The Asia Society Becomes the First U.S. Museum to Open a Satellite in China
BLOUIN ART, INTERNATIONAL EDITION
January 25, 2012
by Janelle Zara
New York-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects are slated to open a project next month that’s spent ten years in the pipeline: The Asia Society Hong Kong, the first American museum satellite ever to open in China.
“It’s a major new building initiative that allows us to extend our reach into Asia with a physical complex,” Asia Society director Melissa Chiu told ARTINFO. “We all know that Asia is growing in political and economic importance, and so by opening a building in Hong Kong it’s a major architectural statement about Hong Kong’s past and future. We’re also able to make a statement about the growing connections between the U.S. and Asia.”
The architecture firm’s designs for the first official home of the Asia Society Hong Kong, founded in 1990 by local community leaders, transformed a campus of four heritage buildings dating back to Hong Kong’s English period. Built by the British army in the mid-19th century, the buildings were used as explosives magazines to process and package gunpowder. After being turned over to the Navy and subsequently to the British government for storage use, they were left vacant in the 1980s. As some of the few remaining traces of England’s presence in the city, they hold an importance place in its cultural history.
In this $49.5 million project, the architects restored and re-adapted the four buildings and added a fifth, taking into consideration its surroundings. Contrary to the Hong Kong’s numerous, tightly-packed skyscrapers, the complex sets itself apart by emphasizing its horizontal space, at its highest rising only two and a half stories. Resonating with the Society’s goal of bridging together the old and the new, and East and the West, the architects also built a double-decker footbridge connecting the new building with the heritage building. The magazines have been converted into an exhibition space, a theater, lecture halls, and a gallery, and the new building features a store, café, rooftop garden, and permanent exhibition illustrating the facility’s transformation.
Following the vision of John D. Rockefeller, who found the Asia Society in 1956 to promote the understanding of Asian culture, the 11th (and first overseas) location’s will feature inaugural exhibition, “Transforming Minds: Buddhism in Art” showcases 6th-century relics from Rockefeller’s collection of Asian art together with work by contemporary Asian and Asian American artists like Michael Joo, Mariko Mori, and Zhang Huan. This will be the first time most of the works will be shown in Hong Kong.
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