SWA Group recently completed the public realm of Xiqu Center, the new home for Chinese opera and a prestigious world-class performance venue. Located in the densely populated West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) in Hong Kong, the venue opened its doors to the public earlier this year, offering the city a public realm experience that is both memorable and unusual.
As the city's new precinct for arts and culture, WKCD is a new multi-billion-dollar hub aiming to attract both tourists and locals with theaters, music venues, a museum, restaurants, shops, and more. The result of a high-profile international design competition, Xiqu Center made its mark in the district as the first performance venue, as well as the first venue globally specifically designed for classical Chinese opera. In another first, Xiqu Center offers an exciting new paradigm for public realm space that is a dramatic alternative to the typically small-scaled outdoor public spaces common to Hong Kong.
Working closely with Revery Architecture, SWA's scope of work entailed designing the entire ground level, which features a dramatic, naturally ventilated open-air interior courtyard. At once indoor and outdoor, Xiqu's ground floor serves as an urban stage, designed to facilitate movement, provide a gathering space and enhance the visitor experience. Here, landscape and architecture blend seamlessly, creating a theater of public life that adds another dimension to the building's offering of operatic performance.
"The decision to suspend the building's main theater 90 feet in the air enabled an innovative approach to a constricted site, opening up the entire ground level as public space," explained landscape architect John Wong, FASLA, FAAR, design principal and chairman of SWA. "It results in a new paradigm of an open, shaded, protective and generous public plaza in Hong Kong's legendary dense urban fabric."
Groupings of trees at each entry and in the central space blur the distinction between interior and exterior. "Qi"- a central concept to the project - is expressed in both the dynamic architectural and landscape design, with materials, colors, forms, and textures united throughout. Defined as energy or flow, "Qi" is expressed in the curvilinear paths and forms woven throughout the multi-level structure, making it possible for active programming and for pedestrian visitors to flow into and through the venue.
"The most welcoming element is the covered civic plaza at the ground level, where people from all walks of life can gather," said landscape architect Mandana Parvinian, Associate Principal at SWA. "The landscape design blends with and echoes the architecture, bringing life to this unique public space. It's open on three corners for anyone to freely enter and enjoy the performances on the plaza's elevated and shaded center stage."
The building's exterior is curved three-dimensionally, with arched openings strategically located at all corners and a lifted façade enabling three main entry areas access to the ground level. Each entry-level is determined by the surrounding site conditions, which capture the flow of pedestrians at multiple levels-whether the neighboring below-grade transportation and commercial hub or the ground-level Centre and the Cultural District. On the site's ground level which also serves as the building's interior, SWA introduced topography, which involved grading and sloping planes along with a grand curving stairway, ramp, and amphitheater to connect them. The box office is tucked below the amphitheater seating. From outside to inside, SWA designed paving that helps to unify the building's ground level, first and second floors, as well as two outdoor gardens flanking the main performance hall on the 4th (top) floor.
The Xiqu Centre design offers a journey of transition from urban site to a cultural landscape. From the Xiqu Courtyard, patrons travel by escalators to the view terrace gardens, with the landscape and theatre experience closely intertwined with majestic views towards Victoria Harbor. A new entrance to the subway, as well as the creation of an outdoor urban garden, enables the building to step back from the noisy, heavily trafficked street. There, a parterre of planting and seating provide separation, as well as a dedicated setting for the entry to the iconic new center. A stunning public amphitheater with an outdoor performance area caps off this vibrant urban destination for the WKCD.
Photography: David Lloyd, Courtesy SWA Group