Foster's design thrown out before it won

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 February, 2012, 12:00am


The winning canopy design submitted by British architect Norman Foster in a 2001 competition for the West Kowloon arts and cultural hub was among 12 designs disqualified for technical reasons.

According to people familiar with the selection process, jury chairman Lord Rothschild had said he wanted to include all disqualified entries in the shortlisting preview.

The claim was supported by confidential documents on the troubled contest disclosed by the government last Friday under lawmakers' pressure, as the contest is now at the centre of a conflict-of-interest row involving chief executive candidate Leung Chun-ying.

Legco today will debate whether to invoke the Powers and Privileges Ordinance to force a full disclosure of the West Kowloon documents to find out more about how Foster's design won, as well as Leung's conflict of interest issue.

Professor Chang Hsin-kang, former president of City University who served as a fellow juror, said the jury chairman's handling of the selection process had been 'unsettling' to him over the years. He declined to say if Foster's design was initially disqualified. But he said 'there was indeed a disqualified entry that made it to the final round' and that the initial rejection of that scheme was due to its need for reclamation.

'It has never stopped perplexing me as to why the coincidence was so strong,' he said. 'One disqualified by the technical panel ended up getting into the final round,' which had nine finalists.

Foster's scheme featured a glass canopy covering the entire 42-hectare site and a large lagoon that required reclamation.

The technical panel considered that submissions proposing major modifications to the sea wall should be classified as having failed to meet the competition brief, it wrote in a report disclosed last week.

Chang, recounting the entire selection process, said that out of 161 anonymous entries in the beginning, the panel disqualified a dozen on technical grounds and those were not presented to the jury during a preview session at City Hall in Central.

'That morning, the first thing the jury chairman said was that it was not right to keep the dozen from us. A foreign juror immediately concurred,' he said.

'The disqualified entries were then posted up for preview. A juror pointed at one of those entries and said 'That is good', followed by four or five others. Then it became the only disqualified entry to be selected for the first round of voting.'

He added: All the 12 were reinstated as if the technical panel had not done its part.'

Chung said it was 'strange' the jury would overturn the technical advisers' decision abruptly. 'Obviously he knew something ... I did not know what the government had communicated to the chairman, but normally the chairman would first have a briefing with the civil servants,' he said.

Chang also expressed surprised at the government's claim it did not have written records of the jury's deliberations, as a number of officers had sat in jury meetings.

Lord Rothschild and Foster did not respond to the Post's questions last night.

The source said Lord Rothschild was invited by then chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang to serve as jury chairman.

Juror Patrick Lau Sau-shing said the jury had been informed of the reclamation issue surrounding Foster's entry at the start, but he did not find it problematic. 'The ultimate decision lay with the jury, not the technical advisers,' Lau said.

The government made Foster's canopy concept a requirement in a 2003 single-tender exercise, but aborted the tender under public pressure. It started the arts hub project all over again in 2008, and again chose Foster as chief designer.