WOMAN'S VOICE 1: [Cantonese] Art museum? Never been there. It hasn’t opened yet. Years in the making, and it still hasn’t opened.
WOMAN'S VOICE 2: [Cantonese] I don’t know what a museum or art gallery is. I only know of the Space Museum where you can see stars in the sky. The sky is vast and beautiful.
WOMAN'S VOICE 3: [Cantonese] The wax museum, right? With [sculptures of] people like Andy Lau, right?
WOMAN'S VOICE 4: [Cantonese] I’ve been to the Chinese University of Hong Kong to see my daughter’s artworks on display. I’m not very familiar with anything else.
WOMAN'S VOICE 5: I would expect an art museum is a unique and modern construction.
WOMAN’S VOICE 6: [Cantonese] Big, quiet, not so crowded.
MAN'S VOICE: [Cantonese] A place packed with hipsters. A place that’s Instagrammable.
CHILD'S VOICE: [Cantonese] Hmm . . . I have no idea.
WOMAN'S VOICE 7: [Cantonese] I’d expect to find some relatively famous works in a museum.
WOMAN'S VOICE 8: Maybe some paintings, but also some sculptures, some installations, perhaps some video art—a wide variety of things.
WOMAN'S VOICE 9: [Cantonese] I want to look at a lot of special works. I have no idea what will be in there, but still, I hope to go inside and have a look. I want to find out if I know how to appreciate [the works].
WOMAN'S VOICE 10: [Cantonese] The exhibits are there, but you may not see them as exhibits. They are presented in such a way that you are invited to interact with them.
CHILD'S VOICE: [Cantonese] What is an art museum?
VICTOR LO: [Cantonese] Around the year 2000, our government established a cultural committee. One of the major proposals it made was to develop the West Kowloon Cultural District. I was invited to chair the Museums Advisory Group. We published a proposal in 2006. The group consisted of ten to twenty members who were representatives from the arts and cultural sectors. There were rounds of panel discussions and many consultations with people from the sector before we rolled out the report on M+ in 2006.
LARS NITTVE: The name ‘M+’ comes from—it was really a working title once upon a time, when it was being formulated, the idea of this museum. And it really means ‘museum and more’; a museum and beyond a museum we know. What we call art, what we call design and architecture, moving image. So, the wide sort of visual culture field.
SUHANYA RAFFEL: We’ve always been experimental on one hand, looking at the first ‘Mobile M+’ exhibitions actually on the West Kowloon site before we became a building site, while also looking at bringing exhibitions into the city itself as pop-ups.
VICTOR LO: [Cantonese] Around 2009 and 2010, the Executive Director of M+ at the time, Lars, and I paid visits to renowned architects overseas. We invited about 50 architecture [firms] to submit expressions of interest. We shortlisted six to take part in the competition. Three were based in Asia. Three were based in Europe and the United States.
In the end, we felt that Herzog & de Meuron’s proposal thought through our brief in great detail. Also, the form of the building was rather simple, but we had a feeling that it was going to be a timeless design. One more thing was that we studied their architectural designs around the world. They do not adhere to one particular style. For each project, they take into account the local context as well as culture and background. We really appreciated this approach.
PIERRE DE MEURON: At the beginning, we were a little bit lost, to be honest. As we know, this is reclaimed land. So it is, we can say, artificial. It’s artificial land that has been gained from the water, from the sea. So, this artificial land, what is it? Then we discovered three or four dotted lines. We understood that this is the metro tunnel, which goes under our site.
JACQUES HERZOG: Every other participant in the competition saw that, I think, as a hindering obstacle, you know—this tunnel. I almost immediately understood that this was also a chance. And we said, ‘Let’s use that tunnel, you know. Let’s give it a good side.’ So, without needing to invent form, we already were given a kind of a shape, and we liked that. We liked to find something rather than to invent all the time.
WIM WALSCHAP: Because in the competition brief, the tunnel was seen as a problem, something that should somehow be avoided from a technical point of view. If you then decide to expose it, then you need to find another solution, and that’s bridging over [it]. Knowing that this tunnel is then also running diagonally through the site under the building, there is quite a big part of the site where you cannot bring vertical loads to the ground.
JOHNNY WONG: [Cantonese] We cannot apply any pressure onto [the tunnel], so we built these mega-trusses, which support the construction of the building. This is the first time that this method has been applied at a construction site in Hong Kong.
