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Chinese Music Centre in Kowloon Walled City (Park) (Thesis 1999/2000)

By : Sin Tze Ho, Edmund

In 1990, the Hong Kong Architectural Services Department (ASD) decided to demolish a very old residential area with Hong Kong’s highest population and building density, the Kowloon Walled City. Inhabitants were removed in order to build an open park in its wake. By 1993, five architects were sent to mainland China to study classical gardens and develop such a park.
Demolition was the most common way Hong Kong people treated their cultural history during the early 1990s: a total erasure of the past and reconstruction with an out-of-context style. Despite the irreplaceable cultural loss, this design project took a positive attitude. Here, carving spaces out of the overlays of historical footprints and injecting cultural activities to the underused garden (i.e. introducing a Chinese Music Centre), intends to vitalize the lackluster park. Rather than look at exhibition photos in the “Yamen” – the only-retained courtyard house in the site – people can once again experience their cultural heritage in a complex featuring traditional activities. This will at least subliminally implant the idea that the site has a very long and colorful history.
An integrated Chinese Music Centre for performance, exhibition, research and training matches perfectly the spirit of the former community. A new complex improves the sense of enclosure and results in a more efficient use of the now unnaturally exposed site.
The proposal goes beyond macroscopic planning to articulate performance spaces for different kinds of Chinese music. In addition to the formal performance theatre, various performance spaces were deliberately scattered about the complex. This reinforces the idea that Chinese music was (and remains) part of daily life. It originated from active self-enjoyment rather than from passive listening activities by mass audiences. Many places – a street corner tent, a small courtyard stage, a 4-sided stage, an open stage, a teahouse and restaurant performance corner, a bamboo stage, and a small balcony stage – were all introduced as part of the scheme. As stated, a modern music hall also takes its rightful place here. A musical atmosphere is brought into every corner of the park and helps the complex to blend into its site.

Tutor’s comments
This thesis criticizes the methods and results of an already-completed urban renewal scheme. However, the thesis did not escape into a romantic dream or, like many urban renewal schemes, dig bones from the grave with a dry academic reconstruction. Instead it jumped into the future starting from the current situation, the empty park. It accepts the existing situation as a starting point for future growth.
This thesis was about conservation of culture, which in fact displaces any “architectural” thesis in its strictest sense. It certainly was about building, but the focus of the thesis is a constantly transforming program. It incorporated typological patterns of traditional courtyard housing and gardens, but was above all indeterminate: freely moving into an open future, but still an inevitable extension of traditional patterns. Both building and open space worked as a united complex, with little difference between them either spatially or functionally. For instance, a theater can be either indoors or outdoors, depending on need and circumstance. Strong architectural character does not stifle change or social improvisation. As drawing and model show, every seemingly well-defined space and structure is actually indeterminate. The thesis defined a theme, a poetic and narrative atmosphere, which remains open to change by laypeople, clients and other users.
Therefore, the open building concept applied here organically breaks down pairs of segregation: conservation and futuristic, culture and play, interior and exterior, building and program, structure and infill, thematic and non-thematic, repetitiveness and variation, and finally building and landscape.

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