Art and culture

A New Era for Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui

A wave of development is making 2019 the year of Tsim Sha Tsui and bringing back the glamour of this harbourfront district in Kowloon

McDull – Hong Kong’s much-loved ditsy cartoon piglet – may seem an unlikely icon for the winds of change blowing through Tsim Sha Tsui and beyond this year. But his statue takes pride of place on the waterfront at the soon-to-open, revamped Avenue of Stars, facing off with chanteuse Anita Mui and kung fu phenomenon Bruce Lee.

The trio are complemented by handprints and nameplates paying tribute to more than 100 other luminaries of the city’s film industry – the hero image if you will of all things newly bright and beautiful at the tip of the Kowloon peninsula, which has long played second fiddle to smarter, flusher, snootier Hong Kong Island. As the old adage runs: ‘There are two sorts of people in Hong Kong – those who live on the Island, and everybody else.’ But come 2019, Tsim Sha Tsui – which translates as ‘sharp sandspit’ – is upping its game.

TST, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Derry Ainsworth

The regeneration can be traced back to the closure of the inner-city airport at Kai Tak in 1998, when aircraft stopped flying overhead and building-height restrictions were relaxed. Still further back, in 1971 jewellery tycoon Cheng Yu-tung bought what was then called Holt’s Wharf for a mere HK$131 million, turning it into the city’s first mixed-use development. Over four decades later, his grandson Adrian Cheng has gone one better, renaming the site Victoria Dockside and stocking it – at a cost of US$2.6 billion – with an office tower and a five-star hotel, serviced apartments and a mall that imaginatively splices retail with museum-style exhibits.

So far, so bling. But breeze into the office lobby of K11 Atelier and rather than marble, the walls are covered in hefty timber piles salvaged from piers around the world; the concierges sport trim fedoras and a debonair mien; and a delicate coconut and vanilla fragrance – a favourite of Adrian Cheng’s – fills the air. Art works by Qin Feng, Nick Mauss and Alexander Tovborg dot the public spaces, while staff from Mizuho and and Taipei Fubon banks, two early tenants, can join cultural programmes curated by the property. It’s a long way from the traditional humdrum office block.

Cheng, who’s described Victoria Dockside as a ‘game-changer’, says: ‘In this work space you get both art and cultural experiences – increasingly, we are moving to a culture that embraces work and life together.’

Atop the K11 Atelier, staff at Rosewood Hong Kong are putting the finishing touches on the hotel, whose 413 Tony Chi-designed rooms and suites, octet of restaurants and bars, several floors devoted to wellness – spa, outdoor pool, alternative therapies – and 57th-floor presidential suite gardens are unlikely to face any serious rivals in the near future.

Back at ground level, James Corner, best known for his transformative High Line project in New York, was given the task of adapting Victoria Dockside’s surrounds, chiefly the Avenue of Stars, which had become a tad dog-eared since opening in 2004.

‘I was extremely attracted to the power of the site, with its large-scale views across the harbour to the Hong Kong skyline,’ says Corner.

Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong

‘Once it’s finished, the harbourfront is going to be more visible and accessible, with a palpable what I term ‘urban cosmopolitan’ feel – arts, culture, parks, retail, hotels, residences and people from all around the world mingling together.’

Rounding out Victoria Dockside, the adjacent Salisbury Garden, a public park, has been remodelled, and both the interiors and exhibits at the Hong Kong Museum of Art are being given a complete makeover. Shuttered since 2015 for upgrades, the museum is scheduled to reopen this year.

Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, TST
Nomads.team / Shutterstock

The changes are giving long-time residents pause for thought, and a sizeable slice of optimism. ‘This is the year Tsim Sha Tsui finally gets its fair slice of the limelight,’ says Manu Melwani, otherwise known as Sam, who having dressed just about everyone from Bill Clinton to Edna Everage can justly lay claim to being Hong Kong’s preeminent celebrity tailor.

‘Our premises here on Nathan Road has been operating since 1957, but the new hotels, arts hubs and offices are pulling the area up by its bootstraps. It’s a year of great opportunity for us – not least thanks to the new West Kowloon railway station, which puts us at the gateway to mainland China.’

If Victoria Dockside is sprucing up Tsim Sha Tsui’s image, West Kowloon station – a cavernous terminus built, together with the line connecting it to the mainland, for HK$84.4 billion – puts it well and truly on the map. The latter-day progeny of the long-demolished station that’s now only marked by the 1915 clock tower at the Star Ferry pier, high-speed trains run from here north through the whole of China, linking it all the way to Europe.

Xiqu Centre, Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui
Derry Ainsworth

Just beyond the station lies the third vertex of the renaissance triangle, one that’s principally devoted to art and recreation. At present, the most tangible part of the West Kowloon Cultural District is the Art Park – a tree-lined waterside promenade that’s one of the area’s prime green lungs, and host to musical recitals, dance performances and handicraft workshops every other weekend which – with an unintentional nod to 1960s hippie culture – are dubbed Freespace Happenings.

Freespace Happenings, tsim sha tsui, TST

The district’s first completed major landmark, the Xiqu Centre, acts as platform for the conservation, promotion and development of Cantonese opera. On the horizon, M+ promises to bridge this century and the last in its showcases of visual art, design and architecture, and moving imagery from Hong Kong, mainland China, and further afield. M+ is expected to open this year, and in the meantime its alter ego, M+ Pavilion, stages small-scale exhibitions.

It’s not just megabucks shiny stuff that’s making waves across Tsim Sha Tsui. New restaurants are springing up in the slipstream of the major trophy projects. Prime examples are Aux, an Asian-style smokehouse; Paradise Classic with its Nanyang-style cuisine; and the Sichuanese Fu Rong, perched in the new extension to Ocean Terminal, Hong Kong’s city centre cruise ship berth.

M+ Pavilion, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Derry Ainsworth

With his front-row view of this massive makeover, McDull would surely be impressed. Join him on the promenade this year to see for yourself.

Coming in 2019

West Kowloon Cultural DistrictCatch the Art Park’s Freespace Happenings on 13 January and 10 February 2019.

Xiqu Centre: The Cantonese opera venue has its grand opening on 20 January 2019. Not unexpectedly, the inaugural performance – The Reincarnation of Red Plum by Tong Tik-sang – is sold out.

Avenue of Stars: Upgrades to this film-themed path will be finished by February 2019. Salisbury Garden is already a magnet for boulevardiers of all stripes.

Rosewood Hong Kong: This urban escape opens 11 March 2019.

K11 Musea: The final tranche of Victoria Dockside is K11 Musea, due to open in September 2019. Its name is a portmanteau word for ‘museum by the sea’, and its 10 storeys will be filled with international brands and a rotating art collection. A living wall will cover 50,000 square feet of the exterior.

Victoria Dockside, TST, Tsim Sha Tsui
Derry Ainsworth

Hong Kong Museum of Art: The museum’s collection – totalling some 16,000 items of Chinese painting, calligraphy and antiquities – is due to reopen to the public in November 2019.

M+: construction on the M+ art complex is targeted for completion at the end of 2019, with an opening date in early 2020. The current exhibition at M+ Pavilion is Noguchi for Danh Vo: Counterpoint, which presents sculptures by Isamu Noguchi in dialogue with work by conceptual artist Danh Vo. It runs until 22 April 2019.