年關注城市規劃和文物保育的民間組織的代言人。方案也是三者中最平民化,或者說是反高檔化。你看他把農村種田、露天市集、小販擺賣、九龍皇帝都拿出來作賣點。又批評康文署管理的公園這樣不准那樣不准,甚得市民共鳴。難怪方案最受八九十後的年輕一代歡迎了。 




三位知名建築師──嚴迅奇、Rem Koolhaas及Norman Foster ──為西九文化區的未來地標發展構思出發展概念。他們的公司將參與乙城話,解釋三位建築師的發展方案,以及為何其方案屬最佳的發展方案。多位藝術及建築評論員亦會參與此次活動。我們誠邀大家參與這場「西九之爭」,討論如何可在香港推動文化以及應如何發展西九。

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