ultramarinus – beyond the sea

TEMPLE • SCHOOL • RESIDENCE • DESIGN CENTRE – REINCARNATION OF THE PMQ (元創方), Sheung Wan (上環), Hong Kong

Between Sheung Wan and Central lies a tranquil stepped alleyway known as Shing Wong Street (城皇街). In Chinese tradition, “Shing Wong” is the guardian deity of city wall, or in a broader sense, the patron saint of the neighbourhood. Shing Wong Street reminds us that there was once a Shing Wong Temple (城皇廟) stood at the site bounded by Shing Wong Street (城皇街), Staunton Street (士丹頓街), Aberdeen Street (鴨巴甸街), and Hollywood Road (荷李活道), a relatively large plot of land in the old Victoria City. Probably built in 1843 or earlier, some consider the former Shing Wong Temple the oldest temple in colonial Hong Kong. Its importance was soon overtaken by Man Mo Temple (文武廟) further down Hollywood Road. In 1870’s, Shing Wong Temple was temporarily converted into a mental health asylum. And then in the 1880’s the government bought the temple and redeveloped it into the new campus of Central School (中央書院), the city’s first upper primary and secondary school to provide modern education. The school was later renamed as Victoria College (維多利亞書院) in 1889 and later the Queen’s College (皇仁書院). Merchant tycoon Sir Robert Ho Tung, and Sun Yatsen, the Father of Modern China were some of the well known graduates from the college’s early years. The Neo-Classical college building was one of the most expensive construction projects in 19th century Hong Kong.

For half a century the splendid Queen’s College building stood proudly in Upper Sheung Wan, until 1941 when the school was forced to close down due to WWII. The building suffered devastating destruction during the war and became nothing more than ruins and rubble when the city was liberated from Japanese occupation. In 1948, the ruins were cleared to make way for a new era. In 1951, a functionalist building was erected for a completely different purpose: residential compound for the police force. Sitting on four levels of platforms, the Police Married Quarters offered about 170 dwelling units. The functionalist compound served its intended purpose for another half a century, until the last residents moved out in 2000. Subsequently the government rezoned the site for private residential development. The heritage site was at risk to be lost forever.

“Save the Trees” was the first slogan local resident Katty Law put up in 2005 to protest against the felling of the Hollywood Road “stone wall trees” of the Police Married Quarters. Among a few other residents from the local neighborhood, Law found a NGO known as Central and Western Concern Group (中西區關注組). The neighborhood group successfully persuaded the government to consider removing the site from residential redevelopment and engaging in archaeological examination of the site. The government agreed to study the site. This eventually led to discovering the historical foundation of the former Queen’s College. In 2009, the government finally announced preserving the former Police Married Quarters and revitalizing it into a hub for art and design that is known as PMQ today. In 2014, the PMQ reincarnated one more time. A glass canopy was constructed over the central court, where public events would now be held. The former residential units were retrofitted into studio spaces for selective tenants including designers, artists, galleries, fashion designers, jewellery designers, lifestyle shops, vintage stores, cultural institutions, cafes, bakeries, and restaurants. A new hub for tourists and art lovers has been reborn upon the legacies of a temple, school and police residence.

