West Kowloon Cultural District

User-friendly design for Chinese opera centre at city's arts hub

Hong Kong-born Canadian architect Bing Thom says arts hub facility will meet needs of elderly

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2012, 3:28am

The Xiqu Centre for Chinese opera in the arts hub should be a user-friendly venue for both performers and the audience, especially the elderly, says a Hong Kong-born Canadian architect in his 70s who reconnected with his birthplace this week.

The first venue due to be completed at the West Kowloon Cultural District will cost HK$2.7 billion and take the shape of a lantern designed by Bing Thom Architects of Vancouver and Hong Kong's Ronald Lu & Partners.

Describing actors of the opera as nomadic, who go from theatre to theatre, Bing Thom - as a clarinet player himself - said he understood the subtle needs of artists.

"The dressing room to artists is home away from home, so the comfort of the room is important, as is their journey from the dressing room to the edge of the stage, before they step on the stage," Thom said. "Their performance will be affected if they do not feel relaxed."

Apart from designing a wider corridor and bigger doors to accommodate artists wearing costumes that include helmets and flags, he also ensures that the solemnity of the performers is maintained.

"The audience should be sitting flat and looking straight across the stage or you will foreshorten the body [of the actors]."

Facilities in the centre will be linked with elevators, allowing the elderly to reach two theatres easily. Space at ground level is reserved for a courtyard.

"The seating area will have fewer stairs. A wider space between rows has also been designed," he said.

He hopes the contemporary design and educational areas will appeal to youngsters and stimulate desire for better productions.

The internationally recognised architect, with his design featuring a lantern and an opening stage curtain, beat over 50 rivals, including Britain's Norman Foster, who had expressed interest in designing the arts hub's first cultural venue.

Thom's notable works include The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver, which received the country's biggest private donation to a cultural institution, and the Arena Stage Expansion in Washington.

The unveiling of his design on Monday was a special occasion for Thom. As well as adding more prestige for his company, it gave him the opportunity to give something back to his birthplace, which he left at the age of nine.

During the turmoil of the civil war in the late 1940s, Thom's mother decided to protect her child and emigrate to Canada - the country where his father was born.

"It [the connection with Hong Kong] made me try much harder … can one really try to create a building that will represent the spirit of this city and the potential this city has?" he recalled, adding that Hong Kong was a welcoming city that had always survived hardship.

He said he was optimistic about the budget of HK$2.7 billion.

"As an architect, I always take it very seriously that every dollar spent is a dollar of mine."