West Kowloon Cultural District

West Kowloon arts hub sees end to design contests

Rising costs are making it tough for the West Kowloon project to cap its spending, so competitions would not be the way to go

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 May, 2015, 11:40am

Design competitions may be on the way out for many buildings at the West Kowloon arts hub as project chiefs struggle to contain soaring construction costs.

West Kowloon Cultural District Authority chief executive Michael Lynch spoke up yesterday amid estimates that the total cost of the project could have more than doubled.

He also said some temporary venues might be built initially to keep cultural programmes moving as the arts hub took shape.

Two design competitions have been held, for the Xiqu Centre for Chinese opera and for the M+ museum.

"Now we are looking at others [and at] the most appropriate way to get a cost-effective building and finish it in the right period of time," Lynch told the South China Morning Post.

"We might not do everything by design competition going forward."

On the temporary venues, he said "probably two" would be built over the next two to three years "to get people to understand what we are about".

According to an internal document circulated at a meeting of the authority's board and obtained by the media, the estimated cost of the 21-hectare project has ballooned from the 2008 estimate of HK$21.6 billion to HK$47 billion.

When the design for the Xiqu Centre, the first performing arts centre to be built on the site, was completed, its estimated cost went up from HK$1.3 billion to HK$2.7 billion.

Lynch declined to comment on the leaked figure, but insisted that the authority had been making as much information public as possible.

"Any of the stuff we have done to date is purely estimates. The [surge in] construction cost over the last four years is a real issue," he said. "The most important part is that we are finalising the M+ competition."

The design competition for M+, the contemporary visual culture museum to open in 2017, is in its final stage and results are expected to be released in summer.

"We will have two appearances at the [Legislative Council] over the next six weeks. We will give a better idea on the money front," Lynch said.

Board member Allan Zeman also declined to confirm the reported figure but said the board had been working "diligently to see how [we] can still make it [the arts hub] world class without compromising".

He said not all the buildings would need to go through an international design competition - a process under which the best design rather than the least expensive tends to be picked - but more discussions were needed.

Zeman said that while there had been a lot of attention on the buildings, the software - programming and talent - was the key to the future success of the arts hub.

"The software is the key to keep attracting people. The public should think about culturally how [the arts hub] can stimulate Hong Kong people," he said.

Also yesterday, M+ announced that it had acquired the life work of Taiwanese-American artist Tehching Hsieh.

Museum director Lars Nittve said Hsieh had produced a number of radical performance artworks that inspired many Hong Kong artists who had chosen to do action-oriented works.

Nittve said one of the strategies of the museum was to show works by artists from the Chinese diaspora and Hsieh's works reflected a double cultural identity.

Hongkonger Morgan Wong, who works in performance art, said Hsieh's works were challenging in formal aesthetics and concept.

"It's definitely an inspiration to audiences as well as artists in performance, including myself," Wong said.