WIM WALSCHAP: The truss, in and of itself, is not a new technique, but maybe you’re not expecting that in this kind of building. You find that normally in big infrastructural buildings or projects. And now, all of a sudden, it’s part of a museum, and then you have to find ways to get it integrated. We didn’t want to hide them. We wanted to make them part of the architecture. Not fully exposed, but you‘ll get fragments, and you’ll understand that this is about bringing the forces and the loads down away from that tunnel.
PIERRE DE MEURON: Together with this horizontal slab or horizontal volume with this upside-down ‘T’ shape, this gives the identity to M+. You don’t know any other museum which has that. So, as much as we want to root the building not only on the site, but also into a culture, that it is something that the culture or the people can also understand. So, it’s not only the form but also how you materialise this building.
ASCAN MERGENTHALER: Typically, commercial buildings in the Hong Kong context are glass and steel, or aluminium, or metal. We want to steer away from this, and that’s why we were looking at what else is there. Of course, in the Asian context, ceramics have a very long-standing tradition. It’s the construction material, so to speak, from temples, roofs. [It’s] very durable, very beautiful, and can take on any kind of shape.
ANDREW SIMPSON: The factory is located very close to Florence. But at that location there is a strong culture and a history of working with ceramics. So it’s actually an excellent solution for us. We’re dealing with people who are real experts in their field and true craftsmen. The tiles themselves are made from mineral components. It’s essentially natural clays that are developed. These are then cleaned and filtered, and then they’re extruded through a mould. Once they’re extruded, they have to be dried and baked. And at that time, once they’ve gone through this drying and curing process, they’re effectively like a one-centimetre thick biscuit.
ASCAN MERGENTHALER: In early mock-ups, we found out it’s adapting very well to the different light conditions. So, [the tiles] can be really dark, almost black. Sometimes, it can be an almost golden, olive kind of colour, depending on the sun and the time of the day.
ANDREW SIMPSON: Then they go through a series of quality assurance, quality checking, and then they’re very carefully packed into crates. And then they’re shipped over to China, where they’ll be assembled into the precast units.
AU KA FAI: [Cantonese] As you know, Hong Kong is a subtropical zone; there can be around eight to ten typhoons every year. [The facade’s] performance needs to achieve a standard that can endure the average wind force of the past fifty years. What we are testing now—in fact, in every test, the standard has reached an average wind speed of 100 kilometres per hour, which means that it simulates the building being attacked by rain equivalent to the force of a Typhoon Signal Number 10.
FUNG TAK ON: [Cantonese] Fair-faced concrete refers to concrete left in its raw state without any decoration on its surface. There are two types here: one has a smooth surface; the other one with a wood pattern. This one is special. On its finished surface, you can see the wood pattern.
HO TAT MAN: [Cantonese] Its production has several steps: planing and choosing the wood before the formwork mould can be made. After the polishing is done and the work is considered acceptable, we apply a mould release agent onto the wood. After the concrete is poured. That's when we can call it the final product.
FUNG TAK ON: I definitely want to finish this job and one day return to see what I’ve achieved.
ASCAN MERGENTHALER: On the ground floor, we picked specific vertical elements and introduced like—for example, where we have mechanical systems and ducts behind [the wall], which we clad with this ceramic cladding, which is reminiscent or is the same [as what] we’re using for the facade outside. And therefore, we bring suddenly something from the outside to the inside of the building, and that also blurs again—one more time—these boundaries between inside and outside.
The museum is also a little piece of infrastructure. It’s a very powerful tool you can then work and play with in very different ways. That’s why we introduce this diversity in finishes, in lighting, in proportions—all these kinds of different things.
People touching the bench that they're sitting on, or touching the ceramic tiles, or the cinema with textile walls and soft chairs and so on. That’s what we want to attract all these different senses of the people.
PIERRE DE MEURON: Surrounded by high-rises, you cannot compete with them. I could compete with making them 100 metres higher, but this is for a commercial building, not for a museum. So, we had to find a shape, an expression, an identity that can be itself, you know, as strong as the much, much higher buildings.
ASCAN MERGENTHALER: And that immediately gave us this idea of this other extreme display space. The LED board is nothing else than a display space. It’s a gallery, so to say. It’s the most visible gallery—it’s the gallery which is visible from the other side of the island.
