Monday, 26 August 2013

Sanctifying Glass and Steel: M+

"The outcome is a building that is not simply anchored in its surroundings; it is also formed by them.  The precise and urban, almost archaic in shape, reiterates the iconic character of Kowloon's skyline" *

* Herzog & de Meuron (on their winning competition entry of M+ - the contemporary art museum at West Kowloon Cultural District, Hong Kong)

Proposed M+ viewed from Victoria Harbour.

Inverted T-shape hovering above ground.

Photo-montage of M+ somewhat exaggerated in scale and shown in absence of the clustering of buildings to be built on this reclaimed site.

To stretch the design association with our mountain backdrop and to patronize on the issue of regional identity, it is as if the architects had seen our skyline epitomized by the Lion Rock in the shape of a tombstone.

The "rock" in Kowloon celebrated locally like a totem.  (imageNohead

Another icon: the well-known TV drama ‘Below the Lion Rock’ that carries the bitter-sweet memories of this city.  Could this glass and steel tablet, eager to please as demonstrated by its authors, fill a place in our heart?  (

“Paradoxically, yet another work of engineering defines the specificity of this place: the underground tunnel of the Airport Express.  Initially an obstacle that complicated planning, this distinctive feature has become the raison d’être for our project, consisting of a rough, large-scale exhibition universe which quite literally anchors the entire building.  By uncovering the tunnel, a spectacular space is created for art and design, installation and performance; the excavations reveal nature of a “second order”, a “Found Space” that is a challenge to artist and curator alike, a space of unprecedented potential” *

* Herzog & de Meuron

According to the architects, the subterranean 
exhibition gallery of the “Found Space” anchors 
the conceptual basis of the entire museum.

The tunnel of the Airport Express (red) is decidedly too far away to have any connection with the M+ museum (blue).  And should there be an unexcavated space in this recently reclaimed land that was unearthed by the architects, the government owes us an explanation of how the public expense was used here.  (background imageWest Kowloon Cultural District Authority)

As the above quotation suggests, the architects have created an archaeological myth on the reclaimed land where this museum will be situated.  In fact, the location of the “Found Space” was anything but a patch of sea in the harbour, devoid of meaning.  Nonetheless when built, it might become a cultivated space filling a blank an architect so dreads.

Herzog & de Meuron is unable to defend their design on well construed premises.  This sudden liking of our local value reminds us of the faux donation (partly free, partly paid) of China art from Uli Sigg to M+, opportunistic and thoroughly presumptuous.

*All quotations and M+ images (unless otherwise stated) from West Kowloon Cultural District Authority and Herzog & de Meuron.

M+的神話構建            〈中文摘要〉

建築物的具體設計建基於四周環境,同時又與之相輔相承。M+的外形設計精準,近乎還原基本。它重新演繹出九龍半島天際線的一貫美態,並將之轉化為展現藝術及藝術家的明燈。 Herzog & de Meuron

從上述引言拉扯九龍半島山巒為概念源頭,又巧納本土身份議題,瑞士建築師Herzog & de Meuron似乎運用獅子山的山脊線,設計出M+美術館墓碑般的外型。

玄機在於選址上現有基建工程 機場快線隧道。它正是選址的獨特之處。機場快線隧道最初本是該區繁複規劃的障礙, 現卻成為主宰整個M+項目的關鍵,開闢出粗糙、寬敞的大型展覽領域,引領M+地下展區設計。Found Space展區展露隧道外形,為當代藝術與設計、裝置展品與表演藝術勾勒悅目的展覽空間。多重挖掘工程進一步體現發掘現有隧道新秩序的概念。這雖然為藝術家與策劃展覽者迎來挑戰,但又充滿前所未有的創意潛力。  Herzog & de Meuron

兩位設計師這填海得來的基地創造了俱考古層次的迷思。現有機場快線隧道的文化底蘊或地理位置與M+風馬牛不成關係。事實上,塲館的Found Space坐落於維多利亞海港,完全沒有設計師所描繪的詮釋脈絡,反之只含新泥悶土。無然,當這藝術館蓋好後,勢將搖身轉化為文化焦點,驅散建築師懼怕的空白。

Herzog & de Meuron沒有令人信服的理據解釋建築設計。正如Uli Sigg虛假的藝術饋贈(部份是捐贈,其他則購置),這樣怱怱而來嘗試擁抱我們的本土文化,完全揭露他們的投機及剛愎自用。


Reader’s inputs via e-mails:


I'm a journalist working on a story about the new M+ architecture exhibition at Artistree. I've enjoyed reading your blog and I was curious if you'd had a chance to visit. I'm interested to hear what you think of the museum's architecture collection and whether it is heading in the right direction in terms of focus and acquisitions. (Christopher DeWolf)

Hey Chris

Nice to hear from you and your responses. As you mentioned on the archie exhibition at Artistree, honestly, I am hesitant to visit not because of the specifics of the models/drawings (ie. the quality or design of which), but because I have a reasonable knowledge of them (quite a lot of them had been on display under different angles). It might to do with the fact that I am an architect by profession and I am aware of the 'what's going on'. I think the exhibits do not have enough polemics.

I understand that that M+ is doing everything to get the local people into museum and be aware of visual arts (the museum to house the widest spectrum - in order to get as many audiences as possible). The so-called architectural collection is largely about models and drawings, not a lot more. On a personal level, West Kowloon Cultural Development Authority is guilty first and foremost to choose Norman Foster, and secondly H&dM. It is no sour grapes, but the proposed works by both architects do not share anything with local culture and values. They are the choice of convenience and blind-faith from the govt appointed panels. So you should understand my bitterness.....especially when an architecture related to exhibition is organized by M+.

Having said that, I hope they succeed to bring in more visitors; but to raise the quality of audience, I would not count on their efforts. Enough said so far, would you think? Hope it is not too subjective for you.

Just saw this mail (after 2 days), my reply as spontaneous as could be. Best (Sundial)

Hi Sundial

Thanks for your thoughts! I agree with you regarding H&dM and the Foster plan, though the models, drawings and artworks collected so far give me hope that M+ could shed some interesting light on architecture in Hong Kong. They have some interesting correspondence between Tao Ho and the Lands Department regarding the demolition of his shipping container office in 1989, for instance. (Christopher DeWolf)


Anonymous said...

The image showing the museum in relation to the airport railway is erroneous. The museum actually does sit atop the railway tunnel, which is separate from the road tunnel. Just consider the fact that Kowloon Station is in the centre of the highrise cluster -- not underneath the highway.

Sundial said...

The previous marking of M+ in front of Harbourside has now been amended to sit in front of ICC. Thanks for pushing me to adjust that even thought I had realized the error for some time. Still, the architect's point of "uncovering the tunnel" is way off from anchoring much significance. It can neither be the case literally nor metaphorically. And what is the cultural value of this "Found Space" apart from an engineering point of view?

Anonymous said...

I think it would be exciting if they actually uncovered the tunnel and you could feel the rumble of passing trains. That would truly be a "radical" space. But I think the foundation is still some distance away from the railway tunnel.