Hong Kong is famous for being a shopping paradise long time ago (not sure if it still is), the domination of commercial activities that drive the development of the city has long been criticized for its narrow interest in cultural development. I once heard an American professor saying that hong Kong is a big shopping mall, everywhere in the city has something to offer to attract your eye. This is of course important for shops in the most exotic districts in the Hong Kong where rents are too high to do anything stupid. It is only the most profitable business can stood its ground.
If we look at the shopping mall typology in Central, there is a rule of thumb not to design a glass facade or openings because of the loss in wall surface for the shops inside. This result is that many malls have a blank facade on the outside and window displays are showed towards the interior circulation of the mall. The only exception is the ground level where pedestrian flow is significant.
In finding a suitable typology for the museum that introduce new art to the public, I believe it is interesting to learn from the shopping mall. The similarity is to attract people’s attention and interest, even though they are not consciously seeking to consume the information. Visual attraction is crucial, thus the most attractive goods are put close to the windows, hoping to stop people and eventually get in. The difference is that a shopping mall draws in customers not because of its facade appearance but because visitors have expectations towards what shops they will encounter. In Hong Kong where citizens have a low motivation to visit art museums, the museum needs to be opened to the streets. The museum must present (in a crude manner – visually showing) what is happening inside. I don’t believe we can rely on media or simple speculation for publicizing the museum. The architecture have to naively tell the public that it has something interesting to offer by being transparent and extrovert.
Cube Store (格仔店)
One very interesting bottom-up retail philosophy is that each store has only a few interesting item to offer, most of the other items (some consider as side products) are there only to fill up the left over space so that it is still profitable. However because a store cannot be as tiny as a few square meters, it cannot shrink to its minimum because otherwise pedestrians might not notice their presence. Proposer of the distinctive Cube Store is to exploit this phenomenon, by dividing up a store into cubes of very small size, and renting them to many individual entrepreneurs who will usually focus on displaying a few products.
This metaphor to an art museum is very valid when we view the artist community in Fotan as a whole, which contains many small galleries and workshop, which are doing different things. Every one of them are focused on a slightly different topic and they only have a small amount of art work to display. Visitors would have a low motivation to visit one of these individual workshops if they are dispersed. However, located in Fotan, visitors would come and visit the artist community as a whole, as if they are visiting a village or museum. The importance of this kind of concentration is the ability for each gallery or workshop to remain distinctive and unique, be it a unique decoration of the factory space or the style of presentation they choose.
The museum could learn from the Cube Store methodology that such spatial division could be attractive to people who have no idea what the complex has to offer. The visual implication of a obviously divided space is that there are variety of arts in the museum. The museum’s role is to act as a whole in promoting the exhibits, but also acting as a hub that allows individual gallery owners to be distinguishable. This is very important for many local artist as their names are insufficient to communicate what they are about. (not like a name for example ‘Jeff Koons’ would be self explanatory and attractive.) There is a need for the museum to attract visitors to go inside, and the space designed such that artists would compete to attract visitors to their galleries.
The museum should use a dramatic ‘store-front’ scene to confront the visitors, this is done to reinforce the image that the museum is an active and exciting place. Visitors that come into the museum are first exposed to such scene and be impressed by the amount of exhibitions and galleries that the museum has, then s/he will proceed to experience the exhibitions themselves. There is a linkage to a movie scene in Star Wars showing the Galactic Senate’s Chamber, which is a hemispheric void that is surrounded by many pods. The setting allows a direct visual contact with everyone in the chamber, and if anyone is making a speech, the pod of the speaker can fly into the space to gain spatial importance. I believe there could be some architectural exploration that investigate into this changeable/adaptable configuration, where the museum could indicate spatial importance in a different way. This could perhaps be a light signal or a dynamic system that could indicate extra information for visitors, for example the popularity of the gallery or how soon will an exhibition be closed.
Similar to the idea of a medieval turrets that protrudes from a castle, which gain a significant spatial significance. Each divided gallery could be allowed to change its spatial significance, to emphasis certain exhibitions or to give a visual guide to visitors. Otherwise, in a static configuration, some galleries could have a permanently higher significance, while it would be arranged to feature some permanent exhibition or important temporary exhibition.