British architect Norman Foster has already made his mark in Hong Kong thanks to the HSBC Tower and the city's International Airport and his imprint is soon to get significantly larger after the government here announced his design had been accepted for the city's HK$22.6 billion (two billion euro) West Kowloon Cultural District.

Foster + Partners' design for the project beat off the challenge of the ideas put forward by architects Rocco Yim and Rem Koolhaas and the government is hoping that - when completed - the project will transform Hong Kong into Asia's "arts hub" and rival like likes of Paris's famous Pompidou Centre.

To that end, there will be museums, galleries and performing arts venues placed throughout the site, which sits right on Hong Kong's historic waterfront while Foster's design also includes a huge, tree-filled park.

"This is fantastic news. I have been travelling to Hong Kong for more than 32 years, since the Hongkong Bank first brought us here," Foster said in a statement following the announcement. "This project offers an extraordinary opportunity - it is unprecedented in its scale, scope and vision. City Park will be the catalyst to transform the city locally and regionally, as well as on the world stage. Our design is rooted in Hong Kong's urban DNA, the distinctive character that makes it such a dynamic city. There really is no other project like it."

The concept for the West Kowloon Cultural District had its beginnings in a Hong Kong Tourism Board survey in the late 1990s which found that visitors to town thought the city was lacking in an identifiable center for its arts, entertainment and culture.

The government announced the designated site for the district way back in 1998 but the project has been blighted by infighting and criticism from everyone from green groups, who highlighted the need for more green areas in the city, to Hong Kong's ubiquitous developers, who demanded a larger slice of the pie for commercial projects.

And debate has raged in the week since the announcement with some questioning the decision to award the project to Foster's design - or even just whether or not a government most often seen as obsessed with pouring concrete will stick to Foster's predominantly green design.

Local commentator Jake van der Kamp was one urging cynicism after the Hong Kong government said 73 percent of the budget will be spent on buildings, 13 percent on renovation and repairs, eight percent on arts collections and six percent on management.

Translated, Van der Kamp claimed, that meant out of every dollar spent "73 cents will go to pouring concrete, 13 cents will go to fixing concrete and six cents will go to supervising concrete."

MS

 

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