As birthday "presents" go, it was a touch belated. But that didn't stop Vancouver architect Bing Thom, 72 last Friday, from wholeheartedly accepting on Monday the first-ever commission he's received in his birthplace of Hong Kong. Thom, in association with Hong Kong architects Ronald Lu & Partners, was selected over four other international finalists to design the $350-million Xiqu Centre, the first of 17 arts and cultural venues to be constructed for Hong Kong's mammoth West Kowloon Cultural District.
Thom, who came to Canada from Hong Kong with his parents when he was 10, was in the former British colony to hear the news. He said winning the juried competition to inaugurate one of the world's largest cultural infrastructure projects is both "a true homecoming for me" and a reflection of how "the world is fast becoming a blend of Eastern and Western cultures." Development of the 14,000-square-metre site and building, dedicated to the presentation, preservation and revitalization of Chinese opera, is expected to be completed by 2016.
The competition drew more than 50 expressions of interest when it was announced in March this year. Thom and his associates were named in July to a short list that included such notables as London-based Foster + Partners with O Studio Architects, Boston's Safdie Architects and Hong Kong's Wong & Ouyang Ltd. in collaboration with another Canadian firm, Toronto's Diamond Schmitt Architects. The presence of two Canadian-based teams among the finalists affirms the "definite internationalization of architecture going around in the past, say, decade or two," said Canadian Architect editor Elsa Lam. With Diamond Schmitt having secured the New Mariinsky Theatre commission in St. Petersburg and now Thom's high-profile win in Hong Kong, "maybe this is the flip side of Canada bringing in more international architects to the Canadian scene," she observed. Commssioning agencies, jurors and developers are "willing to look for expertise, talent and fresh ideas on a much broader scope these days."
Thom's design, which uses the traditional Chinese moongate/lantern motif for the main entrance on an undulating exterior, will result in two auditoriums of 1,100 and 400 seats, an education and training centre, a 300-seat tea house plus "a generous amount of public leisure space." While the centre represents a first for Thom in Hong Kong, his firm, founded in 1982, is no stranger to China, having prepared master plans for at least two cities there as well as the design of the Grand Theatre in Shijiazhuang City.
Also announced at the Xiqu Centre event was the short list for the design of M +, an art museum planned for Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour. No Canadian teams were among the six finalists that included Herzog & de Meuron from Switzerland, Renzo Piano Building Workshop in France and Norway's Snohetta.