JACQUES HERZOG: So, we invented this screen. We had these three elements: the screen, the podium, and the earth. So, somehow, we understood that this project was philosophically, conceptually very powerful because it’s rooted in the ground. So, it’s with the feet on the ground, on the earth and with the head in the sky. It’s very interesting, like the human figure. You have the feet and you have the head that speaks to the people that sees the sea and the sky.
DORYUN CHONG: I think what the visitors of M+ will find really surprising and striking is how the experience of the building inside is so unexpected and very different from what you might expect from outside. The building is filled with light. It’s transparent, and it’s extremely airy. The architects brilliantly used these cutaways on the floor plates between the ground floor and the basement as well as the second floor, where most of the galleries are. And the cutaways also create this soaring height of different dimensions. Sometimes, it’s more than twenty metres high. That architectural feature also creates a very interesting, irregular space that can be used for various displays or new commissions of artworks. We call this basement floor space ‘Found Space’.
M+ is a very expansive building. It has 65,000 square metres that encompass many, many different kinds of spaces and functionalities. Of 65,000 square metres, 17,000 are dedicated to displays. So, there are galleries and other kinds of display spaces. There are 33 galleries. So, at any given time, when we show our collection, it could be something the size of a postage stamp to artistic installations that could take up a whole gallery. This architectural design of our gallery spaces really brilliantly gives us different options.
The fact that we have such a wide and diverse range of spaces already sets us very well-prepared to show the numerous facets of the M+ collection. But because we have adopted this approach where no particular space is going to be dedicated or fixed to a particular medium or genre, that means that we have created a challenge for ourselves as a curatorial team. So, an example like this gallery that has just an incredible view outside. Light streaming in from the west side as well as the east side means that certain works are fine—works that have robust materiality. If it is a bronze sculpture, they’ll be fine being exposed to this kind of light condition. But if you want to show much more fragile works like photography or works on paper, then we will obviously have to do something to really control that light.
Given that, of course, we are a twenty-first-century museum, then many works are moving image or digitally based, where you have to control the light situation again but also acoustics. You should use the museum space, the gallery spaces to suit the needs and the requirements of the works and objects that we want to show because they, just like people, have their own needs and personalities.
At M+, we include experts in the area of learning and interpretation. Learning and engagement with the different stakeholders and different communities.
SUHANYA RAFFEL: We are sitting right now in the Learning Hub, which is, for me, a critical part of the museum and the institution because we want to think about what is creative practice. What do creative makers give to our communities in a city that has not, until now, given that attention to visual culture, the creative arts across performing arts and museums? I think it’s very important that we have a place that stands for the possibilities.
VERONICA CASTILLO: So ‘CSF’ stands for Conservation and Storage Facility. It includes storage spaces, conservation laboratories, and a photo studio, among other things. During the whole time of the planning for the museum, there has been a lot of work that has been happening not only with the collection and its preparation, acquisition, even conservation; we’ve also been working on exhibitions. Conservators are specialists in certain materialities. They get trained on these different materials, like the specific types of objects like wood or metal or paper-based materials, photography, painting. So they are specialised, trained people. But then when they come into a collection like this, they end up working very collaboratively. Part of the work they do is they look at the objects, inspect them, and check on their conditions—how they are. Are they going to be ready for display, to show to the public, or do they need to have some treatments in order to be stable and presentable within a gallery, for example?
For us, to design the CSF with the architects was a journey. We had to come into it together and find, then, a way to get a building that was matching the architectural intent whilst actually matching the operation. It was a very fascinating process to go through. But then you’re fighting against your climate here, right? A very high humidity and temperature [in Hong Kong]. You have to build a very robust building, which is the one we are sitting in. And that is—it really is a bit of a concrete bunker, which means it helps with the sustainability and efficiency—energy efficiency—of the building. It’s necessary to understand that conditions inside the building have to be quite stable for the collection to be preserved for future generations. I think the facility was all designed thinking about the collection, which is a very diverse collection because it’s visual culture, it’s not only art. It’s much, much more than that, which means many different materials, and each different set of materials requires different conditions to be stored and different specialisations to be preserved for conservation purposes. So, I think we were very lucky that we could actually have our Conservation and Storage Facility close to our building. And that makes it a much more efficient operation for us in the future, too.
