Top architects may not be best choice for cultural district plan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 August, 2009, 12:00am

I refer to the letter by H. C. Bee ('Mix of architects good for project', July 27), regarding the conceptual planning of the West Kowloon Cultural District that three leading architects are poised to undertake.

Just because great architects can design stunning buildings - as the three certainly have - does not mean they can develop a plan to turn a huge new plot into a vibrant district. Great urban districts possess a character that is organic and authentic. Neither quality is achieved overnight and both embody a measure of randomness and imperfection that architects can't plan.

What follows will depend largely on how the government defines the problem. If it simply tells the architects it needs a comprehensive development plan, we could find ourselves looking at grandiose architectural visions like Lord Foster's roof. These are, after all, star architects.

The government should ask the architects to give it the benefit of their creativity and discipline, but more in regard to planning than architecture. They should think long-term, planning for a successful destination in 2025 and a great urban district in 2040. The architects should incorporate lessons learned from projects like Tokyo's Odaiba and Hamburg's HafenCity. Also they must break the site into smaller development parcels, so we can involve different developers to get the variety one finds in a city.

They need to help us see how to develop the district in phases, so we retain flexibility to shape the hardware to the evolving software. Rome wasn't conceived in a day. Great architects understand this better than we do, but won't labour to get the point across to a prospective client in the midst of a beauty contest. They are far likelier to deliver something great when they have a strong client with clear objectives. This process is beginning with public consultation and I fear the government is simply punting the problem to the architects.

It would have made more sense for the government to wait until the authority could lead, or, alternatively, to have engaged a small team of experts from the arts, development and design fields to serve in the interim as the client.

Dick Groves, Wan Chai