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HK Cultural Centre, completed in 1989. Kowloon, Hong Kong.


"The new Hong Kong Cultural Center stands on one of Hong Kong's finest waterfront sites, looking out over Victoria Harbor with its quaint wooden fishing junks and busy passenger ferries parading past the colony's glistening glass and metal skyscrapers. But the $77 million center, designed by a committee of government architects, has no windows. The only opening onto one of the most magnificent waterfront views in the world is a narrow slit of glass that runs up a wall of the low, angular pink-tiled building.

While many people involved in the arts here believe that the sophisticated new center marks the colony's cultural coming of age, much of its significance has been obscured by the debate over its design. ''It is a contentious design; there is no question about that,'' said Wayne Maddern, the center's executive director. ''I would say that 90 percent of the local population don't like it.''

Prince Charles of Britain and his wife, the Princess of Wales, attended opening-day ceremonies in November. There was speculation that the Prince, an outspoken critic of modern architecture, would use the occasion to criticize the design, but he politely declined. ''I would hardly be so tactless as to impart to you my views on the architectural design of this remarkable building,'' the Prince said.

The outside of the building has been described as ''a giant ski jump,'' while the vast, windowless foyer has been compared to ''a high school gym'' and ''a shopping mall without shops.''

''The architects wanted to design a building on Victoria Harbor which made a statement, and you can't question that they succeeded in doing that,'' Mr. Maddern said wryly. Hong Kong residents, performers, critics and newspapers are criticizing everything from the center's lack of windows to the tight fit of the seats in its concert hall. The Hong Kong Philharmonic has already complained about its rehearsal hall, and local dance groups say the theater's dance floor doesn't have enough spring."

By BARBARA BASLER, Special to The New York Times

Published: January 01, 1990

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