ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “heritage

HONG KONG’S MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE: Not Old Enough For Conservation?

18th June 2021 was the deadline for developers to bid for the latest waterfront site in Central, between Jardine House and Central Ferry Pier.  With an estimated value at around USD 5 – 7.1 billion, the 47,970 sq.m site encompasses a piece of reclaimed land and the iconic General Post Office at Connaught Place.  Completed in 1976, the fourth generation postal headquarters has been a prominent fixture in the city’s evolving skyline for 45 years. Despite efforts from conservationists, the building would inevitably be replaced by another glassy skyscraper in the near future.  While few people see the modernist post office as an architectural masterpiece, many Hongkongers have expressed their resentment about the potential loss in the business district.  With its horizontal features, modular brise soleil, and concrete vaults, the General Post Office is a decent example of modernist architecture in Hong Kong, the design movement that first emerged in the West between the World Wars. Using modern construction methods and materials like steel, reinforced concrete and glass, Modernism rose to become the dominant architectural style after WWII.  In Hong Kong, the Modernist style in the city is often referred to as the “Bauhaus style”. 

Founded by German architect Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus was probably the most famous and avant-garde design and art school between the world wars (1919 – 1933). From art to graphic design, architecture to interiors, typography to industrial design, influences of the Bauhaus have been an omnipresence in our lives.  Commonly known as International Style, the minimalist and rationalist approach of the Bauhaus reflect the rapid modernization of the 20th century.  To envision Modernism, architectural masters like Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, or Mies van de Rohe might be looking for a novel design methodology and architectural tectonics that define the functionalism and aesthetics of the Modern Age.  By the time Modernism has arrived to Postwar Hong Kong, the style was quickly adopted due to pragmatic reasons such as construction speed, design modularity, minimal detailing, and versatile functionality.  Modernist apartment blocks, office towers, factories, schools, sport centres, parking garages, market complexes, and government buildings flourished across the city to cope with the population and economic boom, replacing earlier colonial structures and pre-war tenement buildings.

As Hong Kong further developed into one of Asia’s most prominent financial hubs in the 1980’s, the architectural world has already entered the age of Post-Modernism.  Some notable Modernist buildings such as Gropius’ Bauhaus in Dessau, Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa’s City of Brasilia, Le Corbusier’s various projects in Europe, Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House, etc. have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, but many more Modernist buildings have become subjects of demolition and redevelopment.  Modernist architecture has yet been widely recognized as a precious heritage, nor have them been well loved by the public.  Many have already been torn down in Hong Kong in the past three decades.  In recent years, this attitude has finally come to a twist.  The potential demolition of buildings like the General Post Office have raised public awareness of the modern heritage.  This is a realization of what heritage and cultural legacy really are in the making of a diverse urban culture and defining the zeitgeist of an era.

Not all Modernist buildings are designated for demolition in Hong Kong. Some have been preserved and revitalized with new uses and appearances, such as the Murray Building (美利大廈) on Cotton Tree Road.  The 1969 government office tower was recently converted into a 5-star hotel by architect Norman Foster.  Such adaptive reuse of the Modernist building is a convincing way to preserve memories and manage urban changes while retaining the essence of the original architecture.

