The stunning new ‘City Gallery’ by the Planning Department of the HKSAR Government, which takes as its theme the city’s planning and infrastructure, has now opened within Hong Kong’s City Hall Annexe. London- and Hong-Kong-based experiential designers MET Studio acted as the lead exhibition consultant on the project, working in collaboration with joint venture partners Oval Partnership, whilst all architectural works were by the Architectural Services Department, HKSAR Government.
The new gallery saw the City Hall Annex building renovated and adapted from office use to become a dedicated 3,200 sq m planning exhibition venue, with the 1,500 sq m gallery created from an extension of an existing gallery space on the ground floor. As well as the permanent exhibition areas, the venue also now includes a major introductory audio visual show space, which will double as an events and seminar multi-purpose hall. There is a further new space for thematic exhibitions on the ground floor and an integrated resource centre on the fourth floor.
“The limited footprint and restricted ceiling height of the existing building created a number of design challenges that were met with creative innovation”, explained MET Studio Design Director Neil Williams, who works from MET Studio’s dedicated Hong Kong office. Vertical connections have been added in key locations joining floors, with slots and view paths and openings were added in unusual areas to create a dynamic and complex space for visitors to explore. “There were three main focus elements to the design”, Neil Williams added. “The first was to evoke the collective memory of Hong Kong residents via uniquely Hong Kong features, including red market lighting, neon signage and old metal folding gates, so that the exhibition would resonate strongly with local people and create a sense of immediate ownership of the space. The second was to create spaces that were complex and challenging to encourage visitors to explore and to revisit the exhibit, whilst the third was to make the information flow two-way with feedback built into the exhibit design, reflecting the open and engaging nature of the planning process.”
The ground floor includes a spacious lobby for groups to gather. Moveable door panels can be opened up so that a flexible area for temporary themed exhibitions forms an integral part of the lobby when not in use. Although the four-storey exhibit begins on the ground floor, it then moves up to the third floor via a dedicated escalator, from where visitors come back down to the ground floor exit one level at a time.
Exhibits on the ground floor help visitors orientate themselves, learn about the history and re-use of the building itself and provide a global city context for Hong Kong. The ‘Unique Hong Kong’ area of the gallery includes double and triple height spaces with image, audio and video content that challenges visitors to consider what Hong Kong is all about. A strong palette of red tones was used throughout to contrast with the deep grey colours of the building and to create a warm and welcoming entrance. Red duotone graphic details from famous local buildings have been printed directly onto some of the wall panels to add texture and local context. The ‘Unique Hong Kong’ area deals with first impressions and the images, sounds and Vox-Pop recordings used here all refer to well known locations, cultural icons and other reasons to appreciate this unique city. Throughout, there are small boxes, which visitors can open to discover images and audio clips. These include the classic special-event fireworks over the harbour but also reference, for example classic canto-pop songs, local wildlife, the sounds of trams, excerpts from comedy film and people ordering lunch in Hong Kong style restaurants.
The escalator journey from the ground up to the third floor forms a core part of the ‘Unique Hong Kong’ experience with video and audio effects, as well as intriguing views through to other spaces. Representations of classic Hong Kong neon signage were added to create a distinctly local feel. On arrival at the third floor, visitors go into a ‘must-see’ introductory AV show, which covers the history of Hong Kong’s development from a sleepy island to a modern-day world city. The dynamic show focuses heavily on recent past, present and future developments of the territory, with elements including projection onto a full scale wall model of Hong Kong and a larger scale floor model covering the core harbour area. Video and images are projected at either side of the model on large screens that can be split into segments or used as one giant projection surface.
During seminars and forums, the floor model can be moved into a specially designed storage space to allow flexibility for a multi-purpose hall with a 180-seat capacity. On the third floor visitors can also interactively discover who plans Hong Kong and how the public can get involved during consultations. In the same gallery area – which also has a great view out over the harbour – visitors can also interact with rolling map, which show how the coastline and skyline of the city have changed since the 1840’s. Selecting highlighted areas of the maps triggers fun audio visual animations explaining why certain streets were given their names.
As visitors move down to the second floor, the gallery begins with a link to the initial ‘Unique Hong Kong’ area. Visitors can see through an opening to the lower floors, including all the way down to the ground floor. This connection is enhanced by the further use of the red panel designs, which reference to some of the content themes. For example, the beginning of the floor includes overt reference to the Hong Kong MTR (Mass Transit Railway) with props and signage adding authenticity. This ties in with a later section on the second floor where the content deals with transportation and the interior has a strong link to the Hong Kong MTR design, including a reclaimed MTR bench.
The ‘Strategic Picture’ area includes a video introduction, together with a large interactive table that can be used by up to eight people at once. From this digital database visitors can find out all about the Hong Kong 2030 Planning Strategy. The design of the table was developed as a back projection, partly to resolve the issue of the height restrictions, but also to add to the vertical connection between the floors. The glass projection surface can be seen from the ground floor and through opening on the first floor. The final area of the second floor highlights the subjects of ‘Sustainable and Green Hong Kong’. Here MET Studio used renewable bamboo and recycled acoustic panels and materials to provide an appropriate and comfortable environment.
As visitors go down to the first floor, they move into a further ‘Unique Hong Kong’ area – this time referencing the city’s heritage, with vox pops on heritage subjects and features including Chinese brick tiles, old street signs and a reconstituted ‘wall tree’ The area also includes views into the ground floor void space and across the escalator. Also on this floor, the ‘Living Environment’ exhibition area includes hands on exhibits using translucent glass back projection and augmented reality. Here visitors can explore some of the more technical issues involved in planning in an intuitive and engaging way. The ‘Heritage’ section of the Gallery again uses the Chinese brick finish in combination with wooden floors and mosaics. Inside the ‘Heritage’ debate chamber, visitors can sit on real Star Ferry seats and vote using interactive buttons at the end of each debate sequence.
The final area of the exhibition is entitled ‘Hong Kong Next Century’ and here the designers took a more philosophical approach. As no one can predict the future with any certainty, visitors are instead encouraged to make up their own minds. The centre of the space includes a cut-out map of Hong Kong, onto which visitors place building blocks and, inside them, a written wish for the future. The surrounding walls are designed to allow for a changing display of images, both on poster holders and on video. Here the Planning Department can show local school ideas or a selection of fun posters, for example, showing visions of the future from past decades, whilst inspirational quotations on the walls can also be taken down and relocated making the space adaptable as a thematic space.
Alex McCuaig, Chairman of MET Studio added, “We are delighted to have completed this complex and challenging project, which also highlights our company’s long and successful interaction with the city of Hong Kong, where we have designed many major visitor centres and corporate showrooms over our thirty-year history as a design agency, from Telecom World and the Drug Info Centre to the Hong Kong Wetland Park.”Location: 3 Edinburgh Place, Central, Hong Kong Exhibition Design: MET Studio with Oval Partnership
Client: Planning Department, HKSAR Government
Architect/Project Mgr: Architectural Services Department, HKSAR Government
Identity Design: Kan & Lau Design Consultants
Time frame : 2008 – 2012
Size : 1,500 sq m (exhibition area) / 3,200 sq m (total area)
Contract Sum (exhibition): HK$48,500,000
M&E Consultant: CSA (M&E) Ltd
AV Consultant: Ihd Ltd
Lighting Consultant: Creative Lighting Asia Ltd
Graphics Consultant: Hybrid Ltd
Main Contractor and Sub-contractors :
Main Contractors: Wing-Hing (architecture) / Hypsos (exhibition)
Film Production: Yu+Co [LAB] Ltd
Audio Visual Hardware: PCCW
Model Making: RJ Models