ultramarinus – beyond the sea

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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]

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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]

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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]

XIANGSHAN CAMPUS (象山中心校區), China Academy of Art (中國美術學院), Hangzhou, China

The bus ride from Huangshan to Hangzhou took about 4 hours.  By the time we checked into our hotel near West Lake in Hangzhou it was already dinner time.  After a good night of rest for our legs, in the morning we decided to visit the Xiangshan Campus (象山中心校區) of China Academy of Art (中國美術學院) in the outskirt of Hangzhou.  We grabbed a Chinese pork bun and walked to the waterfront promenade by West Lake.  We stood by the waterlilies and finished our simple breakfast.  Soon we walked over to the nearby bus stop and took a local bus heading to the direction of Xiangshan.  The entire bus journey took a little over half a hour.  Contemporary architecture was the reason for our visit to Xiangshan, and was our only major activity planned for our brief stay in Hangzhou.

Wang Shu (王澍), dean of the School of Architecture at China Academy of Art, is one of the most well known Chinese architects.  In 1997, he and his wife Lu Wenyu (陸文宇) found their firm Amateur Architecture Studio.  The couple had been teaching at the School of Architecture at China Academy of Art ever since 2000.  Based in Hangzhou, their works represent a unique critical regionalism, deriving their own architectural character with contemporary reinterpretation of local heritage.  Their most famous works include the Ningbo Museum (2008), and Xiangshan Campus of China Academy of Art near Hangzhou (2007).  After receiving a number of international awards for their effort on redefining contemporary Chinese architecture, in 2012 Wang Shu was rewarded with the Pritzker Prize, which considered to be the highest award in the international architectural industry.

In 1928, China Academy of Art was founded in Hangzhou.  It is the oldest and most famous art school in China.  Today the academy has two campuses in Hangzhou, one right by West Lake at city centre, and a newer one in Xiangshan, at the southwest outskirt of the city.  Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu began the design of Xiangshan Campus in 2002. Many buildings, including a library, a gallery, 6 school buildings, 2 studio buildings, 2 bridges, etc., were completed in 2004. The campus continued to expand until today, and has undoubtedly become one of the most influential projects of Amateur Architecture Studio. The campus presents a good example of Wang and Lu’s design ideology of capturing the spirit of the place and reinventing the Chinese architectural traditions into contemporary uses. Many buildings at Xiangshan were actually built in traditional construction methods, despite the use of modern materials such as glass and metal. Old roof tiles were salvaged from all over the province of Zhejiang and reused at Xiangshan as shading device and wall cladding.

We spent about three hours wandering around the campus, visited about half a dozen of buildings before heading back to the city.

1Reclaimed material is always a major component in Wang’s and Lu’s projects.  At Xiangshan, reclaimed roof tiles and wood panels can be seen all over.

2Courtyards, a essential component in traditional Chinese architecture, also have a vital role at Xiangshan as much of student life happen in these enclosed open spaces.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA peek into the sculpture hall.

4 Footbridges connect many buildings in Xiangshan.  This is one of the interestingly designed pedestrian bridge that crosses a small canal, and has been temporarily turned into an open air exhibition space for students’ art pieces.

5Old roof tiles from all over the province are reused here as horizontal shading device.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe library complex is consisted of two buildings with contrasting facade treatment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARamp is a major design element in the campus.  In some cases, the upper levels can be accessible for scooters and bikes.

8Despite the overall brutal finishes and craftsmanship, Wang’s and Lu’s design concepts have successfully created interesting architecture out of traditional Chinese architecture and Modernist design approaches.

9In a number of the buildings, exterior circulation has become a main facade feature.  Though in some cases, the circulation route would be in conflict with window openings.

10Depending on the slope, some of the exterior circulation route are actually steps.

11The wood and stone guesthouse and restaurant building is a recent addition to the campus.

12The interplay of walls cladded with different stones is covered by a large roof.  With a natural touch, the underside of the roof is dominated by the heavy use of timber trusses and bamboo mats.

13There is a water pond in front of the School of Architecture area, encompassing three major buildings with distinct architectural treatments.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASimilar to the Ningbo Museum, reclaimed bricks and tiles are used to clad outer walls.

15Like traditional Chinese architecture, tranquil courtyards give another dimension to the buildings in Xiangshan, where the boundary between exterior and interior remains loose.

16Irregular opening on concrete walls represents another design approach, framing unique views for users in the buildings.

17Reclaimed wood panels serve well as a backdrop for sculpture display.

18Distinct brise-soleil of the two School of Architecture buildings: concrete vertical fins and masonry cross openings, create a coherent atmosphere for the exterior forecourt where the flanking contrasting textures complement each other.

19Entrance to one of the School of Architecture building: Bricks are used to form a perforated skin. The word “TOMORROW” is highlighted on the wall surface by filling in the wall openings with glass bottles, like a pin art effect.

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Read other posts on 2015 Anhui and Hangzhou
1. History, Scenery, Architecture, 5-day tour of Anhui and Hangzhou, China
2. Laojie (Old Street), Tunxi, China
3. Hongcun, Anhui, China
4. Xidi, Anhui, China
5. West Sea Canyon, Huangshan, Anhui, China
6. From Monkey Watching the Sea to Welcome Pine, Huangshan, Anhui, China
7. Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, China
8. Folk Art Museum, Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, China