• West Kowloon Cultural District Chooses Master Plan

    18 April 2011

    Foster + Partners’ City Park concept was the popular choice in many aspects for the West Kowloon Cultural District’s Master Plan. The WKCDA recently sat down with Colin Ward, a partner in the firm and a long-time Hong Kong resident, to talk about the plan and why he feels City Park doesn’t just include local characters…but was actually born from it.

    The following interview is printed with kind permission from the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA).

    Why do you think the City Park plan resonated so much with the public, the Selection Committee and the Board?

    What we always wanted to do was make sure that this plan was rooted in giving everybody in Hong Kong a cultural district, and therefore it has to resonate with the cultural community. But it also has to resonate with … everybody, really.

    We all live in Hong Kong, so we all know what it’s like here. And in terms of a super-intense city experience, Hong Kong is unbelievably brilliant at giving you that incredibly intoxicating mix of urban life. But what it doesn’t do very well at all is open space in the city.

    So we thought that if you could give people 40 hectares of incredibly evocative, prime real estate, the likes of which are unparalleled almost anywhere else in the world, you give people this super-rich mix of intense city excitement … but also you give people the chance to have green lungs, green park, fresh air and core space right in the heart of the city.

    Then you could infuse all of that with a unique Hong Kong cultural experience, and then you’re beginning to get a district that gives people almost everything one could possibly want. Then the next question is: Why don’t we try to make it a benchmark urban district that gives you a model for how you can try and live as a sustainable environment moving forward in the 21st century?

    But Foster’s design has also been labelled as a three “no’s” – no creativity, no character, no surprise. What do you think about this?

    I think there’s a feeling that the plan doesn’t have many local characteristics in it. What we’d like to say is that the plan is completely inspired by the DNA of the Hong Kong streets that surround it. We want it to grow from the energy of Hong Kong, and the Yaumatei and Tsimshatsui streets that are just next door, so we want to push it as close as we can, right up to those neighbourhoods, so that it sort of grows out of them.

    Another thing was to try not to isolate culture and the city. Culture works best when it’s embedded in a city. If you can combine those things, then you’ve got real potential for a “rich mix”. It’s an interesting, exciting, heady mix. That’s the culture that we give free to everyone in Hong Kong. We can have cultural activities going on in the park, free for everyone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that they don’t have to pay for.  They can just come and experience it.

    Perhaps the people of Hong Kong thought that what would come out of the master planning process would be something that would just “be Hong Kong”, whereas it sounds like from your perspective, you’ve created something that will allow Hong Kong to flourish within it.

    Absolutely. And with art, culture and creativity, it’s probably worse than IT! The moment you’re out, you’re outdated! Are we supposed to sculpt a creative environment that’s applicable to 2011? It will be redundant by 2013. The kids who will be the most vibrant kids in this district … some of them are still probably in primary school! What you want is for these kids to be given the chance to actually make it what they want, when they get there. So, we need to give them the vehicles to do what they want to do, and the opportunity to do it, and not limit that opportunity. We don’t want to be imposing any barriers.

    This is the second go-around for Foster + Partners at the WKCD. What are the main differences?

    Chalk and cheese! It’s the same 40 hectares of real estate, but other than that it’s 100% different. A totally different client, totally different aspirations for what the project will be, and a completely different brief that’s culturally focused. On top of that, to say to architects, to have such an elongated public consultation process, and designing [that] goes on for another six, seven, eight months, and at the end of that, a whole series of proposals, and then another series of public engagement – and at the end of all that you get another report – I mean, this is an amazingly….

    Exhaustive?

    Exhaustive is one word! Also, incredibly in-depth [and] analytical. I know in some of the forums in PE2, there was a degree of frustration that we weren’t further down the line, and that’s all completely understandable because in some ways, we’re nine years on from when this first happened. The creative people in Hong Kong must be at their wits’ end! But actually, the frustrating thing is – and you’re going to be really frustrated at this – we’ve only just started! We haven’t really stood up and started walking yet in the development process. [So] don’t worry if you don’t feel like you’ve been consulted yet because it’s still very, very, very early days. And therefore, do get involved! Do talk to us!

    That was another common concern – how the cost would be managed. People thought the plan seemed expensive, yet of course, you were given a budget….

    And it’s all within the budget! The park was another one. People were saying, aren’t parks hard to maintain? There will be a maintenance cost to it. But every city on the planet copes with that maintenance cost, and they have great public space. Yes, there’s a cost, but we’ll deal with it. Everybody else does it – I don’t see why Hong Kong can’t.

    It’s called City Park. How are you going to make it a park in four years?

    We’d love to get people on site now! We’d love to get schools from Tai Po and Wong Chuk Hang coming, and kids planting trees on site. Get ‘em planting them now! Planting trees is free and easy in comparison to the overall costs of the project. But also, I think we can get cultural events happening there right now as well. We want to try and get cultural venues happening there this year or early next year. Chinese New Year next year, everybody watches the fireworks from the WKCD! And, have some really fantastic things going on there. Have temporary pavilions there, temporary exhibitions there, kids graffiti-ing on walls there, skateboarders there, big sculptures there…. We believe we can not only make the park start now, but the whole cultural experience can start too.

    Website: www.wkcda.hk

    For enquires: Tel (852) 2895 0100

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