Untapped resources at cultural venue

Project Brief for the current research: Experience Cultural Public Space |

Key issues and problems

Most cultural buildings in Hong Kong are publicly funded, where the cultural institution carries a public mission and its space is by essence public space. However, this is a type of urban space that is often bypassed in the public space discourse. The problem of cultural spaces is that while it is usually built with a grand vision, the actual usage of non-functional space (i.e. public space) is in many case left as residual space with little consideration of its potential. These spaces are some untapped resources that presents an opportunity to be rediscovered, as we are challenged to rethink urban space in the post-pandemic city.

In the case of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, two key issues regarding the use of public space will be addressed in this research. Firstly, a change in global travel pattern will bring less visitors to the city, how could this prime tourist destination be used differently and who will be the user? The second issue relates to the cultural sector’s response to venue closure, resulting in a variety of cultural activities that are not confined to the auditorium. How will cultural institutions be ready for a new wave of cultural events in public space?

Relevance, Significance, and Value

The issues of post-pandemic public space have pointed to a changing positioning of the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront area, which is at a stage that calls for a new vision. With the current development of the West Kowloon Cultural District, the status of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre as the city’s prime cultural/tourist landmark could evolve towards the direction of everyday urban space for local citizen. In this context, the great extent of public space in the area will need to be re-examined with a fresh perspective, and the proposed research can provide valuable knowledge to the discovery of new and innovative spatial strategies.

The exploration in a video-based method to study public space rides along the opportunities found in current development of video documentation in terms of affordability and accessibility, contributing to an emerging field of architectural and urban research. As cultural venues gradually resuming their full capacity in the near future, the evaluation of spatial conditions with experiential data will be a timely information to help develop new ways of engagement with potential cultural participants. Cultural institutions are more than program providers but having a greater role in the making of public space and cultivation of public life. It is to this point that many public space research, including this study, is addressing to and making valuable contribution to the discourse.

The premise of this research is the belief that urban design is not a deterministic top-down decision, but a two-way process where the designer creates potential environment while users would make effective environment (Carmona, 2010). Therefore, a good understanding of how people experience public space is a crucial step to the effective making of public space. This research builds upon a collection of such studies, with further focus to addressing the specific issues of public space at cultural buildings.

Research Plan

The proposed research will consist of three stages in response to the project aims. Stage 1 is a spatial analysis of existing conditions, followed by a fieldwork stage to investigate public space user experience, and a final stage to analyze data collected and to formulate recommendations. It will be conducted in qualitative methods, including architectural mapping and ethnographic observations. The overall objective of the study is to compare user experience in different cultural public space conditions, with a broader goal to inform innovative spatial strategies towards cultural participation. The findings of this study will contribute to a larger research to investigate the role of cultural institutions in the making of public space. At the same time, it is conducted as a pilot study to develop an experiential survey method that can be applicable to future public space research.

Site of investigation

With an aim to discover innovative use of cultural public space through user experience, the Hong Kong Cultural Centre (HKCC) is chosen as the study site for its diversity in spatial typology and user profile. The study area will cover exterior and interior spaces adjacent to and within the HKCC Auditoria building, including but not limited to the outdoor plaza, the interior atrium and the network of terraces and covered walkways.

Since its opening in 1989, the Hong Kong Cultural Centre has enjoyed a status as the prime harbor-front landmark and top tourist destination. However, this positioning is being challenged as the West Kowloon Cultural District and its facilities gradually opens in the following years, and the HKCC is in need of a change from curatorial to spatial consideration. The extended area has seen a series of public space initiatives over the past few years. On a smaller scale, the HKCC Auditoria building atrium was renovated in 2017, in which investments was made mainly on the purchase of digital information system, with minor spatial intervention that has added some seating area and new signage. A more substantial public space renovation is the “avenue of stars” promenade associated with the new mixed-use development, the Victoria Dockside, east of the HKCC site. Designed by renowned landscape architect James Corner, new seating pavilions and amenity kiosks are added to the originally passive space. With the newly renovated Hong Kong Museum of Art and its new open terrace food & beverage outlet, the waterfront area is slowly transforming from a static open space into a zone for vibrant leisure activities. The HKCC complex sits at a key location that connects these new urban spaces with existing urban fabric and key public transit nodes, as its positioning is evolving, how could it be integrated into part of the everyday urban landscape? What could be the new ways to use and conceive public space that caters to local users, and can it become an opportunity to enhance local participation in cultural activities?

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