There was something that was very critical for us as part of the mission of the institution, [which is] to be able to get the public to understand what happens and how do you get prepared for them to enjoy things in the galleries. So, one of the ways we worked on it with the architects was by providing the CSF building with a special space, which is at the ground level. So, it’s actually street level. People can walk past and look at it. It’s a very, very big window, and it looks like a showcase and like a window-shopping type of thing. And the thinking has always been that it’ll be a way to get a glimpse into the back-of-house and it’s a way for us to bridge that, to bridge the operation. You have this very big concrete building that’s in front of the big museum giving people a sense of what goes on behind that big concrete building—what goes on behind the scenes.
SUHANYA RAFFEL: We got our first founding collections as a gift from Dr Uli Sigg—the contemporary Chinese collections that anchored those first key acquisitions.
PI LI: So, when you donated the works to M+ you knew there would be a museum. Here, now, how do you feel about this reality at this moment compared with eight years ago when you had this commitment to donate to M+?
ULI SIGG: Of course, I didn’t have a very precise idea in which type of building it would end up. But of course, this is as good as any imagination I may have had at that time. I mean, it’s a fantastic gallery: it has the dimension, it has the lighting. And when it’s filled with life, whatever that life is—art, design, objects, people—of course, it will look very different from what it is now. And I still think this is the only place in the world where you will be able to read the storyline of Chinese contemporary art from its beginning: ‘78, ‘79, to today or to whatever future. Because, in my view, M+ must continue—not just Chinese contemporary art, but Hong Kong art and design—and to write it into the future. And then, where else is such a place? I wouldn’t know. But in any case ,you know, they will be able to read something about that time. That’s really the purpose of the collection.
SUHANYA RAFFEL: When M+ opens, it is the next phase of another beginning. M+ is far more than a building. It is people; it is programme; it is collection; it is an interaction and a relationship between audiences and content. It’s a museum that’s sited in a public park. So the relationship between public open space and institution is another relationship that I know, as a team, we will really think about amplifying. Visitors, for me, are an extraordinary, important part of the relationship of the institution’s meaning. Without people, the purpose of the institution is critically lost.
PIERRE DE MEURON: We want to have an inviting space. The museum is not like a door or a gate which says: ‘Come on. You are outside. I'm the museum.’ On the contrary, it’s the case that we want to have this covered plaza in the museum itself.
DORYUN CHONG: There are so many different possible journeys for visitors. We could be a place where somebody might want to just spend an hour of free time that they may have. We could be a place where a family comes to spend half a day or all day. So, this is a place where you could choose to go to one particular thing to see but also you can have multiple, diverse experiences in any given day.
ASCAN MERGENTHALER: I think one aspect is really this idea of curiosity. I think we really want to lure people in and almost provide them a protected space from sun and rain. Basically just a space where they’re happy to go, and then they will discover things.
WIM WALSCHAP: Looking down into the Found Space and looking up and understanding the full building, there is this one moment where you can really see all the components. You understand the podium, which is hovering. You see the tower through the skylight. You see how the structure reacts to things. I think that’s the most interesting moment for me.
JACQUES HERZOG: It’s the first time that we have done a museum which is also founding an institution at the same time. The institution is as new as the building. So we—as architects—we were part of this process, of this evolution of making the building but also helping build an institution. That was a challenge but was very interesting and was leading to this amazing group of curators and directors from the different fields of visual arts, you know, now together, [who] will populate, animate, [and] stimulate that architecture.
SUHANYA RAFFEL: M+ is a transformational project. It’s a slow, slow-release. It’s long-term, but it will begin—I mean, it’s already begun. When we open, it will continue and accelerate. That’s a principle that we will continue to take forward as we start this next beginning because there are chapters in the history of institutions, and that’s ongoing, and that’s the great part of a journey. It’s never finished.
What does it mean to establish an institution at the same time as constructing its physical building?
Building M+ charts M+’s journey from a vision on paper to a museum of visual culture moving into its concrete home. As a new kind of global institution based in Hong Kong, M+ has worked closely with Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron and a team of international collaborators to articulate its identity and ambitions through architecture and materiality. Through footage of the construction process and interviews with architects, engineers, builders, and partners, Building M+ reveals how the final form of the building is not only a fitting response to M+’s geographical location and functional needs, but also an embodiment of the museum’s core values.
