Code-named Project P, West Kowloon Palace Museum architect commenced design four months before appointment

Architect Rocco Yim was secretly appointed to lead the design of the controversial Palace Museum project


Architect Rocco Yim Sen-kee was appointed without tender to design the Hong Kong Palace Museum, a newly added element of the West Kowloon Cultural District that did not undergo consultation, and was apparently working on the project for months before government officials formally presented the proposal to Board members of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA), informed sources told FactWire. 

Government officials said on Friday (January 6) during a Legislative Council (LegCo) meeting that the appointment had been approved by the Board of WKCDA, but FactWire has been told by informed sources that Yim started designing the museum four months before officials presented the proposal. The project was shrouded in secrecy and was even given the codename “Project P”, and some WKCDA staff members had already worked on some of the diagrams based on the design three months before that presentation.

WKCDA’s board chairman, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, said the appointment was a “relatively special practice” on January 6 during a special meeting with the Legislative Council House Committee, but stressed that the appointment was made after consulting Beijing’s Palace Museum authorities, and after acquiring approval from the Board of WKCDA. 

However, WKCDA sources told FactWire that the WKCDA had received information from Yim’s architect firm, Rocco Design Architects Limited, in July and August in 2016, so that respective WKCDA staff members could draw diagrams for the West Kowloon Palace Museum design. This contradicts official documents submitted to LegCo, which state that Lam presented the Palace Museum proposal to the Board of WKCDA in October and November in 2016, meaning that Yim had already started designing for the project before the WKCDA officially learned about the project.

The sources said it was highly secretive, unlike other projects they had worked on, and was the first in their experience to acquire a codename to ensure confidentiality. 

“We have never experienced working with such a high degree of confidentiality. Because sometimes on-site inspection is necessary to make drawings, we had to rely on experience to make a judgement. We learnt gradually through word of mouth that the officials from West Kowloon were planning to build a Palace Museum. We just did not know the specific location,” the sources said. 

FactWire has also been told by sources that aside from drawing diagrams, virtual reality (VR) versions of the design have been produced. It remains unclear whether the design has reached the final stage.

Multiple informed sources told FactWire that Rocco’s company had been working on the project since June. The project, listed as classified, was led by a team of over five people. Meetings had been held with the WKCDA from time to time, and the current version of the design had undergone multiple amendments. However, only the team in charge knew about the project.

A source said it was only on the day that Lam signed the Memorandum of Understanding in Beijing on December 23 – that the team at Rocco first realized that the project they had been working on for half a year was actually the Palace Museum.

Staff members at the architectural firm were told to keep the project confidential, and said no details of the design, including the exterior and the diagrams, were to be made public, sources told FactWire. 

Informed sources told FactWire that the departmental staff responsible had deliberately broken the design diagram into parts, so that the whole structure of the museum was unknown to those who worked on different areas of the project. 

A WKCDA staffer in charge of drawing the diagrams said: “Normally the task of drawing diagrams is delegated to one colleague, who draws the whole 3D model. However, each person is only responsible of one part of the design this time. We do not even have a clue about the part of the project we are involved in, and the dimension or scale of our part in relation to the whole design.”

During the signing ceremony on December 23, Lam introduced a layout revealing that the museum site is about 10,000 sq metres, with a gross floor area of 30,500 sq metres. The seven-storey structure will include multiple exhibition halls, one lecture theatre and an atrium. The official documents given to LegCo on January 5 list the facilities of the museum and the net operating floor area of each facility, namely a digital gallery, activity rooms, a lecture theatre and a restaurant.  

A government-organised six-week consultation period begins on Monday January 9. An exhibition, which will include the design concept plan and possibly a design model, will be held in City Gallery as part of the consultation. The aim is to collect opinions of the public and stakeholders regarding the design and operation of the museum, and the direction of future educational activities. 

This story is picked up and reported by the following news media:

South China Morning Post   RTHK

Timeline of Yim being appointed as the Design Architect of the Hong Kong Palace Museum in West Kowloon Cultural District 

September 2015
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was asked during an event at the Palace Museum in Beijing by Director of the Palace Museum Shan Ji-xiang whether there is enough space in the West Kowloon Cultural District to build a museum to exhibit Palace Museum cultural relics on a long-term basis. Lam discussed the idea with a Secretary and a few officials upon returning to Hong Kong. 

18 December 2015
Hong Kong Government officials presented to Beijing authorities the benefits of building a Palace Museum in Hong Kong in written form.  

May 2016 
Lam consulted senior members of the Board of WKCDA, including Ronald Arculli, Victor Lo Chung-wing and Allan Zeman, on the project, and all three expressed support.  

June 2016 
Sources stated Rocco Yim Sen-kee’s architectural firm, Rocco Design Architects Limited, started designing the museum, and the project was shrouded in secrecy. 

July to August 2016
Sources stated that the WKCDA gave the project the codename “Project P” and began its work. Staff at the WKCDA received information provided by Rocco Design. 

September 2016
The Board of WKCDA considered the fact that a 50,000-seat stadium, capable of being configured into performance venues of varying audience capacities, would be built in the Kai Tak Sports Park and decided that it is not suitable to build large-scale performance venues in the West Kowloon Cultural District. 

October, November 2016
Lam presented the Palace Museum proposal to the Board of WKCDA twice. 

28 November 2016
The Board of WKCDA hold a special Board meeting and approved the building of the Hong Kong Palace Museum in the West Kowloon Cultural District.

23 December 2016
WKCDA’s board chairman Chief Secretary Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Beijing’s Director of the Palace Museum Shan Ji-xiang signed the Memorandum of Understanding for the Hong Kong Palace Museum project in Beijing; the presentation states that Yim would be in charge of the Museum’s design.

5 January 2017
The Chief Secretary for Administration’s Office and the WKCDA submitted documents to the House Committee of the LegCo, which explains the reasons for appointing Yim, and reads that Yim was appointed after consulting Beijing’s Palace Museum authorities. It states that the appointment of Yim “was duly approved by the Board with full justification and authority”, but does not specify the date of appointment. 

6 January 2017
Lam attended the Special meeting of the House Committee of the LegCo and admitted that appointing Yim was a “relatively special practice” 

9 January 2017 
A government-organised six-week consultation period will begin. An exhibition will be held in City Gallery as part of the consultation, and the concept plan of the design will be made to public. A design model may be included in the exhibition.  


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