Deconstructing the West Kowloon Plan

exhibitionAsking urban planner Andrew Lam Siu-lo and architect Raymond Fung Wing-kee why they chose what they chose, their answers converged in one word: optimal.

Both are board members of West Kowloon Cultural District Authority and members of its selection panel that picked Foster + Partners’ City Park over Rocco Design Architects’ Cultural Connect and Office for Metropolitan Architecture’s Project for a New Dimension as the preferred option for the development of the future arts and culture hub.

The decision was not an easy one, but they believed the Foster’s plan expressed an understanding of the general public’s high expectations for the West Kowloon Cultural District development and the City Park concept represented an important step towards project planning, although there is still room for accommodating future changes.

Andrew Lam: Versatile space is conducive to future development

 exhibitionMr Lam said the selection of Foster’s conceptual plan did  not mean that the other two options were not desirable. Rather, practical considerations and future arts and cultural development needs must be addressed.

“We have to admit that the existing foundation on which Hong Kong’s arts and cultural development is based is inadequate,” said Mr Lam. “Local and overseas audiences need to be nurtured. As the market keeps changing, there is no way we can build all the facilities required once and for all.”

He added, “Our focus is not on building a landmark, but a planning framework that will provide room for change to accommodate future development needs.”
He said the diverse public views over the relevant conceptual plans were understandable given the importance of the project. Therefore, a mechanism must be put in place at the planning stage to accommodate different views.

While some said Foster’s scheme lacks uniqueness and others simply see his plan as a horizontally laid-out version of Nathan Road,  Mr Lam believed  these views generated a new perspective. “Like Nathan Road, ” he said. “ “What makes Foster’s scheme unique is that it is designed to put different land uses together on the main strip and allow them to spread out from there.

“Most importantly, we can have space to plan for the future and explore further how to incorporate both hardware and software into the project within the framework [City Park] provides.”

WKCD should not become the wishing tree in Lam Tsuen

Asked if the features of the other two conceptual plans should also be incorporated into the chosen option, Mr Lam emphasised that a trade-off is inevitable in the design process; however, care must be taken to avoid compromising the uniqueness and style of the original plan when trying to incorporate some other good elements. Otherwise, the project could become overburdened with all other elements, like “joss paper on the wishing tree in Lam Tsuen”.

He said that the next step is for the WKCDA to promote the development of cultural software and improve on Foster’s planning framework. He urged all practicing artists and other members of the general public in Hong Kong to voice their opinions on how to make the chosen plan better and transform the WKCD into a cultural district with which everyone will truly identify.

Raymond Fung: Linear layout offers greater flexibility
exhibitionWhen scrutinizing the three conceptual plans, Mr Fung stressed that planning was the most important aspect of his consideration. Markedly different from the other two plans, the linear layout of Foster’s City Park features a unique and integrated cultural strip. Its independent building clusters can provide more flexibility for repositioning facilities and complementing Phase 1 development with arts and cultural activities for the benefit of sustained growth.

As to Foster’s proposal for developing a lush, green park in the urban area, Mr Fung says he does not consider it a bad idea. According to him, an extensive park plays multiple roles by generating different activities and showcasing the vitality of local culture. More importantly, the focus on public space reflects the rising standard of Hong Kong’s urban planning and its attributes as a quality city.

Mr Fung pointed to planning difficulties in incorporating elements of the other plans into the chosen one, though he believes it would be easier to accommodate transport infrastructure as well as arts and cultural facilities. He encouraged the general public to view the project in its entirety and leave any expectations for a “surprising” architectural design for the next round. He expressed reservations about the need to have a landmark development in West Kowloon, describing the WKCD as a good symbol already. Its space, cultural development and vigour will be a vital part of a successful cultural district.