According to Jacques Herzog of Herzog & de Meuron, for art to enter into the life of a city like Hong Kong, it has to come from below — and at the West Kowloon Cultural District M+ project, an intercultural forum is literally emerging from the city’s underground
When asked to pick a spot at the forthcoming M+ for an architectural retrospective of Herzog & de Meuron Basel, Ascan Mergenthaler, senior partner in charge of the project, emphasises that dialogue is essential for the firm’s working method — an example of this would be the layout trial of all exhibition spaces in collaboration with an experienced curator during its work on the competition submission. “We studied the layout, sequence, proportion, materialisation and lighting possibilities of the different displays,” he says of the process.
From the founding partners’ costume creation with Joseph Beuys in 1978 to the recent ‘non-object’ excavation at Serpentine Gallery Pavilion with Ai Weiwei in 2012, Herzog & de Meuron has explored many innovative concepts with multi-disciplinary artists. At M+, the underlying Airport Express tunnel presented the team with exciting possibilities for use as a found space, rather than concealing this area by viewing it as a constraint. “We were specifically asked for a post-industrial space in the brief,” says Mergenthaler. “By conceptually digging the tunnel out, we created something of that nature.”
The shape of the Airport Express tunnel — expressed as the floor of the site — provides an anchored space especially relevant to the Hong Kong context, given the efficiency and importance of the city’s mass transit railway system. Its reconfigurable convenience for performances, screenings, and other activities is rightfully described by Pierre de Meuron as “an unprecedented potential and a challenge to artist and curator alike”.