Dutch architecture firm, Office for Metropolitan Architecture, founded by Rem Koolhaas, has set up a regional office in Hong Kong to help promote artistic and cultural integration with the Pearl River Delta. OMA Hong Kong will coordinate three major regional projects: the West Kowloon Cultural District conceptual master plan, design development of the Taipei Performing Arts Centre, and ongoing construction of the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. The October opening in Hong Kong fulfilled a long-held plan of Koolhaas who has been studying the PRD region since 1994 – before the handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland – and has long felt that Hong Kong and the PRD have the potential to become “a unique urban region in the 21st century. "This urban transformation and collaboration is happening at the moment,” he said. “Our presence in Hong Kong will enable the firm to engage with the local PRD community.” Mr Koolhaas indicated his role will be hands-on, with plans to spend at least one week each month in Hong Kong next year. “We could have had just a small team here, but decided to open an office where we could do everything locally and integrate directly into the local society,” said David Gianotten, manager of the firm. He added that, with so much happening in the region, it made sense to be “on the spot,” building relationships and embracing opportunities. The firm’s vision for cultural integration with the PRD is in line with a noticeable shift in public expectations of the way urban public space should be used. Gianotten noted that Hong Kong has been a very commercially oriented city, while Taipei has been industrial and the PRD manufacturing-led. “Now, though, the concept of urban planning is being re-thought, with greater emphasis on creativity.” This more liberal mindset towards the built environment is translating into exciting opportunities for visionary architectural firms, and Mr Gianotten said Hong Kong is the best place to capture them. He added that the West Kowloon Cultural District will be a major step forward in the cultural development of Hong Kong. The centre will be run by the government, not a developer, so it’s “about culture, not profit,” he said. The waterfront site, facing Victoria Harbour and adjacent to the future high-speed rail connection to the mainland, will include a museum, an exhibition center, multiple theaters, concert halls and other cultural venues, all integrated with abundant public space. Gianotten said the West Kowloon Cultural District “is a project of such scale and ambition that it could define the nature of the public realm in the 21st century.” It will, he added, provide a platform for local, regional and international artists and performers. The development of culture, and education in the arts, is an important component of a society, Gianotten added. “It allows people to express themselves in more ways than just through their work.”
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