A team led by the architectural firm behind the "Bird's Nest" National Stadium in Beijing and London's Tate Modern gallery has fended off five other big names for the right to design the M+ museum in the West Kowloon arts hub.
The partnership demonstrated an internal space that was ideal for M+, said museum committee chairman Victor Lo, who sits on an eight-member panel that selected the winner.
"I feel [the design] is very Hong Kong," Lo said.
Locally, the Swiss firm was also responsible for the design of the Central Police Station compound in Central.
The team envisioned M+ as a cultural centre rather than a museum. Its design is a combination of a horizontal and a vertical structure that, viewed from the side, looks like an upside-down "T" - and is reminiscent of the Bankside Power Station housing the Tate Modern in London, designed by Herzog & de Meuron.
The horizontal structure holds a wide variety of spaces ranging from an underground area moulded around the Airport Express MTR line and capable of housing enormous installations, to individual galleries for different types of art. A large public space is created by elevating the building from the ground.
The south-facing vertical structure has a flat surface on which big artworks can be projected - and be visible from across Victoria Harbour.
Architect Pierre de Meuron said the concept was about "what is art and what is perceiving art … The strength of the project lies in its simplicity."
Architectural firm partner Ascan Mergenthaler said the spaces allowed many possibilities for artists. "It's a playground for artists," he said.
In Herzog & de Meuron's concept, the museum, including arts facilities and shops, will take up 75,785 square metres compared with the 62,000 sq metres in the original plan.
Cost is understood to have taken up only a 10 per cent weighting in the choice of design.
But people familiar with the project said the winning design was the cheapest, budgeted to cost 40 per cent less than the most expensive entry. West Kowloon chairwoman Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the cost of M+ was estimated at HK$4.9 billion, or HK$65,700 per sq metre. She insisted it was economical. The building cost was originally estimated at HK$3.3 billion.
Founded in 1978, Basel-based Herzog & de Meuron was a winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The firm is led by architects Jacques Herzog, de Meuron, Ascan Mergenthaler, Stephan Marbach and Christine Binswanger.