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Local Architects Question Foster’s Hong Kong Project

Controversy over the $5 billion West Kowloon Cultural Complex in Hong Kong, which was commissioned from Norman Foster back in 1999, has been heating up since the project’s 16-week public review began in December.

Foster’s proposal, situated on a peninsula jutting into Victoria Harbor, calls for a 390-foot-high glass roof, resembling, says his office, a “dragon,” and covering several museums, concert halls, and theaters, and a school for the arts. The rest of the site would include office, retail, residential, and community facilities. According to Foster’s office, all will be “sheltered and unified under a sinuous flowing canopy, which will create a benign microclimate.”



While the government has justified the cost by branding it the new cultural icon for Hong Kong, critics have raised concerns about the roof, which covers at least 55 percent of the 100-acre site and is estimated to cost more than $500 million. They also wonder whether the project should be divided into smaller parcels and built incrementally. “Great cities are made up of neighborhoods that evolved over time—the richness, texture, and diversity essential to cities do not develop overnight,” says Peter Basmajian, AIA, an architect based in Hong Kong. “This could turn out to be just another super mall.” In recent days, the Hong Kong Institute of Architects has released a similar statement.

The government plans to bid the project to a developer in a “single package deal” where winner takes all. Critics have cited what they call a lack of transparency on financial proposals by the three finalist developers. As Christine Loh, C.E.O. of Civic Exchange, an independent think tank in Hong Kong, has observed, “The public is in fact the ultimate financier. So why can’t the public know financial arrangements?”

Shirley Chang