As one of Asia’s most prominent developers and a leading patron of the arts, Adrian Cheng has both the resources and the vision to transform the contemporary cultural landscape. His signature approach, which bundles high-end retail with game-changing architecture, design and art, was exemplified last August by the opening of Hong Kong’s K11 Musea, his most ambitious development yet (see W*247). One might call it a mall, but K11 Musea has enough charisma to win over even the fiercest mall sceptic – an irresistible waterfront location; a show-stopping atrium that looks straight out of a sci-fi movie; blue chip artworks by the likes of Katharina Grosse, Urs Fischer, Zhang Enli and Hague Yang; cultural programming ranging from urban farming experiences to patisserie courses to embroidery workshops; an eclectic retail lineup that includes Gentle Monster and MoMA Design Store; and as of November, an OMA-designed coffee kiosk shaped like a golden cube. It’s reason enough to visit Hong Kong even in these turbulent times. 

K11 Musea has also inspired a publication, titled Musea: A Book of Modern Muses. Drawing from diverse disciplines, the 200-page volume celebrates the moments that inspire lifelong passions. There are contributions from the likes of super curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, landscape architect James Corner, historian Peter Frankopan, and even anthropologist Jane Goodall, who discusses her first encounter with a stuffed chimpanzee. Such content is a far cry from the luxury-oriented offering one would expect, and perhaps unlikely to drive traffic into K11 properties. But Cheng has a higher calling in mind – as he explains in his foreword, ‘the chapters of this book and K11 Musea showcase my idea for a new culture in Hong Kong through the work of some of today’s most influential creatives’.

And though Cheng is better known for his efforts to bring influential international creatives to his hometown, he’s a frequent champion of local talent too. K11 Musea includes elements by the multidisciplinary design practice LAAB, while his upcoming commercial building, K11 Atelier King’s Road is the work of architectural studio Eskyiu. Meanwhile, Cheng’s non-profit K11 Craft and Guild Foundation works to preserve fast-disappearing craft traditions in Hong Kong and Greater China, supporting artisans and researchers alike. Additionally, working with local social enterprise Light Be, Cheng is investing in affordable housing initiatives – recently donating land that will be turned into 100 three-storey homes by 2022. Importantly, these communities, which include modern children’s playgrounds, will be built by young Hong Kong designers and architects.

As a judge for this year’s Design Awards, Cheng had an eye for inner beauty. Naming the ‘Save’ separation toilet his Life-enhancer of the year, Cheng calls it ‘pioneering in both its design and social cause’. ‘It’s a great example of how forward-thinking design can be used to solve perennial environmental problems that affect lives globally,’ he notes.

 K11 Atelier King’s Road, designed by Hong Kong-based Eskyiu for Adrian Cheng, with its distinctive green-wall façade. Photography: Kevin Mak

Meanwhile our Best new hotel, the Aman Kyoto, won Cheng over for its reverence of context. ‘The hotel is a complete cultural immersion, allowing guests to discover authentic Kyoto through its tailored experiences, such as an array of temples and transformative cultural encounters that are out of reach for most travellers.’ He was equally impressed by the integration of traditional Japanese craft traditions into minimalist spaces, noting that ‘the preservation of ancient craft is of incredible importance to me and my work’.

Likewise, Cheng was drawn to the ‘intelligent craftsmanship’ of Nithurst Farm, his choice for the Best new private house category. Expressing admiration for its tactile materials and abstracted form, Cheng calls the building ‘physically engaging and intriguing’. He says, ‘It suggests a minimalist sculpture, with an echo of ancient and contemporary styles.’ §