July 14, 2017
by Julie Bogdanowicz
Clad with reflective stainless steel panels, the M+ Pavilion cantilevers out towards panoramic views of Hong Kong Island. Photo courtesy of West Kowloon Cultural District Authority
Shiny, shapely, shifty: a new arts pavilion has landed on the shores of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, designed by JET Architecture’s Jeff W. N. Leung, MRAIC and Tynnon Chow, an energetic pair who split their time between projects in China and Canada. They won the commission through an international competition in 2013, in collaboration with local firm VPANG and Lisa Cheung as architects of record.
The M+ Pavilion, which opened last year, sits on newly reclaimed land on the Kowloon peninsula, and enjoys one of the best views of Hong Kong Island. The waterfront-hugging area was master-planned as the West Kowloon Cultural District by Foster + Partners, with other venues including Bing Thom Architects’ Xiqu Centre for Chinese opera and Herzog
& de Meuron’s M+ museum for visual culture, under construction next door, for which this pavilion is ostensibly a folly related to a larger complex. As a kind of pop-up attraction, the pavilion, along with a nearby temporary tree nursery park, set the tone for what is to come.
The building’s reflective, mirror-like stainless steel panels, which naturally encourage a selfie state of mind, have come to define the pavilion as “that mirror building on the peninsula.” Emerging from berms, the cladding was meant to camouflage the building in the landscape, but it instead produces wavy, fun-house reflections of nearby towers. The architect’s first choice was a pricier mirror-finish Alucobond panel, but their second choice is effective.
Once you ascend to the main gallery level, you’re immediately struck by the view of unrelenting urbanism flanking the mountains across the harbour. This panorama is framed by a cantilevered balcony that doubles as a kind of promontory where one goes to see and be seen.
The cantilevered corner forms an edge to the gallery’s courtyard: a calm space set around a mound, a tree and a curved stairway that provides access to a future park. Beyond framing a vista, the orientation of the courtyard walls was conceived to block views of the adjacent tunnel ventilation building designed by Farrells, the first piece of infrastructure to inhabit the peninsula.
The pavilion and its site organization take cues from traditional Chinese landscape gardening techniques by borrowing, concealing, penetrating and extending the view. Its shape was designed to scoop up the wind from the harbour and create a refreshing wind tunnel—an effect in play during my visit.
The actual gallery space risks feeling ancillary next to the courtyard and cantilever, but is well proportioned for installations and events. The gallery is connected to the courtyard with large, pivoting glass doors. In this, the architects paid homage to Barton Myers’ work on Woodsworth College at the University of Toronto, where they both studied architecture. However, the pavilion’s ability to accommodate crowds seamlessly between indoors and outdoors might under-perform and be compromised by the courtyard’s narrow walkway and small platforms.
Several concessions were made between the initial vision and the final outcome—from the size of the building to its cladding, to having to paint an exposed concrete wall grey because of difficulties procuring quality concrete work. These compromises are unfortunate: pavilions are traditionally flawless, gem-like objects, whose ultimate function is irrelevant, besides being an object of pleasure. Nonetheless, after having withstood value engineering and the lack of local craftsmanship, the pavilion has effectively planted a stake on the peninsula as a harbinger of exciting things to come in the new cultural district.
Julie Bogdanowicz is an architect working with the City of Toronto’s Urban Design department.