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Surprises Abound in Hong Kong Cultural Center
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Rendering of the new Xiqu Center in Hong Kong
The new Xiqu Center in Hong Kong will be the first arts building constructed in the city’s new West Kowloon Cultural District, an area that will ultimately include 17 arts and cultural venues. The main theater will be housed in a globelike structure suspended above the interior atrium. BTA & RLP Company Ltd.

The winning design for the new $350-million Xiqu Center in Hong Kong, the first of 17 new cultural venues planned for the developing West Kowloon Cultural District, features an elevated globe.

February 19, 2013—Part art sculpture, part Cirque du Soliel, the new Xiqu Center in Hong Kong is full of contradictions. The winning design of the new center for Chinese opera is cozy and yet expansive, hard yet soft, and playful yet utilitarian. Designed by architects Bing Thom of Vancouver and Ronald Lu of Hong Kong, the shimmering Xiqu Center will be the first arts building constructed in the city’s new West Kowloon Cultural District, an area that will ultimately hold 17 arts and cultural venues. The center is intended to be a dynamic structure that will blend theater, art, and public space as it honors traditional Chinese opera, known as Xiqu.

“It’s a building that’s full of surprises,” says architect Bing Thom AIBC, FRAIC, AIA, CM, the principal and founder of Vancouver, Canada-based Bing Thom Architects. The design gives the sense that “there is no building above or around you,” he says. “It’s a hollowed out piece of sculpture [that] will engage people as they wander through the building. They will find things that they didn’t expect: gardens up in the air, theaters up in the air.”

The 13,800 sq m site is located at the eastern edge of the new cultural district, just off of Victoria Harbour. It will contain a 1,100-seat theater flanked by two outdoor sky gardens within a shimmering globe that will be suspended within a covered public atrium. A 280-seat tea house and 2,000 sq m of training and education facilities will also be located in the building, as well as a space for a 400-seat theater that will be developed in a later phase. Underground levels of the building will tie into the existing subterranean rapid transit system and contain commercial and retail space.

 Exterior rendering of the central atrium of the Xiqu Center that will provide access to the tea house and training and education facilities

The central atrium of the Xiqu Center will provide access to the
280-seat tea house and 2,000 sq m of training and education
facilities that will also be located in the building. Visitors will also
be able to access the underground levels of the building, which
will include rapid transit and retail space. BTA & RLP
Company Ltd.

Thom describes the design of the steel building in practical terms as the equivalent of a table with four legs supporting the tabletop—in this case, the globe that holds the main theater. Suspending the globe presented an interesting challenge, according to Thom. “When you lift an eleven-hundred-seat concert hall up into the air, that’s an enormous amount of weight to hold up,” Thom points out. “So, working with Buro Happold in Hong Kong, we came up with this idea that we actually are building the whole structure and theater on the ground, and then the whole thing is lifted up in the air by hydraulic jacks.”

That plan facilitated construction as well; as the structure is lifted, work can be completed on the below-grade levels. “So even though you could say it’s a very expensive structural idea, it actually saved money in construction time,” Thom says. “Because you’re now building both parts of the building simultaneously… one up and one down.”

Because the site is located adjacent to the harbor, much of the steelwork will be prefabricated in shipyards and delivered on barges.

A shimmering quality to the building’s exterior will be created with extruded vertical louvers spaced approximately 1 ½ m apart that will be fabricated from either stainless steel or aluminum, according to Thom. Many of the spaces between these fins will remain open, allowing air and light to spill into and out of the building. The louvers will have the utilitarian responsibility of acting as a sun shade to protect the building from solar heat gain, but they are also playful and will be created in curvilinear shapes so that they appear to be curtains being pulled open at the four corners of the building: “It’s a play on the idea of theater—like peek-a-boo,” Thom says.

The open entrances to the structure and widely spaced exterior louvers will also allow the building to capture breezes as they flow inland from Victoria Harbour, naturally ventilating the building. “The building is designed to ‘breathe’ environmentally,” Thom says. “It’s kind of a chimney effect that we’ve allowed—the public spaces are all naturally ventilated [and] we don’t have to air condition.” 

Interior rendering of the new Xiqu Center which displays a dynamic structure that will blend theater, art, and public space

The Xiqu Center is intended to be a dynamic structure that will
blend theater, art, and public space as it honors traditional
Chinese opera. The suspended, 1,100-seat main theater will be
flanked by two outdoor sky gardens. BTA & RLP Company Ltd.

A series of gardens at each level of the building, including the corners of the rooftop, will extend the idea of nature throughout the building.

Through its four large access points, the public atrium will serve as a gateway not only to the building itself but also to the train system below; it will also serve as an attractive causeway for those simply looking to cross from one side of the site to the other. The courtyard inside will also be used as an urban stage for informal events and celebrations on occasion.

The building is intended to encourage the members of the Xiqu community to interact with one another, develop new programs, educate the public, and host international cultural performances. “Chinese opera has [a] long tradition and history where it’s singing, acting, dancing, music, acrobatics—all in one,” Thom explains. “So the building is very theatrical in that way. It’s a building that has many interrelated parts that are woven together: That’s the spirit of what Chinese opera is about.”

The West Kowloon Cultural District is planned to be a low-density development containing 23 ha of open space, a green avenue, and 2 km of harborfront promenade. It will contain 30,000 sq m of arts education space, spread between the 17 venues that it will ultimately contain.

The architects have formed a joint-venture partnership—Bing Thom Architects and Ronald Lu & Partners Company Ltd.—to complete the project. The Xiqu Center is expected to open in 2016 and cost an estimated $350 million, according to Thom.


 

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