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Pipe dream

Architects SO-IL have made waves at the new K11 arts centre in Hong Kong’s Victoria Dockside

- PHOTOGRAPH­Y: CHESTER ONG WRITER: CATHERINE SHAW

K11 Musea’s new art and cultural centre is having a ripple effect in Hong Kong’s Victoria Dockside

Adrian Cheng was a child when he first visited IM Pei’s revolution­ary glass and metal pyramid at the Louvre. It was, he says, his first experience of architectu­re that ‘activates the soul’. ‘I remember being mesmerised by the architectu­ral purity of the pyramid architectu­re and the daring juxtaposit­ion of old and new,’ Cheng recalls. The founder of artisanal-focused lifestyle brand K11, and CEO of Hong Kong-based New World Developmen­t, Cheng has been the creative driving force behind K11 Musea, a groundbrea­king art-retail complex that opened in 2019 in Hong Kong’s Victoria Dockside cultural district (see W*247).

For the new K11 Art & Cultural Centre, a 6,000 sq m exhibition space with 1,000 sq m sculpture park on the sixth floor of K11 Musea, Cheng was keen to make a visual statement that bridges architectu­re, urbanism, landscape and public space. So he did not balk when Brooklyn-based architectu­ral studio SO-IL proposed an undulating glass façade that would require investment to develop a revolution­ary way of folding sheets of glass to create 9m-high, 0.9m-wide tubes.

Cheng had already noticed SO-IL founders Jing Liu and Florian Idenburg’s intriguing grand canopy for the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art in Davis, California, and their organic façade for Kukje Gallery’s K3 building in Seoul. He was convinced that they would be able to design something elegantly simple yet distinctiv­e for the new gallery space. It was not the ideal time to invent a new process for making glass: the designers had to move quickly to fit into K11 Musea’s tight constructi­on timeline. The architects’ vision included rethinking the architectu­ral typology of cultural buildings, moving away from the idea of a cloistered sanctuary and using a glass façade to create something literally transparen­t and connected to the world around it. But to achieve their vision, they would need to create 307 sheer, seamless glass columns.

‘Most traditiona­l museums are enclosed volumes, but we wanted it to have a strong connection with the context and feel part of the urban space, so we knew»

we couldn’t have a typical curtain wall,’ Liu explains. Working with engineers Eckersley O’callaghan, the studio undertook a worldwide search to find manufactur­ers to make the slender glass columns with an unusually tight diameter of less than a metre (most manufactur­ers recommend at least 2m widths), but no visual distortion­s or colour tint.

Spanish architectu­ral glass manufactur­er Cricursa took on the challenge, and constructe­d an extra large oven to accommodat­e the glass tubes, which each weigh up to 1,200kg and are formed of two layers of laminated 12mm-thick glass. The process called for precise control of heat, and the design of a new moulding system, using massive sheets of metal instead of convention­al clamps to hold each tube in place for eight hours. The manufactur­ing process took a year to complete, during which the architects built models in their Brooklyn studio, then made larger mock-ups at Cricursa’s workshop in Spain, and in Germany, where the façade contractor­s Seele are based, constantly refining the process and planning the installati­on.

‘We like to work closely with people who make and innovate things,’ Liu says. ‘Computer modelling doesn’t always allow you to grasp the tactile experience and figure out what the limits are.’

The duo also drew on their experience of working in Japan (where Idenburg was with architectu­re studio SANAA for eight years and where the pair met) to ensure the glass façade would blur the boundaries between inside and out. ‘We wanted the threshold to feel more nuanced with layers of transition, so that even when you are inside the galleries, you feel outside and connect with the wider context,’ Liu explains.

Natural daylight is a key component of this experience. The designers added a series of scalloped aluminium screens, suspended from the ceiling, which filter direct sunlight to protect works of art exhibited in the galleries flanking the sculpture park. They also worked with London-based lighting consultant­s Speirs + Major to integrate ultra-fine continuous LED light strips within the miniscule space between each glass column, to allow the façade to be illuminate­d at night without affecting the interiors.

‘Glass is deceptivel­y difficult to get right, and this form had never been done before, so we didn’t know exactly how it would look until the façade was installed,’ admits Cheng. ‘But I could see that SO-IL was pushing the materialit­y of glass to the point where its soft shape would create the feel of a sculpture park within a sculpture without taking away from the art.’

Cheng sees himself as both curator and creator when it comes to his projects, and says he always follows his instincts when selecting architects. ‘I know what I want when it comes to creating soul in a project, so before I commission a designer, I want to see if they understand that, and are able to narrate the experience, values and spirit of the space,’ he says. ‘Then I leave it to them. We have to trust each other.’ *

K11 Art & Cultural Centre, 6/F, K11 Musea, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong , k11musea.com

‘Glass is deceptivel­y difficult to get right, and this form had never been done before, so we didn’t know how the façade would look until it was installed’

 ??  ?? Right, the new art museum, located on the sixth and seventh floors of cultural-retail complex K11 Musea, features a striking façade, comprising more than 300 glass tubes
Right, the new art museum, located on the sixth and seventh floors of cultural-retail complex K11 Musea, features a striking façade, comprising more than 300 glass tubes
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 ??  ?? Above, the sculpture park features artworks by the likes of Katharina Grosse, Erwin Wurm and KAWS Opposite, above, the glass tubes were fabricated in Barcelona and are 9m high and 0.9m wide Opposite, below, K11 founder Adrian Cheng in front of an artwork by Turner Prize winner Oscar Murillo
Above, the sculpture park features artworks by the likes of Katharina Grosse, Erwin Wurm and KAWS Opposite, above, the glass tubes were fabricated in Barcelona and are 9m high and 0.9m wide Opposite, below, K11 founder Adrian Cheng in front of an artwork by Turner Prize winner Oscar Murillo
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