Friday, 16 December 2011

Frank Gehry, Swire Properties and “Outside the box” advertising

Architectural Exhibition:  
Frank Gehry - Outside the Box

There used to be stand-alone existence of advertisement and newspaper, now we have advertorialMost people come to accept publicities in the form of the so called infomercial and infotainment.  In the ever-expanding world of enterprise, the name of art is increasingly mingled with commerceNowhere is this phenomenon more acute than it is in the money-minded society of Hong Kong.

Half of the venue shows snapshots of
Frank Gehry’s works worldwide.

Among other works, the ubiquitous and tired citation of
the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

The other half presents, in minute detail, Opus Hong Kong
owned by the Swire Properties.

Take this public exhibition of Frank Gehry (1929 - )’s works which was organized by the Swire Group and entitled ‘Outside the Box’ at ArtisTree, Hong Kong.  One would imagine it carried an even distribution of weight on the architect’s works around the world, perhaps with curatorial emphasis on certain works with specific merits.  It turns out that half of the gallery space is devoted to showing a current residential development at the Peak of Hong Kong.

With this lead, it may be clear to some readers that the development is owned and managed by no other but the Swire Group.  Incidentally, ArtisTree, a non-profit making gallery space with a vocal mission to promote the arts, is also owned and managed by the same conglomerate. 

What underpins this entire exhibition is the promotion
given to Opus Hong Kong.

Archimercial – that is, when architecture meets commercial

It is perfectly normal for a developer to promote its project with the aid of the architect in order to sell better.  There are many existing ways to market realties, be it advertisements or other means of more soft-selling infomercials.  What is questionable is the use of a non-commercial art venue to dress up a business activity as an artistic event.

Not only is this camouflage misleading to visitors, it blurs the boundary between a non-profit making art space and a commercial premises.  This kind of event may set precedence to museum curators and people, who want to exhibit works with a commercial agenda.  Should this phenomenon flourish, we might find a growing number of museums exhibiting the latest sports cars, luxury handbags or electronic gadgets under the pretext of art and design.  Debates on this issue from curators, concerned parties and the public are eminent.


Opus Hong Kong: A Concise Architectural Critique

Setting aside the abusive use of art space, are there architectural merits in this work by Frank Gehry that deserve genuine coverage?

Finished model of Opus Hong Kong – the way it is presented bears close resemblance to property selling.  On this project, Gehry was quoted in saying: ‘You can’t take this building and put in somewhere else.  It’s designed for here.’  By studying the architectural model, can we spot any reference made to this city?  If I were being sarcastic, I would say the architect might be trying to pay tribute to the pigeon-hole living decks we all share in this populous city, except this is a luxurious pad.

The massing studies, like fancy cupcakes in glass showcase, attempt to charm the viewers.

An unconvincing model showing a three - block study on the restrictive site.  Frankly speaking, from inception stage this idea should have been concluded as irresolvable due to the severely obstructed aspects from the blocks themselves.  This relegates the model to be a mere vehicle in order to impress non-professionals.

The study layouts at left show excessively long corridors for subdivided apartments.  The curved corridors and segmented floor plans do not materialize as quality habitable spaces especially when the area of each apartment is less than 1000 ft².  Given the architect’s lack of concern on compact space planning, it is difficult for these subdivided apartments to be user friendly. The restrictive floor plan and later marketing strategy concludes that the strategy of multi-occupancy per floor  has to be shelved.

The final layout of single occupancy per floor results in a massive unit of 6000 ft².  (Typical floor plan from  Who cares  about carbon footprint? 

This floor plan reveals that Gehry has little concern on internal planning. The undulating outline with resultant spaces merely serves the end product of building expression.  In other words, the architectural configuration dictates everything, no matter the logic, performance and costs.  One might say the end justifies the means and "it is pretty!"; honestly I am not impressed with this pigeon-holed tree stump idling on the hill. 

On a side note, deals have just been struck that one unit has been sold at a price tag of HK$475 million (US$61 million) and another rented for HK$0.85 million (US$0.11 million) a month.  As an architect, I would feel guilty to design super-luxury apartments and thoroughly be ashamed especially at this time of financial reawakening worldwide.

The twisting configuration, being the highlight of the design, is timid due to its gnomic proportion and contrived to look dynamic.  There is no theoretical basis in design but a mindset to generate asymmetry for the sake of asymmetry.  

However it is still better than the architect’s another recent work – the Beekman Tower of New York, which is sadly a piece of graphic sensation with superficial excitement.  Architecture, if still believed to be the mother of all arts, must embrace at its core what celebrates higher human values of culture and ideals.

The Beekman Tower, New York, 2011 at its final phase of construction. 

(photo from

Windswept, earthquake stricken, King Kong raided vision, and what have you. However, has this work any meaning that captures the human spirit?  Good architecture is an art of permanence, should we aspire to higher order quality: something that is lasting and inspirational rather than this visual knee-jerk?

(photo from:

‘Outside the Box – Frank Gehry’ was open to the public from 9 Sept to 27 Oct, 2011 at ArtisTree, Hong Kong.

Click here for review on Guangzhou Opera House by Zaha Hadid.

法蘭克.葢瑞及「無界為界」建築廣告 〈中文摘要〉

太古地産舉辦的建築展覽,由葢瑞(Frank Gehry)提供展品,炮制出具創意的廣告藝術。展館原屬非牟利公開場所,締造機會予藝術團體、個人作表演或展覽之用,所有參與均為非商業活動。

問題是這場館及展覽主題商品建築Opus Hong Kong皆由太古擁有,不奇然令人想到發展商利用自己的藝術館,宣傳旗下的發展項目,以增推銷果效。難怪這展覽命名「無界為界」,實屬字字珠璣。這非一般的策展除了誤導觀者,其手段刻意將藝術展品界線模糊,造就商品化展覽的惡性先例,業界楷模。

以一半的塲館展示Opus Hong Kong是否意味着這建築具同级讚頌?答案是呼之欲出:矛盾的平面佈局、僵硬的立體造形及缺乏重點的設計意念都是有力的論據。

宏觀葢瑞在紐約同期的作品 – The Beekman Tower比香港這幢還要差勁。這個或刮風、或地震、或金剛蹂躪過的外型,深層意義程度只配跟短暫及劣質的平面設計比較,完全不符建築藝術應有的恆久價值。

有關此展覽,可登入策展方及物業網址: 和

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I do not know whether it's just me or if perhaps everybody else experiencing issues with your website. It seems like some of the written text within your posts are running off the screen. Can somebody else please provide feedback and let me know if this is happening to them too? This might be a issue with my browser because I've had this happen previously.
My website :: tattoo courses