The name Shing Wong Street (城皇街) is the only reminder of the former Shing Wong Temple that once occupied the site of the PMQ in the mid-19th century. [Shing Wong Street as seen from the side platform of the PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Retaining walls surrounding the PMQ date back to the era of the former Queen’s College. [Stone wall trees at PMQ’s retaining wall along Shing Wong Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Protecting the stone wall trees on the retaining wall along Hollywood Road was the spark that inspired Katty Law to found Central and Western Concern Group, a NGO that focuses on protecting the neighbourhood heritage of Central and Western District. PMQ’s retaining wall is the most obvious remnant from the era of the former Queen’s College. [Stone wall trees on PMQ’s retaining wall along Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Bounded by Hollywood Road, Aberdeen Street, Shing Wong Street and Staunton Street, the former Queen’s College was one of the most important construction project in the city during the 1880’s. [Queen’s College along Hollywood Road with the sloped Aberdeen Street on the left, photograph by Arnold Wright, 1908, Public Domain]
A block further uphill from Hollywood Road, the PMQ is also accessible from Staunton Street in SOHO. The functionalist architecture from 1951 reflects a pragmatic and efficient living culture in the postwar era. [PMQ along Staunton Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
In contrast to the functionalist approach of the PMQ, the Neo-Classical architecture of the former Queen’s College (also named Victoria College) represented a distant era of the bygone Victoria City. [Junction of Staunton and Shing Wong Street, photograph published by Robert Crisp Hurley in 1897. Image courtesy of “Sixty Diamond Jubilee Pictures of Hong Kong”, University of Bristol (www.hpcbristol.net). (CC BY_NC_ND 4.0)]
To deal with the change of levels of the site, the PMQ is situated on a series of platforms defined by stone retaining walls. [The terracing PMQ complex as seen from Aberdeen Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Built in 1918, the underground public toilet at the junction of Aberdeen and Staunton Street was the only female underground public toilet in Hong Kong. Listed as an historical building, the facility is no longer in use. [Junction of Aberdeen and Staunton Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Serving as the main entrance and event space, the courtyard of the PMQ is accessible from the sloped Aberdeen Street. [The PMQ as seen from Aberdeen Street, Sheung Wan, 2019]
Before the Covid 19 pandemic, the PMQ courtyard often hosts large scale art installations, outdoor exhibitions or handicraft market. Inspired by the Chinese proverb “MAKE HAPPY THOSE WHO ARE NEAR AND THOSE WHO ARE FAR WILL COME,” the Gather for Gifts of Love Pavilion by British designer Morag Myerscough defined the entrance of the 2019 Christmas Bazaar. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2019]
During the Covid 19 pandemic, Littleurbanmountain Design (小市山設計) kept their rotating Christmas Trees in a “social distancing arrangement”. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Often, the courtyard features an introductory display for the main exhibit housed in the Qube exhibition block on the 2nd floor behind the courtyard. [Installation of the Hanzi Exhibition (漢字展), PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2018]
Under the glass canopy, large installation can reach up to about four storey high. Kaws, a famous American artist and designer, captured everyone’s attention with his enormous Mickey Mouse like clown figures in 2019. KAWS: Along the Way [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2019]
Further into the courtyard, two columns are enhanced with mosaic artwork by French street artist Invader and figure wall painting by local artist Little Thunder (門小雷). [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Historical foundations of the former Queen’s College can be visited by tour. Visitors can also have a peek of the foundations from the glass floor at the courtyard. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The cover area of the courtyard often hosts handicraft markets or live performances. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Chairs designed by Prouve, Wegner, Eames, etc. are on display near the main courtyard. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2020]
One level lower than the courtyard, the former Central Junior Police Call Clubhouse is now home to a fancy French restaurant managed by renowned Chef Julien Royer. [Central Junior Police Call Clubhouse, PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The recreational clubhouse of the former residence was converted into the Hollywood Road Police Primary School in the 1950’s, and then into the Central Junior Police Call Clubhouse in 1981. [Louise restaurant, PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Several cool looking concrete seats are placed on the lower platform of PMQ. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The stone retaining wall and its adjacent granite steps at the lower platform have been around since 1889. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Step art has been popular with selfies of visitors. The event “Hong Kong on Steps: Tales of Our City” regularly transform the 20 or so staircases into painting canvases. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
A handful of new features have been added during the conversion of PMQ into a public building, including signage. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Above the Qube exhibition block, a lush green roof garden on the 4th floor offers a pleasant resting area for visitors. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2014]
After a few years, a number of shop have moved out, complaining the lack of visitors at PMQ during weekdays. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Snacks and drinks are always the most popular way to engage visitors during festivals and events. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2018]
Striking the balance between an NGO and a retail complex has proven to be difficult. Many shops continues to seek for the right business model. Handicraft workshops or children art classes are some of the most popular way for the tenants to generate income. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Many old features, including the window frames and handles, are carefully preserved at PMQ. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2014]
We regularly go to Levain Bakery for their artisan sourdough bread. Sometimes, we would sit down at their balcony for breakfast. [Levain Bakery, PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
SOHOFAMA promotes healthy eating and happy living, emphasizing on chemical-free, and local organic food. [PMQ at Staunton Street, Sheung Wan, 2014]
Sake Central has everything about sake, from the handmade cups to the sake products from all over Japan. [PMQ at Staunton Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]

2 responses

  1. Pingback: IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF SUN YAT-SEN (孫中山), Central-Sheung Wan (中上環 ), Hong Kong | Blue Lapis Road

  2. Pingback: EARLY ARCHITECTURE OF VICTORIA CITY, Central & Western District (中西區), Hong Kong | Blue Lapis Road

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