Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Bing Thom's Homecoming

The Xiqu Centre in West Kowloon will look like a lantern and curtain opening
As part of the West Kowloon arts hub development, there is going to be a Chinese opera venue called the Xiqu Centre and we're pleased to discover it will be designed by Vancouver architect Bing Thom and Hong Kong's Ronald Lu & Partners.

We are less enthused about the HK$2.7 billion price tag, but we know Thom, of Bing Thom Architects will deliver an excellent design with great acoustics.

It will be the first building to be completed in the West Kowloon Cultural District and due to open in 2016.

The shape of the building will be that of a lantern, following the similar idea of Thom's design for the shopping mall called Aberdeen Centre in Richmond. The Xiqu Centre would also look like an opening theatre curtain, a key element of Chinese opera.

Vancouver architect Bing Thom
The 72-year-old Thom explained the design would elevate the stage, creating room for a courtyard and that it would be user friendly for both performers and the audience.

Traditionally the life of opera performers was nomadic, and he sought to meet their needs.

"The dressing room to artists is home away from home, so the comfort of the room is important as is their journey from the dressing room to the edge of the stage, before they step on the stage," Thom said. "Their performance will be affected if they do not feel relaxed."

In the design, Thom ensured the corridors were wider and there were bigger doors to accommodate artists wearing costumes like helmets and flags, and ensure the solemnity of the performers is maintained.

"The audience should be sitting flat and looking straight across the stage or you will foreshorten the body [of the actors]."

The centre will have elevators so that the elderly can reach the two theatres easily.

"The seating area will have fewer stairs. A wider space between rows has also been designed," he said.

Thom hoped the contemporary design would appeal to young people and inspire better productions.

The Hong Kong-born, Canadian-raised architect has good experience in designing for the performing arts.

One of his crown achievements is The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The interior of The Chan Centre at UBC in Vancouver
It is a 1,200-seat concert hall that has Thom's hallmark design elements of lots of wood and cement in a minimalist design that is warm and inviting. The concert hall is actually cello-shaped to ensure the even distribution of sound throughout the performance space and also the audience can also have a consistent sound experience no matter where they are sitting.

We also appreciate the small attention to detail Thom made at The Chan Centre -- with regards to the women's washrooms.

He made sure there were more stalls and also that the sinks were separated from the mirrors so that there was a more efficient flow of people in and out of the washroom area so that everyone would have enough time for the loo.

In any event, Thom must be pleased to finally have a project here in Hong Kong going back to his roots.

During the civil war in the 1940s, Thom's mother decided to take her son and emigrate to Canada -- where his father was born.

"It [the connection with Hong Kong] made me try much harder... can one really try to create a building that will represent the spirit of this city and the potential this city has?", he said, adding that Hong Kong was a city that welcomed refugees and always survived hardship.

When it comes to Vancouver, Thom speaks passionately about the city and how he'd like to see it blossom.

We hope he will adopt the same passion with Hong Kong and inspire more vision of how we should develop this city.

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