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Book explores cultural issues in Kowloon

by Alex Yu on Feb 23, 2015 in Lifestyle
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Developed over five years, the recent publication by MCCM, Kowloon Cultural District — An Investigation into Spatial Capabilities in Hong Kong by co-editors Professor Li Shiqiao and Professor Esther Lorenz, declares Kowloon as a cultural district already in formation, as a parallel proposal to the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD)

With the installation Cabinet of Curiosities exhibited Hong Kong & Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism Architecture 2009-2010, how did your idea develop over the mentor-student and curator-visitor interactions it condenses into this book?

Constructing the Biennale exhibition in Hong Kong challenged us to make cultural issues accessible and we were encouraged by visitors’ interaction with the exhibit. We thought carefully about ways of reinventing the Cabinet of Curiosities under three sections of the book: ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ (the evolving potential for the culture of Kowloon), ‘Archives’ (the popularisation of discovered treasures for a wider cultural impact) and ‘Retrievals’ (the opening up of new possibilities for new cabinets of curiosities).

In the book there are many treasures of Kowloon highlighted for their ‘spatial intelligence’ — which examples are the most memorable to you?

One of the significant aspects of the book is to invent visual forms for aspects of culture which otherwise do not exist visually (e.g. smells, languages, etcetera). Through visualisation and spatialisation, these aspects of culture become tangible; they provide us with an intellectual basis for archiving and reflection.

All the ‘found things’ in the book come from personal experiences of contributors including ourselves, but we would like to emphasise that this book is a critical project: we treasure the notion of ‘cabinet of curiosities’ because of its amazing potential to generate something akin to culture. Culture is more than personal sentiments; it is a carefully-orchestrated collective effort.

The ‘Archive’ demonstrates the viability of discovered treasures with a much wider cultural significance, maintaining the unique spatial character of Hong Kong. ‘Retrievals’ are critical in terms of providing us with a capacity to rethink and reformulate conventions, opening up new possibilities for new cabinets of curiosities.

Developed over five years, the recent publication by MCCM, Kowloon Cultural District — An Investigation into Spatial Capabilities in Hong Kong by co-editors Professor Li Shiqiao and Professor Esther Lorenz, declares Kowloon as a cultural district already in formation, as a parallel proposal to the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD)

What is your take on urban planning for Kowloon, given that it is a red-hot issue in Hong Kong?

Any concern for culture is simultaneously a concern for the city. While it may be straightforward to build a cultural district from scratch, it is certainly more important to understand what the city has already achieved in terms of urban culture and its own unique spatial typologies.

Aristotle says that a city is not made from the same kind of people; similarly, urban culture is not the result of a singular act of design. Urban culture thrives in richly layered physical and social environments such as the one in Kowloon, involving multiple holders of rights and multiple custodians of traditions.

An unavoidable question would arguably be: with the entire book dedicated to challenging the idea of Kowloon as already being a cultural district — what would be your opinion of the actual WKCD when it is finally completed?

There is no doubt the WKCD will become a valued venue for the exchange of world cultures that are increasingly important in the social and economic life of cities, but this should come in parallel with an equally important pursuit of rooted cultural activities. Both the government and the public should be open to both kinds of cultural productions, as they complement one another.

We hope that only the venues in WKCD will be ‘completed’ and that the process of culture will continue to evolve. We hope that the venues and the cultural practices in WKCD will attain a dynamic balance with the assistance of cultural policies and urban strategies in Hong Kong.

How do you personally want to engage, or want to inspire your readers to take part, in the transformation of Kowloon in the future and to popularise local heritage?

Both of us come from the dual background of practice and academia, and we are certainly ready to act from both perspectives. We want to engage our readers to take pride in what a location has to offer in terms of culture and in developing critical culture – and that they would enjoy taking their own steps beyond the limitations of the book to approach the urban environment from a fresh perspective and with appreciation and imagination.

Developed over five years, the recent publication by MCCM, Kowloon Cultural District — An Investigation into Spatial Capabilities in Hong Kong by co-editors Professor Li Shiqiao and Professor Esther Lorenz, declares Kowloon as a cultural district already in formation, as a parallel proposal to the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD)

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