Photo at top: Virgile Simon Bertrand © Virgile Simon Bertrand
Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron
- M+ Team
Ikko Yokoyama, Chris Sullivan, Jaye Yau, Sunny Cheung, Jennifer Wong, William Seung, Naomi Altman
- Line Producer
Angel Ng Wan Yi
- Creative Supervisor
Lo Chun Yip
- Director of Photography (Hong Kong and Shenzhen)
Edwin Yan Lee
- Camera Operator (Hong Kong and Shenzhen)
Andrew Stuart Lang, Asa Li King Hang, Yuling Evelyn Chow, William Lee Hing Ping, Tommy Tong Sze Yiu, Dorcas Ho Wan Lam, Derrick Fong, Dominic Yip Kwan Tai, Philemon Yiu-kun Ho, Richard George Fowler, Sadie Mathilda Granberg, Ludovic Paul Gabriel Dufetel (Fallout Media)
Yip Man Hay, Ng Sze Lung, Chan Yu Hin, Lai Wai Lam, Lai Tsz Hin (There There Creations)
- Camera Operator (Florence)
Mattia Caprara, Flavio Pescatori
- Camera Operator (Basel and Zurich)
Garrick James Lauterbach, Tobias Kubli, Robin Angst
Chung Siu Hong
- Original Music Composer
Hanz Au Lok Hang, iii iris Liu
- Sound Post Production
Wabi Sabi Media
- Sound Editor
Chiu Cheuk Ying, Cyrus Tang
- Sound Effect Editor
- Sound Designer & Sound Mixer
- Digital Intermediate
Pica Pica Media
- Post Production Producer
- Post Production Manager
- Technical Supervisor
Jocelyn Ka Yan Chiu
- Text Editor
Amy Leung, Gloria Furness, Jennifer Wong
- Archival Footage and Photos
Arup Group Limited, Joseph K. K. Lee, Kenji Wong Wai Kin, MEH MONO CO., Plate Creations Limited, Stephy Chung, ThinFilm, Yellow Purple Production Limited
- Architectural Drawing
Herzog & de Meuron
Victor Lo Chung-wing, Uli Sigg, Lara Day, Wong Chung-fai, ESKYIU, Evan Leung, Felix Fung, Hailey Lee, Jade Liao, Jenn Lo, Lily Kwan, Quiteria Lai, Stacey Williams, Tess Cheung, Zhong Yuchun
- Museum Joint-Venture Team and Contractors
Active Energy Management Limited, Arup Group Limited, Atkins, Flos, Gammon Construction Limited, G-Cladds, Herzog & de Meuron, Hsin Chong Group Holdings Limited, Kvadrat, Melofield, Nursery & Landscape Contractor Ltd., Ming Tai Construction Engineering Co. Ltd., Palagio Engineering Srl, Permasteelisa Hong Kong Limited, Research Engineering Development Facade Consultants Limited, Shenzhen Hailong Construction Technology Co. Ltd., TFP Farrells Limited, Vogt
- Projects Division, WKCDA
Andrew Simpson, Andrew Lam, Lin Siu-mun, Au Ka Fai, Paul Shu, Wong Chun, Wu Chun Kit
- District Facility Services, WKCDA
Graham Tier, Kris Liu, Leo Leung, Lewis Cheng, Lau Wai Lun, Kong Kwok Chung
- M+ Building Management
William Ng Chee Wai, Lorraine Leung, Marlene Lieu
- M+ Security
Simon Hannaford, Olive Lai, Paul Luk, Kent Wong, Stanley Chan, Max Chan, Shek Chau Ying, Ma Kwok Fai, Chan Chi Lok
- M+ Rights & Reproductions
Tom Morgan, Benson Cheung, Jacqueline Chan
- Herzog & de Meuron
Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Ascan Mergenthaler, Wim Walschap, Edman Choy, Human Wu, Noemi Schmidt, Fabrizia Vecchione, Rebekka Rudin, Donald Mak, Helen Ng
Thomas Chung Hok Yan, Jacky Wong Chi Wa, Fung Tak On, Elisabeth Mundy
- Arup Group Limited
Chan Yiu Pong
- Gammon Construction Limited
Chi Chi Tamang
- Ming Tai Construction Engineering Co. Ltd
Ho Tat Man