Thursday, September 9, 2010

Vision: contents and presentation

I went to the West Kowloon Cultural District public exhibition when I was in Hong Kong last month. It was the end of the second stage of the competition in which stars like Norman Foster, Rocco Yim, and Rem Koolhaas participated. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I have to say I felt the designs pretty disappointing.

Lord (still?) Foster's scheme is a "City Park." The strategy is to concentrate urban developments into a dense urban cluster along "The Avenue" - a boulevard that runs in the middle and connects the various cultural facilities. How innovative!

Rocco Yim is competing as a local representative. His plan is to bring back the urban energy in the long scroll Chinese painting "Along the River during Qingming Festival." Instead of separating buildings and park, he chooses to integrate the two, creating a fusion of landscape and architecture. This is not entirely new. And when there's a lack of variety and rhythm that we see in the Qingming painting, it could be rather boring after a one-kilometer stretch...

OMA's proposal is somewhere in between. It's not absolute dichotomy of building vs. green, nor a blended amalgamation. Uncle Rem decides to make three precincts of "villages" in a large field of landscape. It sounds like an interesting urban form with alternating sceneries. But I froze when I saw the details: there's Cardiff Opera House, sharing back stage with Berlin Philharmonic in a Taipei fashion. Then there's Prada Transformer floating around, and an Almaty/Singapore-like building as a museum. There's even a Casa da Musica subbing as the first-of-its-kind Premiere Theatre. Maybe it's OK, this is just a master plan competition...

Urban design is about vision - visions of what our city could be in the future, the city of tomorrow. It usually takes ages to realize an urban plan, so a key requirement for designers who work on an urban scale is to look forward. But it seems for West Kowloon, we can only dwell in the present, or even just recycle the past.

When visions went blurred, you got to have some fascinating presentations in order to grab some attention. In this exhibition, models are sitting on huge TV screens, animated with moving images, blinking color lights, and sweet voices. Of all the animations in the room, my favorite is OMA's stop motion video. Cute and sweet.

OMA's dynamic model demonstrating the program distribution.

There are more than models and animations. Foster (yeah, not himself) created a first-person 3D video game so that visitors can walk/run/jump around in the cityscape he designed. OMA utilized augmented reality technology for interactive computer model display. By holding a cardboard with a printed black square against the camera, you can see a 3D model showing up on the screen. When you rotate the cardboard, the 3D model rotates with it. Amazing tricks, right?

Look! Who's there!

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