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Museum of Guangdong Folk Art (Thesis1999/2000)

By : Wong Ngai Leung, Aman

Traditional Chinese art forms associated with festivals, weddings, and funerals were extravagant for rich and poor alike. Vestiges of folk practices can still be seen in holiday celebrations. Folk art is colorful, vigorous, and meaningful. It reflects the life of the common people, their proximity to the earth and its creatures. The main feature of folk art, like folk architecture, is its closeness to people and their daily life. This thesis offers a harmonized environment for interaction between contemporary people and folk arts by means of integrating already-existing pedestrian movements on the site. “The best museum was the one people strayed into without noticing it.” (Towards a New Museum, Victoria Newhouse, The Monacelli Press)
The proposed site is located at the intersection of Hollywood Road and the Central Mid-levels Escalator. Many people are concentrated and moving about here. Anyone who has encountered this congested one-way road just above Central (Hong Kong Island) will have been richly rewarded with glimpses of irreplaceable Chinese art on display in the many lively little shops that give the road its distinctive character. Flashes of an amazing variety of Chinese antiques and folk art fleetingly grab attention from the shop windows. However it is common to see an old seven-story building regularly demolished and suddenly replaced by a large residential or office block of at least 20 stories. This situation kills the culture along Hollywood Road.
This thesis sought to locate a new building along Hollywood Road without worsening either the cultural background or the environment of the site. It is also an example of combining pedestrian flow, museum and residential habitat. Artist accommodations and visitor hostels in the proposed museum tackle the crowded and commercial-oriented situation common to Hong Kong. With rent income the museum can support itself, thereby plausibly solving the financial problems museums in other countries also face.

Tutor’s Comments
The approach to this project seemed very simple at first: a revitalization of a traditional architectural culture in an urban setting. However a real problem was observed. The solution had to be a high rise structure, surrounded by other high rise buildings. Museum accommodations would be elevated in the sky; as a result, the streets and squares on the ground would lose their traditional museum-related scale, shape and activity. Differentiation of form proved a trivial pursuit because the building façade would be almost invisible from the narrow and dim streets. The imported North American concept “New Urbanism” was also inappropriate because the modest urban density increases it asks for actually fall very far short of Hong Kong’s naturally extreme high-density and mixed use environment. Hong Kong seems poorly understood in the West.
Finally the design became a reversed “city” inside a single relatively small building. Large open voids, functioning as open urban spaces were inserted in seeming random fashion into the building, from bottom to top, and connected by ramps, escalators and steps. Each void was associated with a large showcase of folk arts, open 24 hours a day. The rest of the building was a mixture of various functions and programs which were not necessarily artistic in nature, but would change frequently. Outside and structurally it is a warehouse: large, monotonous, open and (apparently) non-committal. Inside it performs as a series of platforms supporting intensive and changing programs, a condition which gives architecture the dose of reality it needs within high-density conditions. Hong Kong’s physical environment ruthlessly forces its designers to achieve feasible, mixed-use, high-density, and socially friendly solutions which the overseas New Urbanists have only dreamed about. Where Hong Kong is concerned, New Urbanism isn’t “new” at all.

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