Nov 04, 2010|
1996 — In the halcyon colonial days of yore, the Hong Kong Tourism Board administers a survey that finds visitors believe the city lacks cultural opportunities.
1998 — Former HKSAR Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa suggests creating the WKCD. He eventually resigns after criticism from Chinese leadership and the public that he mishandled several initiatives.
2001 — Three more years pass before a worldwide design competition for the site is held. It invites submissions for plans to renovate the reclaimed land. Judges choose a huge canopy design by Norman Foster, the architect behind the HSBC building and Hong Kong Airport.
2001-2003 — Legislators say Foster stands to make almost HK$100 billion from the project and criticize Tung’s lack of transparency during the decision-making process, which they said ultimately led to having a single property developer responsible for constructing the entire area. Foster’s is the only plan on the table, and as a result small developers complain they are shut out of the submission process, while other architects claim the area is devoid of clear artistic and urban planning goals.
2003 — The government opens up the process to submissions from any developer as long as the commercial and residential spaces they dream up are built around required facilities. These include: a big performance venue, three smaller theaters, a cluster of small museums, an art exhibition center, a water amphitheatre, at least four piazzas and a massive canopy. Three mega-property developers submit designs.
Early 2000s — As this is going on, the dot-com bust leaves people questioning whether the government is only eyeing profits, with critics arguing that the WKCD could end up as a loosely masked real estate cash cow. Plans for the district are still far from popular with Hongkongers, who blast it for being impractical and posing technical problems. The fact that 70 percent of the area would be devoted to making money, namely through luxury shops and apartment blocks, is by far the biggest gripe.
2005 — Faced with this growing outcry, the government turns to the public for feedback. When the results come back, they find that locals hate the idea of a single real estate developer having ownership over the whole thing (big surprise), and are dissatisfied with the government supervision and the general lack of vision behind the approach. The canopy is also much hated.
2006 — Thanks to mounting opposition, the government drops its single developer plan. Instead it suggests that a majority developer fund a $30 billion trust for the arts. Unsurprisingly, in early 2006, the three short-listed developers—whose omnipotent oversight was now being threatened—walk away from the proposal. The entire project is back to square one.
2007 — After 15 months of deliberation, the project is back on track, and late in the year another public consultation takes place. This one shows strong support for new recommendations to up the number of performing arts venues and build more piazzas. But perhaps most importantly—or at least most surprisingly, given that this is Hong Kong—it now becomes a priority to build a low-density development, with large swaths of open space and a vibrant harborfront. The government then invites architects to submit new design schemes. While developers and landlords are perhaps disappointed with the new guidelines, it is a victory for the people—officials have ostensibly abandoned their relentless quest for cash in the form of row upon row of gleaming apartment blocks to sell to absent Chinese mainlanders. Now at least some of the site is earmarked for regular Hongkongers.
2008 — The West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA) is established to oversee the project—and granted a whopping HK$21.6 billion budget.
2010 – The WKCDA unveils three conceptual plans in August: Foster’s second attempt, called “City Park” as well as Rocco Yim’s “Cultural Connect” and Rem Koolhaas’s “Project for a New Dimension.” Scale models, interactive 3D models, photomontages and animated videos of the three designs have been on show across the territory since then; the masses are now invited to voice their opinions on the plans until November 20.
2011 — The WKCDA will pick a plan—but the winning design may not actually be what we eventually see. The government has bought the copyright to all three designs, to the tune of HK$150 million. This enables the authority to add elements from losing designs to the winning one, irrespective of what the public says. A final plan, complete with government tinkering, will again be open to public consultation.
2012 — A final design will be sent to the Town Planning Board for approval in 2012—16 years after the Tourism Board commissioned its original survey.
Tang, a former textile tycoon, is Hong Kong’s chief secretary for administration and was appointed chairman of the WKCDA upon its formation in 2008. He boasts a long history in government as well as close ties to Beijing; speculation is mounting that he’s gunning to run in the 2012 “election” for Chief Executive. Recently, though, he’s come under fire for his support of an HK$10 billion fund for poverty alleviation. (Critics are questioning how it will complement the social welfare services the government already offers.) Of the WKCD project as a whole, Tang says: “It will be built with Hong Kong’s future in mind. Most importantly, it will be for everyone—our citizens, our children, our gifted artists, and visitors from all over the world.”
WKCDA’s chief executive officer, Sheffield came to Hong Kong earlier this year after 15 years at London’s Barbican Centre, where he served as artistic director. He took on a three-year contract after Angus Cheng Siu-chuen, a former Disney executive, resigned after only one week on the job. Some worry that Sheffield’s lack of knowledge about Hong Kong’s cultural scene will render his actions ineffectual or inappropriate; he has said he knows he will have to rely heavily on a local team. Sheffield says of the three plans: “Each has provided a distinctive concept for how the district will develop into an iconic centerpiece for the city—one that nurtures and presents the best in arts and culture from Hong Kong and around the world, and which belongs to all Hong Kong people for their inspiration, relaxation and enjoyment.”
In June the government tapped the Swedish museologist and curator to head up M+, the WKCD’s ginormous flagship museum. Nittve, who was the Tate Modern’s first director in London and also led Stockholm’s national modern art museum, signed on for a three-year term to shape the new museum’s four main elements: design, popular culture, moving images and visual art. Though he admits he isn’t deeply knowledgeable about the arts in Hong Kong, he’s ready to take lessons learned in the UK and embed himself in our fragrant harbor. He told the Standard: “Both the London and Hong Kong projects have the same complication level. We can be even more flexible with Hong Kong’s huge project, with everything starting from scratch.”