Xiqu Centre, Hong Kong

Pic: Ema Peter

Located on the eastern edge of Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, the Xiqu Centre’s striking design, created by Revery Architecture (formerly Bing Thom Architects) and Ronald Lu & Partners, is inspired by traditional Chinese lanterns and blends classic and contemporary elements to reflect the evolving nature of the art form. Stepping through the main entrance, shaped to resemble parted stage curtains, visitors are led directly into a lively atrium with a raised podium and space for presenting the rich and ancient culture of Chinese traditional theatre.

The eight-storey building covers 28,164sqm and houses a Grand Theatre, a Tea House Theatre, eight professional studios and a seminar hall, all specially designed for different types of functions and activities related to Xiqu (Chinese opera). The design details of each of the facilities have also been created in response to the practical requirements and aesthetic features of the art form. A unique feature of the venue is the location of the Grand Theatre at the top of the building, which allows for a large open atrium below with space for exhibitions, stalls, and Xiqu demonstrations and workshops.

In terms of lighting at the Xiqu Centre, a strong conceptual vision of ‘Qi’ energy flow was fundamental to every decision made, as was the inspiring iconic imagery of the Xiqu art form. As such, lighting design studio HLB used layers of light to reinforce the flow and enhance the juxtaposition of richly textured architectural materials with paper-thin architectural transparencies and pristine white sculptural forms to heighten the experience of motion and discovery. 

Brought onto the project by Revery Architecture, HLB harnessed its multifaceted experience of working on performing arts venues around the world and while the results appear effortless at Xiqu Centre, the level of attention to detail required by the entire team was substantial, as Teal Brogden, Senior Principal at HLB, explained: “The concepts were established early-on, yet the selection and refinement of products and strategies to accomplish these goals was a multi-year process. A detailed technical performance specification was established and both local and international products were vetted for quality and performance, which resulted in the following brands being specified: Tokistar, Osram Traxon, AlphaLED, LED Linear, Thorn, Signify Color Kinetics, Whitegoods, MP Lighting, Bega, Lumenpulse, We-ef, Mike Stoane Lighting, Lumascape and Schreder.

“Numerous spreadsheets compared costs and performance metrics to assess relative value and suitability. Once narrowed to a reasonable few, samples were acquired, and mock-ups performed. To enhance decision making, the architect and owner were heavily involved in the process, with conversations continuously returning to the overall project goals and the importance of each product’s long-term performance for this important cultural asset.

“The architect encouraged our team to develop unique concepts for the lighting and we were well aligned from the beginning of the project so that the sculptural layers of the architecture would be revealed and enhanced with light.”

As one of the first projects to accomplish the new Hong Kong Green Building Council’s BEAM Plus Gold rating, HLB’s primary goal was to set a new standard for sustainable lighting design. While many surrounding buildings have a discernible ‘light shadow’ projected into the sky, this isn’t the case at Xiqu Centre. 

“As the building is down-washed with light, no direct-beam illumination is presented to the sky,” Clifton Manahan, Senior Associate at HLB, told arc. “At one-tenth of the overall luminance in comparison to its neighbours, the soft glimmer of the façade, coupled with the more intensely illuminated interiors, strikes the perfect balance to sit proudly on the waterfront as a symbol of both the past and future of creative expression.”

As a way of welcoming the public and inspiring engagement, the ground level plaza is considered a public park – open 24 hours with lectures and small performances sprinkled throughout the day. While shade is a valuable commodity in the summer months, the symbolic cluster of trees needed more light than the available daylight could provide, which necessitated grow lights. In addition, the concept of an open-air park suggested a luminous surround – for HLB, these needs fitted well with the desire for a layered sculptural experience.

Inside, the project uses a lot of concealed, linear lighting, creating a glowing impression, while hiding the light sources. According to Manahan this was a conscious decision as the intent was to highlight and complement the architecture without calling attention to the luminaires themselves – this approach was again inspired by the concept of the flow of Qi. As well as this, the unique architectural concept of the building played a part in the decisions made behind the lighting, “with many of the organic curved shapes requiring complicated detail coordination to ensure they were subtly highlighted without causing glare or distracting shadows.”

“General performance and plant grow lighting for the main atrium was limited to the perimeter of the ceiling for architectural integration and maintenance access,” continued Manahan. “This required coordinated architectural detailing and lighting aiming verification and documentation. The luminous lantern panels in the façade – that peek through the curtainwall – have internal office spaces behind them in some cases, permitting filtered daylight into these spaces. The lighting solution here needed to be transparent in the daytime while producing the desired effect at night; as such, strategic areas of 12mm pixel transparent mesh were used to satisfy the multiple requirements.”

While the main atrium is incredibly bright, the theatre space is much darker. Brogden explained how the team used light to complement this contrast between the two spaces: “In theatre, as well as in architecture, the use of contrast creates drama,” she said. “The journey to the theatre – through three levels of bright white architecture – sets the stage for the unexpected and dramatic ‘reveal’ upon entering the performance hall. The architectural materials do most of the work, yet the lighting ties it all together with similar themes of layering and flow – or Qi.” 

Despite these contrasts, the building feels like one unified, coherent lighting scheme and as mentioned, this was achieved through carefully crafted cove details that tie all of the public spaces together. “The open spaces utilise diffuse linear indirect cove lights onto curving surfaces to create glow and highlight the organic shapes,” said Manahan. “In the performance spaces, linear direct grazing lights have been used on surfaces to enhance the luxurious textures of the walls, fabrics and curtains.”

The completed project successfully creates an impressive, modern, public gathering space and prestigious performance hall that brings the indigenous Chinese opera art form into the modern age. Subtle references to Chinese culture and art remind Hong Kong of its past, while looking towards the aesthetic of the future. The simple, yet unique façade appearance hints at the activity inside and helps promote tourism and activity as the anchor to the West Kowloon Cultural District.

“The team’s greatest challenge on this project was to maintain design excellence while working with a multinational team,” concluded Brogden. “We had to address a tight budget, aggressive schedules, a complex programme and a unique procurement process. Persistence, advocacy and collaboration accomplished the goal. 

“Due to the tight budget constraints, the lighting design team was unable to perform close-out aim-and-focus services that would traditionally provide the important fine tuning for a project this complex. An elaborate system of mark-ups and remote guidance to the architectural team, as well as strong local manufacturer representatives, helped us all work together to bring the project to a successful conclusion.

“I would like to take this opportunity to especially honour two key design team leaders who passed away during the project tenure – Bing Thom, CM, founder of Bing Thom Architects and Francis Yan, Director at Bing Thom Architects, their leadership and fierce commitment to the inspiring possibilities of architecture were our guiding lights.”

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