Architecture and Design

Swire’s reopened art space in Taikoo Place – an “open box” to capture motion

ArtisTree in Taikoo Place has been reopened with a scaled-down area and a new architectural language

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 July, 2017, 1:32pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 July, 2017, 7:59pm

In early June, Swire Properties reopened its ArtisTree arts and cultural initiative that forms a key element of the company’s Grade-A office development at Taikoo Place.

The original ArtisTree opened, to much fanfare, in 2008 with the travelling exhibition Vivienne Westwood: A Life in Fashion, which set the seal on the 20,000-square-foot space as a platform for world-class exhibitions.

The reimagined ArtisTree, housed in a new location, is significantly smaller, at 7,000 sq ft, yet more architecturally considered and imposing space and has changed the focus and scope of the initiative, says architect Frank Leung, principal of via.

“The architectural language is new. It explores the idea of capturing motion. It’s a theme that ties in everything at Artistree,” says Leung, explaining that the space has been primarily designed as an experimental performing arts space, though it is anything but a “black box”.

“It’s an open box,” says Leung, of the new space, which has its entrance on the main concourse of Cambridge House.

Touching on the conceptual themes of movement, ArtisTree links to the concourse with a rippling gate made of aluminium wrapped in timber.

As part of a three-step journey, the gate leads to the facade of the “box”, a structure sure to be heavily Instagrammed. The facade is made up of 1,000 black hollow metallic squares that can be repositioned and lit in various ways using a computer programme to echo the movement of fabric.

The third step on the journey is the performance space inside the box that has been built to be as flexible as possible in terms of its seating and rigging.

As with the Westwood show in 2008, ArtisTree has looked to cement its place in the cultural landscape with its launch programme in June, which included performances of Contempolion, a contemporary and experimental lion-dance performance from veteran Hong Kong choreographer Daniel Yeung, and a progressive and condensed modern interpretation of the Italian opera La Traviata.

In July, the space will play host to open rehearsals for a production of The Little Prince, by the City Contemporary Dance Company, and August sees its participation in the Hong Kong International Drummer Festival.

Leung, who established via in 2009, has worked on several large and complex Hong Kong projects and was the design manager on the project that would eventually become the ICC in West Kowloon.

But he says ArtisTree proved more of an intellectual challenge because he had to marry the need for practicality with something that engaged the public even during the time between shows.

“We needed to design something that is quiet and sculptural when it is not being used and still have a presence, and yet be open and welcoming when there is something going on.”

Leung adds that although Sheung Wan-based via is a multidisciplinary practice that encompasses interiors, architecture, signage and lighting, the company had rarely used all its competencies on a single project.

We needed to design something that is quiet and sculptural when it is not being used and still have a presence, and yet be open and welcoming when there is something going on
Frank Leung, via

Placing an experimental performance arts space inside some of Hong Kong’s most sought-after office real estate might seem counterintuitive from a business sense for, as Leung points out, developers are naturally drawn to crowd-drawing spaces for easy revenue.

“When you look at other commercial properties looking for crowd-drawing entities the old wisdom was a cinema or F&B,” says Leung.

He adds that Swire was “brave” to opt for such a left-field approach and that the company was riding a trend more commonly seen in cities like Tokyo.

“Swire have been on this trend to move away from exhibition-centric spaces to performance-centric spaces.”

Additionally, Leung and Swire, along with the cultural programmers, hope the new ArtisTree will also be closer to, and more reflective of, the Taikoo Place community.

“Taikoo is not your Central office crowd; many [people] are in the creative industries like advertising, design and architecture. This space also draws from the local community,” he says.

Zooming out, Leung hopes that ArtisTree will be an inspiration to other developers to adopt similar revenue-shy but culturally significant projects.

“[ArtisTree or something like it] is a drop in the ocean in expenditure for developers but these projects have great added value.”

He notes that Hong Kong has a number of cultural spaces opening in the coming years, or that are being planned, such as the long-gestating West Kowloon Cultural District, but more attention needs to be paid on experimental and community-linked spaces.

“Spaces like these are sorely needed in Hong Kong.”