Harbour safe, Dutch team says in defending bridge

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 January, 2011, 12:00am

A bridge proposed for the West Kowloon arts hub does not involve any reclamation and will enhance harbour features, its design team says.

Led by renowned architect Rem Koolhaas, the Dutch team has defended the bridge proposal against harbour protection activists who worry about losing more of the shoreline to reclamation. The bridge is seen as a stumbling block to winning over critics for a design that otherwise has been gaining public support.

The bridge, to hover above the Yau Ma Tei typhoon shelter, is designed to alleviate traffic brought by the future cultural venues. It does not actually land on the harbour.

The team's lead architect, David Gianotten, said the bridge would not violate legislation protecting the harbour because it did not involve any reclamation and nor would it reduce the size of the harbour.

'Instead of taking away the harbour, we give something back,' he said. 'I think the government also trusts this [legal advice] or else we would be disqualified.'

Legal advice obtained by the team says the bridge does not create new land and it lands on an existing breakwater and shoreline. As the bridge is designed as a suspended arc with no pillar, vessels can still pass through the typhoon shelter and marine traffic will not be disturbed.

Gianotten said the plan gave the district a net gain of water. Due to the provision of a floating black-box theatre and use of water taxis as alternative transport, the plan creates two water inlets of 0.7 hectare.

The team calculated that traffic at at least five road junctions - on Jordan, Austin and Canton roads - will worsen critically, and not only during peak hours, when the arts hub opens. But with the bridge, traffic congestion at most junctions will improve. However, Canton Road still faces congestion and the team advises that it be widened.

Gianotten, who briefed the selection panel of the arts hub authority on the team's financial model last month, said the bridge was financially viable. He refused to confirm its cost, but said it would be far less than the economic loss from traffic jams.

Described as the most creative and realistic design for the arts hub, the Dutch plan does not conform as closely as the other teams' designs to the planning guidelines set by the authority. Dividing the hub into three villages, it proposes fewer cultural venues and sets aside a substantial amount of the budget as endowment for cultural development. Some critics say the plan could spark public controversies and slow down the development process.

'If you want to build the arts hub, there will be controversy - or else you will build something mediocre,' Gianotten said. 'This high ambition that should put Hong Kong on the map of world culture, make it the cultural hub of Asia, without having controversies or stepping on somebody's toes, it's simply impossible.

'There will be things in a plan with that ambition that need the government to change. Or else you can't realise an ambition like that.'

Despite a sharp increase in construction costs in the region, he said the budget of HK$21.6 billion was more than enough. 'The only thing you need to do is to spend it wisely. It's an enormous amount of money that has never been set aside for culture anywhere in the world.'

He said the authority should wisely invest the endowment so revenue from it could cover the rising construction costs.

'Don't maximise the profit of developers because it's simply not needed,' he said. 'You don't have to sell all the houses there with top prices. The thing is feasible, sustainable, in our belief.'

The authority is expected to announce the winner early this year.

The rivals of the Dutch team, Britain's Norman Foster and local architect Rocco Yim Sen-kee - whose design features a large urban park and interconnected open space - have also defended their schemes in the past few months. The latter has gained the support of the Arts Development Council.