New Kowloon park design a long way from Central Park

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 July, 2014, 3:59am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 July, 2014, 4:42am

The urban forest rivalling New York's Central Park that was to have graced the West Kowloon Cultural District is reduced to a series of lawns under a cost-cutting design unveiled yesterday.

Money devoted to the park has been halved to HK$1 billion and green coverage of the site reduced from the originally proposed 80 per cent to 60 per cent.

It is a far cry from the 19-hectare forest proposed by world-renowned architect Norman Foster who told the South China Morning Post in 2010: "It's not just about size. It's about quality. It's got to be better than Central Park."

In the latest plan produced by a landscape architectural team appointed by the authority in February, the 5,000 trees will be replaced with an arts pavilion, black box theatre and an outdoor stage.

The plan was produced by a team of two local companies and one from overseas - Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man Architects & Engineers, ACLA and West 8 from the Netherlands - chosen from seven contenders who submitted designs in 2012.

As well as cutting costs in an effort to cope with a tight budget, the plan is aimed at speeding up provision of arts facilities. Art critic and member of the authority's consultation panel, Ada Wong Ying-kay, said the change was down to the budget.

"We have to move forward. We need a new mentality to manage the park, where free dancing and singing should be allowed," she said.

But a veteran architect involved in one of the rival bids said it was disappointing to see the return to a traditional way of building parks - constructing the venues first and filling the remaining space with greenery.

"The park was the biggest selling point of the art hub project but few resources have been devoted to it," said Patrick Lau Hing-tat of Earthasia, also a Town Planning Board member.

Foster's plan was picked in 2011 from three proposals.

With a budget of HK$21.6 billion, the authority is struggling to complete the first two phases of the arts hub for HK$17.8 billion.

Announcing the new design yesterday, the authority declined to say if it had been the cheapest plan of the seven contenders.

It said the team was chosen for its "fantastic local and international expertise in landscaping projects" and its design stood out for its understanding that Hong Kong needed a major new green open space which could also be a vibrant and flexible venue for music, dance, theatre and other cultural programmes.