West Kowloon Cultural District

Critics of Hong Kong Palace Museum on the attack as public consultation begins

Opponents find fault with displays and lack of options in online survey, but architects back secretive appointment of design consultant Rocco Yim

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 10:56pm

A public consultation on the HK$3.5 billion Palace Museum project opened on Wednesday and immediately came under fire for being “hastily thrown together” despite months of planning.

The criticism was made as architects backed the government’s decision to appoint the controversial project’s design consultant behind closed doors instead of the usual practice of an open tender.

Hongkongers are being asked to share their views until February 22 through an online survey or in person at the exhibition in Central.

The survey asks seven questions about the facilities and types of exhibitions and programmes people would like to see, but it does not touch on whether the museum should be built at all, or if it should be located in the West Kowloon Cultural District.

The exhibition at City Gallery consists of six double-sided display boards with a brief overview of the project along with past works of the appointed architect, Rocco Yim Sen-kee.

It particularly drew criticism for not being informative enough.

“There’s no information whatsoever on the size and proportion breakdown of the facilities. There’s not even anyone to walk me through the exhibit in person,” Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said outside the exhibit hall.

“It’s hard to believe what Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said about having planned for a public consultation months in advance,” she said, describing it as “hastily thrown together”.

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Retired High Court judge William Waung Sik-ying, a Maritime Museum board member and the first visitor, said the display was “very bad” as it offered little information and choice.

“This is not really a public consultation because a public consultation is [an exercise in which officials say] ‘if residents oppose it, we won’t do it’. But is there such a choice here?”

One visitor, a retired man, expressed disappointment that there were “only a few pictures”.

Cultural advocate Ada Wong Ying-kay said: “The exercise should address unanswered questions such as why it has to be completed by 2022. It has taken M+ more than 10 years to put the team together. To build the palace museum in five years is quite impossible.”

The deal to create Hong Kong’s own version of Beijing’s museum to showcase national treasures from the Forbidden City has courted controversy since its surprise announcement on December 23 over the lack of consultation and transparency in the deal.

Legal expert Johannes Chan Man-mun pointed out there was a legal grey area under the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority Ordinance, which stipulates the public should be consulted on matters of the facilities’ development and operation.

“It is debatable whether each and every project requires public consultation,” Chan told local media in an earlier interview.

Despite the controversy, a group of architects supported the decision to directly appoint Yim.

What’s unfortunate is that there is only one Rocco Yim
Bernard Lim, ex-president of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects

“We have always pushed for hosting public design competitions ... but there is no one single approach that is applicable to all projects. It very much also depends on the particular circumstances of individual projects,” the Hong Kong Institute of Architects said.

Bernard Lim Wan-fung, the institute’s former president, said there was “nothing wrong” with the appointment.

“Hong Kong is very fortunate to have such a renowned architect like Rocco Yim, but what’s unfortunate is that there is only one Rocco Yim,” Lim said, blaming the city’s lack of opportunities in the past decade to nurture promising talent in the industry.

“I’m not saying that we don’t have any talented people, but there are very few of those who have actually demonstrated that talent.”

He said Yim was one of the very few locally born and bred architects with an internationally acclaimed track record of designing large-scale museums abroad.