West Kowloon park: 'it's about the arts not trees'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 July, 2014, 3:38am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 July, 2014, 8:53am

The architectural team behind the latest design for the West Kowloon Cultural District park has defended it as a refinement rather than betrayal of architect Norman Foster's arts hub master plan.

It came after more than 20 groups and 280 individuals, including cultural workers, academics and architects, petitioned the arts hub authority to establish a liberal management plan for the park that would free it from a fixed set of by-laws.

The original idea for an urban forest to rival Central Park has given way to green lawns, an arts pavilion, black box theatre and an outdoor stage in the new design 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.

They were chosen from seven contenders who submitted designs in 2012.

Cheung Kwong-wing, director of Dennis Lau and Ng Chung Man, said yesterday: "This is a park in a cultural district, not a replica of nature. It is to facilitate cultural development."

His team's mix of cultural and dining facilities and open spaces laid out in layers, reduced the costs of the park from HK$1.8 billion to HK$1 billion amid budget concerns for the arts hub.

A big lawn with an outdoor stage will accommodate large-scale performances. Next to it sits a black box performance space.

A "cultural boulevard" lined with trees and canopies for shade will guide visitors to an arts pavilion. More event space is available on the waterfront, with its backdrop of Victoria Harbour and a promenade.

"A park is a living organism. It evolves over the course of time. It is a refinement of what has been proposed before," said Cheung. "Now the park is more usable, and more in line with the cultural activities."

Martin Biewenga, a partner at West 8, said Foster's illusion of an urban forest failed to consider the constraints of the site, with its ventilation buildings for the Western Harbour Tunnel and the MTR and the need to accommodate cultural events.

"We materialise the illusion. The experience of the park should not be measured by the number of trees," Biewenga added.

The arts hub management has said it planned to draft by-laws to govern the park but the petition is calling for a "people-centred" management.

The landscape design team said it was working on improving accessibility to the park, with ferries and footbridges.

The site to its north is reserved for a mega performance venue - if the financially constricted arts hub has the money to build it. But, meanwhile, the design team suggested, it could become a temporary park.