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Hong Kong Wants Big-time Art, Next to Big-time Business

OMA unveils designs for a massive arts district. Next stop for Rem Koolhaas? President of the universe.

Hong Kong Wants Big-time Art, Next to Big-time Business

The Office for Metropolitan Architecture, the Rotterdam firm headed by super-starchitect Rem Koolhaas, has released conceptual plans for a massive arts district in Hong Kong. The scheme — a competition entry — is a tangle of museums, theaters, artists? space, pedestrian bridges, and shops embedded in an impossibly huge public park. If it wins, it'll be one of the largest examples of Koolhaas's handiwork in one place, which for design junkies is like calling it Valhalla.

OMA is among three finalists vying for the West Kowloon Cultural District in an government-sponsored competition to turn a vast swath of Hong Kong's waterfront into an arts hub — something this region of bland high rises and go-go capitalism sorely lacks. Naturally, as China's economic might grows, they'd like to have equal amounts of cultural influence—something that some economists see as inevitable. But the buildings still need to be built, and the artists coddled and shown off.

The other firms competing are fellow archi-macher Norman Foster and the local firm Rocco Design Architects.

OMA's is clearly the most visually stunning. A nod to Hong Kong's storied walled villages, the landscape's split up into three districts arranged around a leafy park. You've got a Visual Arts Village, which is designed like an enormous series of bar codes. Each level's a different cultural facility.

You've got a Theater Village, with a clutch of venues: a black box theater, a street theater, a concert hall, and so on.

And you've got the Middle Village, where the city and the waterfront collide.

Here, existing street markets are extended to include galleries, artists? studios, shops, and a glitzy movie house — a sort of Kodak Theater of the East.

Planted smack dab between the three villages is the park, so you can easily walk or ride your bike from one side of the arts district to the other.

OMA also conceived of a network of bridges to connect the district to the central city, including this looping pedestrian/car bridge (at left).

It's a remarkable scheme. The question is this: Is Hong Kong ready for such a massive dose of Koolhaas? The public is expected to vet the three competition proposals over the next few months. Then some time next year, the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority will decide on a winner. Stay tuned for the results. Valhalla (Koolhaas edition) just might await.

[Images courtesy of OMA]