Herzog & de Meuron Wins M+ Commission
By John Jervis
The building design team for M+, the museum for visual culture at the embryonic West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD), Hong Kong, was announced on 28 June. Swiss practice Herzog & de Meuron—already engaged in transforming Hong Kong’s Central Police Station into a multipurpose cultural center—were unanimously selected by the jury to design the vast 60,000-square-meter venue. The “Hong Kong partner architect” will be local firm TFP Farrells—the Hong Kong offshoot established in 1991 by the British architect Terry Farrell—which has previously handled the adjoining Kowloon Station Development.
Herzog & de Meuron’s early concept design concentrates on the cavernous underground space provided by the Airport Express MTR line that runs beneath the site. This will be converted into a sunken exhibition area—the “Found Space”—to house large-scale installations and performance events, while also accommodating a reconfigurable studio space and storage. Above ground, the museum’s structure resembles an inverted T-girder, with a floating, horizontal podium of conventional exhibition galleries under a vertical tower of administrative and educational facilities that stretches the entire width of the building and plays an additional role as an outsized LED display screen for works of art.
Having beaten such international big-hitters as Shigeru Ban, Toyo Ito and Renzo Piano to the commission, senior partner at the practice Jacques Herzog stated that, “For art to enter into the life of a city like Hong Kong it has to come from below, from its own foundations. Our M+ Project does exactly that, by literally emerging from the city’s underground.”
The architectural metaphor may be labored and the renders rather subdued, focusing on the reflective capacities of the glass exterior, but Herzog & de Meuron’s popular and critical successes at London’s Tate Modern and San Francisco’s MH de Young Memorial Museum bode well for the future M+, which is due for completion in 2017.
Less encouragingly, one of the accompanying press releases includes a review of the financial status of the ambitious WKCD development, which was masterplanned by Foster + Partners. Ominous references are made to “rising construction costs” that will require “a pragmatic approach to develop[ing] facilities,” “rigorous cost containment,” “emphasis on content rather than form,” “granting of naming rights,” “optimiz[ing] the development potential of the WKCD” through “minor relaxation” of planning restrictions, and a “more functional and pragmatic approach in the design and construction of other facilities.”
Spiraling costs for the development have long been rumored. It now seems certain that substantial additional injections of public capital will be required to minimize the impact on arts facilities (the estimated cost of building the Xiqu Centre for Chinese Opera, which will be the first project to be completed in 2016, has now doubled, leading to suggestions that some later venues may need to be cancelled or combined), on the district’s open spaces (the budget allocated to the main park has already been cut by 40 percent, while an increase in development density of 15 percent across the site has been proposed) and on the sluggish and opaque completion schedule for the entire project, last mooted as 2031.
Whether there will be a tangible impact on the budget or opening date for the cash-hungry M+ itself remains to be seen.