ultramarinus – beyond the sea

WINDING ARCHITECTURE & DESOLATE RUINS, Mount Davis (摩星嶺), Hong Kong

A day after the attack on Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, Regimental Sergeant Major Enos Charles Ford at Hong Kong’s Fort Davis was woken up by the Japanese raid of Kai Tak across the harbour at 08:00, 8th of December 1941. Ford and his fellow gunners returned fire but the Japanese aircraft were out of range. The raid of Kai Tak officially pulled the curtain for the short but intense Battle of Hong Kong. At 269m tall, Mount Davis at the westernmost point of Hong Kong Island had been a major defensive facility for the city since the 1910’s. Five guns were mounted at different locations on the mount, and two were later relocated to Stanley. Jubilee Battery near the shore was later added to guard the coast below. During WWII, a force of about 50 gunners was stationed at the fort. Thanks to the diary of Regimental Sergeant Major Enos Charles Ford, a brief account of what had happened at one of the most bombarded spot in Hong Kong during WWII survived to the present. From 8th of December to the 24th, Fort Davis engaged in fierce battles with the Japanese and was under intense bombardment by both warships and aircraft. The gunners fought hard from the fort until Christmas Eve, when they were sent to Wanchai to fight as infantry in the last desperate attempt to fend off the enemy. The colony of Hong Kong surrendered on the Christmas Day of 1941, and the damaged Fort Davis fell in the Japanese hands two days later. After the war, the fort was used for a variety of military purposes until 1970’s, when the site was abandoned and gradually crumbled into ruins. Ever since, the ruins have become a hot spot for war games and ghost tours, certainly not a place for the faint hearted.

Below Mount Davis, the Jubilee Battery complex was converted into Victoria Detention Centre in 1961, before emptying out after the Chinese takeover in 1997. The abandoned Jubilee Battery was finally offered a second life in 2013, when University of Chicago becomes the new occupier of the site. The revitalization plan was met with a poetic response by the late Canadian architect Bing Thom (now Revery Architecture): a winding architecture perched over the hillside of Jubilee Battery overlooking Sulphur Channel and the western approach of the Victoria Harbour. Named as Francis and Rose Yuen Campus of the University of Chicago, the sleek architecture curves around a 75 year old flame tree, and floats above ground on slim pillars to minimize impact on the delicate coastal landscape and the heritage structures. Since inception in 2018, the Yuen Campus has become a popular place for watching the sunset. Its heritage interpretation centre offers visitors insights of the history of Mount Davis, and military history of the former colony.

Overlooking the Sulphur Channel, the ruined Jubilee Battery forms part of the interpretative court of the University of Chicago Yuen Campus. [2022]
Storage for artillery cartridges below the former gun platform at the Jubilee Battery. [2022]
Beyond the ruined battery structure stands the glassy campus building. The curving profile of the new architecture echoes with the historical structure. [2022]
The futuristic structure is raised over the former detention buildings nicknamed the “White House”. The historical buildings have been revitalized to house educational spaces and an interpretation centre (closed due to the pandemic). [2022]
The site of the campus is open to the public throughout the day. Referred to as the “Tree of Knowledge”, the 75-year old flame tree prominently stands on a raised platform (far left in photo), serving as a pivotal point for the building’s bending configuration. [2022]
A prominent stair bends at an opposite angle to the main building, creating an eye-catching feature at the outdoor court. [2022]
Circular benches work well with the curvilinear architecture. [2022]
Etched with the school logo, the centre of the drop-off appears seems to be the setting out point of the winding structure. [2022]

***

After checking out the Yuen Campus, it is worthwhile to do a short hike to check out the military ruins on Mount Davis behind the school.

The artillery batteries on Mount Davis was first constructed in 1911. Fort Davis was one of the most bombarded site by the Japanese during WWII. [F2 Gun at Mount Davis, taken probably in the mid 1930’s, Public Domain]
The artillery batteries on Mount Davis were damaged and decommissioned by the guarding force before Hong Kong surrendered to the Japanese on the Christmas Day of 1941. From then on, the structures gradually fell into ruins. [2022]
Incense offering at the ruins is perhaps a good reminder to causal hikers that precious lives have been lost 80 years ago on the mount for defending the city. [2022]
In the midst of dense vegetation, a deep trench leads to the former signal station. [2022]
Abandoned battery buildings can be found at various locations on Mount Davis. [2022]
With little regulations to protect the heritage structures, the ruined fort has become a popular place for war games. [2022].
The ruin’s desolate conditions and bloody history have inspired numerous urban myths and ghost stories. [2022]
Ghost stories of Fort Davis have cast a sense of mystery to the site. [2022]
Despite the ruined conditions, the battery structures on Mount Davis deserve high respect from every visitors for the history and memories of the war. [2022]

***

Descending Mount Davis at the right moment brought us back to the Yuen Campus just before sunset. [2022]
Facing west to the sea, the court of the Yuen Campus is an ideal place to watch sunset.
Many would just come to the campus for the sunset. [2022]
The glassy facade of the Yuen Campus reflects the distant Lamma Island to the southwest, while a cruise ship (probably empty) lingers in the Sulphur Channel during the pandemic. [2022]
Built in 2004 on the former battery platform, the Sunset Pavilion (日落觀瀾亭) adjacent to the Yuen Campus is popular for leisure fishing and sunset watching. [2022]
From the pavilion, the setting sun slowly descends behind the distant silhouette of Lantau Island. [2022]
Before the suspension of ferry between Macau and Hong Kong, the water of the Sulphur Channel and beyond was much busier. [2022]
Sitting on the coastal rocks to contemplate the setting sun offers a moment of meditation in this bustling metropolis. [2022]
The sun turns vivid orange as it lowers to the horizon. [2022]
Then just after a few minutes the orange sun has quietly slipped away. [2022]

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