'A Pierre Cardin for the price of a Louis Vuitton'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 March, 2011, 12:00am

The 'City Park' concept and high flexibility of Norman Foster's plan have won him official approval, but some members from the arts community remain unconvinced.

West Kowloon Cultural District Authority chairman Henry Tang Ying-yen said the 'organic nature' of Foster's plan was a key factor behind the choice.

'The public wants the arts hub to be an organic place, and they don't want too much to be built,' he said.

Foster and Partners were delighted by the news, while OMA and Rocco Design Architects, the other two contenders, said they would continue to contribute to the arts hub.

But the executive director of the avant-guarde art group Zuni Iconsahedron, Mathias Woo, said choosing Foster + Partners' plan was like 'paying the price of a Louis Vuitton for a Pierre Cardin' or 'buying a Seiko for the price of a Rolex'. 'It's a wrong choice. Everyone wants a park, but what has this park got to do with the arts? The idea isn't innovative at all.'

He was not impressed by having another British name attached to the West Kowloon Cultural District, especially after ex-chief executive Graham Sheffield's dubious resignation five months into the job.

'Norman Foster never bothered to come to Hong Kong to speak to us. Why don't we cede that piece of land to Britain for another 99 years?' said Woo, who favoured Rocco Yim's design for his sensibility towards local culture. 'I'd rather have an Asian architect handle the master plan and architects of different nationalities contribute to individual designs.'

Fellow art critic Oscar Ho agreed, calling it the 'worst choice'.

'Is Hong Kong turning itself into a personal exhibition hall of Foster? We have already had two architectural icons by Foster - the HSBC building and the airport,' Ho said. 'But it appears that someone in the government really likes him.

'What we see here is the legacy of British colonialism. If the arts hub wants to highlight local culture and give the locals an opportunity, we should've chosen Rocco Yim.' '

Some are less critical.

Art critic John Batten liked Foster's plan for the abundance of open space. 'It's sensitive to the climate of Hong Kong,' said Batten, who also liked the idea of continual development of the arts hub. 'Hong Kong is so used to building the whole thing. But we actually don't have to do everything in one go.'

A spokeswoman for the Institute of Architects, Susan Leung, believes Foster's design presented the most direct message to the public.

'The public understands his design without too many difficulties. That's why it's been well received,' she said.