Top Hong Kong arts venue finally deals with its famously smelly toilets

Unfragrant bathrooms at Cultural Centre, formerly something of a laughing stock, renovated as part of HK$10 million facelift

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 December, 2017, 8:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 December, 2017, 11:40am

After years of holding their noses when visiting the toilets at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, the city’s art lovers can breathe easier as the government has finally flushed away the problem of the venue’s stinky washrooms.

The pungent bathrooms – a laughing stock in regional arts circles, and far removed from the sophistication of the venue’s programme – have been renovated as part of a recently finished facelift which has given the centre a fresher look, a new events space and a recycled chandelier.

“We refurbished the public toilets by treating them as our home lavatory. That’s where the difference lies,” Elaine Yeung Chi-lan, assistant director at the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, said.

“Toilets should be the very starting point of the renovation showing our new thinking, which is tasteful.”

The centre, on the southernmost tip of the Kowloon peninsula, welcomes 600,000 or so visitors annually. It underwent a year of substantial upgrades in its common areas, including the spruced-up restrooms, without having to close for a single day.

“The renovation is a part of the gradual facelift of the cultural facilities on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront that started in 2015,” Yeung said.

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“Our vision is to beautify the waterfront with arts and culture, serving tourism too, with the daily harbour light shows. On top of this, the reopening of the Museum of Art and the Avenue of Stars is due in 2019.”

A delay from the earlier 2017 completion date for the Art Museum, Yeung said, was down to filibustering in the Legislative Council, but she said she remained hopeful that the Cultural Centre would spearhead the renovation of other arts and performing facilities that would highlight Hong Kong as a “lovable city”.

“We in the civil service are used to following rules. To bring in new thinking that combines design and function, we need to rely on outside help,” she said, explaining why officials contracted out the renovation project.

“The model of the Cultural Centre will apply to other venues across the city in the early part of next year.”

The centre is a key venue for arts and performance in the city, staging everything from exhibitions to opera and theatre. Within the its facade – notoriously windowless, depriving anyone inside of a panoramic harbour view – changes were introduced with little disruption.

A chandelier in the ceiling’s centre, made of arranged aluminium sheets, was recycled into three smaller works. The new arrangement tangos with lighting effects, to music by local composers.

“We set up two scaffolds and did it in the wee hours so that the centre would remain open during the day,” Heidi Chu Ching-han, the centre’s chief manager, said.

All the changes, including new carpets and ceiling, were done within a year and for a little over HK$10 million.

A 1,650 sq ft multifunction room was added extra, as an addition to the site, which has had the same layout since opening in 1989.

“The podium workshop for up to 50 people is the first additional space to the Cultural Centre and we built it in five months for HK$2 million without disturbing the concert hall next door,” Chu said.

Ida Sze Ki-shan, the prize-winning architect who masterminded the refurbishment, likened her job to a barber trimming hair that had grown untidy over the years.

“The centre’s layout has an excellent flow, which is accessible from all directions, and that sense of space is now spiced with a contemporary feel through visual design in colours and installations,” she said.