The Silicon Valley of Culture

Adrian Cheng’s new K11 MUSEA project is a spectacular space, but is designed to be more

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Physical space and cultural production are intimately related. At a small scale, this brings to mind an artist’s atelier or writer’s study; at a large scale, it can be a museum, a public gathering space or one of many other examples of what has come to be called ‘placemaking’. These spaces provide inspiration and scope for the testing and production of ideas, for individuals, groups and communities.

It was this approach that Hong Kong cultural entrepreneur Adrian Cheng brought to his creation of the K11 brand in 2008 and its first ‘art mall’ in 2009. But Cheng has developed his idea into a more cohesive, holistic — and spectacular — cultural hub in the form of K11 MUSEA, at the centre of the new Victoria Dockside development. MUSEA is a ‘muse by the sea’ that is intended to inspire the creative in all who visit.

The location is no coincidence: this is the original site of Holt’s Wharf, the freight hub that made Hong Kong a global trade entrepôt. In a further piece of historical symmetry, the wharf was also named for a visionary: Alfred Holt, whose fuel-efficient steam engine made these far-reaching voyages possible.

What Cheng envisions here is the ‘Silicon Valley of Culture’ — the apotheosis of cultural production — and to aid him in creating it, he has brought in a roster of renowned designers from Hong Kong and across the globe, the ‘100 Creative Powers’. Architecture is by Kohn Pedersen Fox, James Corner Field Operations (of High Line fame) and venerable local firm LAAB. 

The complex’s many facets blend space and experience artfully. Inside, the Opera Theatre is unmissable. Above, hundreds of meticulously positioned lights resemble a galaxy, evoking curiosity and creativity. Linking the cosmic with a more earth-focused experience is Escalating Climbers, an organic, root-like sculpture that weaves over two levels to the ‘heart of the muse’: the multidimensional event and exhibition space the Gold Ball. The luminous, lattice-wrapped ball appears to float under the ceiling sculpture Oculus, which sits at the apex of the 35-metre-high, cathedral-like atrium, highlighted by feathery rays of filtered sunlight that lend it an almost living aspect.

Community spaces also include Kube by OMA, led by Dutch architects Rem Koolhaas and David Gianotten, an ingenious cube-shaped kiosk around which communal dialogues and shared experiences can unfold; similarly, the Sunken Plaza’s 200-square-metre amphitheatre hosts installations as well as gatherings. Kids will be drawn to play spaces such as the Peacock Playground, which features custom-designed play equipment by award-winning Danish playground designers Monstrum. For bon vivants, the Bohemian Garden with contributions by award-winning local firm LAAB and Speirs + Major provides a stunning al fresco entertaining space spread across two levels.

Sustainability is also a strong consideration. The exterior Green Wall by Bangkok studio PLandscape offers a verdant — and cooling — contrast to the stone facade with a flowing botanical feature that echoes the fluid lines of the adjacent harbour. But sustainability is not separate — it is designed to be part of the space and part of the experience, best exemplified in spaces such as the Nature Discovery Park, which is Hong Kong’s first in-mall urban biodiversity museum and sustainability-themed education park, and plays host to a variety of plants and naturally attracted butterflies along with an outdoor aquarium system. Facilities such as these bring people and nature together in a way that is as seamless as it is artistic.

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