Modernist buildings once dotted around Hong Kong, from residential blocks, office towers to all kinds of public buildings. Mei Ho House (美荷樓), formerly part of Shek Kip Mei Estate, is the sole survivor of a “H” shape apartment building. Built in 1954, the Modernist building has been preserved and converted into a youth hostel and a small public housing museum in 2013. [Mei Ho House, Junction of Castle Peak Road and Tai Po Road, Sham Shui Po, 2021]
Completed in 1960, the existing Garden Centre (嘉頓中心) at Castle Peak Road in Sham Shui Po has gained approval for redevelopment. Designed by famous Chinese architect Chu Pin (朱彬), the Modernist building has all the reasons to be preserved as a modern heritage. Unfortunately, the building is likely to be gone soon. Chu Pin was one of the first generation of US educated Chinese architects. Obtained his master degree at University of Pennsylvania in 1923, Chu Pin moved to Hong Kong in 1949 and established himself as a successful Chinese architect in the city. His other works included the first generation of Man Yee Building (萬宜大廈), home to Hong Kong’s first escalators, and Takshing House (德成大廈), the demolished office tower where curtain walls where first used in Hong Kong 60+ years ago. [Garden Centre as seen from Garden Hill, Sham Shui Po, 2021]
News on the fate of former State Theatre (皇都戲院) in North Point captured the hearts of Hongkongers in the past few years. Built in 1959, the former cinema was one of the last surviving large scale theatre in Hong Kong. In 2020, developer New World Development agreed to preserve the building and revitalize it into a new cultural and heritage facility. [State Theatre, King’s Road, North Point, 2017]
In Central, Modernist style Public Bank Centre (大眾銀行中心) from 1977 and The Center (中環中心) from 1998 stand as representatives from two different eras. [Public Bank Building, Des Voeux Road Central, Central, 2020]
At the junction of Des Voeux Road Central and Pedder Street, the third generation General Post Office (erected 1911) was demolished in 1976. [Photo: Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection, Library of Congress, public domain, 1923]
The current General Post Office at Connaught Place is the fourth generation in Hong Kong. Built in 1976, it was once located adjacent to the former Star Ferry Pier and the old waterfront. [General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
Constructed on reclaimed land, the 5-storey building was designed by architect K. M. Tseng. [General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
Despite there is urge from conservationists and the public to preserve the modernist building, Antiquities Advisory Board refuses to list any structure constructed after 1970. The building is scheduled to be demolished after the land sale tender was closed in June 2021. [General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
The modernist General Post Office and its surrounding open space will certainly be missed. [Back side of General Post Office, Lung Wo Road, Central, 2021]
The mailing counters on the ground floor are some of the busiest in the city. [Interior of General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
Over 69,000 stamps from 98 countries were put together by the staff to create a large wall mural displayed at the entrance of the General Post Office. [Interior of General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
Next to the iconic General Post Office once stood the Star Ferry Pier. The pier was demolished in 2006 as part of the latest land reclamation project. The 1957 Modernist Star Ferry Pier Car Park (天星碼頭多層停車場) survived 2006, but is included in the demolition zone together with the post office as part of the land sale package. [Star Ferry Car Park, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
Perhaps the most famous Modernist building in the city is Hong Kong City Hall (香港大會堂) at Edinburgh Place. Designed by Ron Phillips and Alan Fitch in the 1950’s, the 1962 completed City Hall is comprised of a low block, a concert hall, a theatre, a 12-storey high block and a memorial garden. The high block houses Hong Kong’s first public library, while the low block was the main venue of Hong Kong’s major festivals of art, film, and music from late 1950’s to 1980’s. The City Hall was considered the city’s first major cultural venue that welcomed everyone. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
At the centre of the memorial garden, a 12-sided memorial shrine stands in memory of the soldiers who fought during WWII. An elevated walkway encloses the memorial garden. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
From the elevated walkway, a spiral stair leads visitors back down to the ground level drop off area. Before 2008, the spiral and the drop off area stood directly opposite the now demolished Queen’s Pier. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
The City Hall still contains a few remnants from the previous colonial times. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
Unlike previous stone and decorative architecture, the Modernist City Hall promotes clean lines, large windows, simple geometry, etc. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
In comparison to International Financial Centre (IFC), the Modernist City Hall stands to represent a totally different era. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
While the City Hall flanks one side of Statue Square, the 21-storey Hong Kong Club building stands to the east side of the square. [The Cenotaph, Connaught Road Central, Central, 2021]
Designed by Australian architect Harry Seidler, the current building is the third generation of Hong Kong Club. [Hong Kong Club, Junction of Connaught Road Central and Jackson Road, Central, 2021]
Being demolished and replaced by a newer structure is an inevitable fate for most buildings in Hong Kong. Demolished in 1981, the second generation Hong Kong Club was replaced by architect Harry Seidler’s Modernist version. [Hong Kong Club, photo credit: Arnold Wright, public domain, 1908]
Built in 1953, the former Bridges Street Market was one of the first Modernist market buildings constructed after WWII, replacing old markets that were destroyed during the war. It contained 26 fish and poultry stalls on lower level and 33 butcher, vegetable and fruit stalls on the upper level. In 2018, the building was reopened as a news museum. [Former Bridges Street Market, Junction of Bridges Street and Shing Wong Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
In 1969, the upper level of Bridges Street Market was converted into a children’s playground. [Former Street Market, Junction of Bridges Street and Shing Wong Street, Sheung Wan, 2016]
Horizontal shading fins are some of the typical features of a Modernist building. [Former Street Market, Junction of Bridges Street and Shing Wong Street, Sheung Wan, 2016]
Sai Ying Pun Jockey Club Polyclinic (西營盤賽馬會分科診所) was redeveloped from Government Civic Hospital, the first public hospital in Hong Kong operated since 1874. [Sai Ying Pun Polyclinic, Junction of Queen’s Road West and Sutherland Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
Built in 1960, Sai Ying Pun Jockey Club Polyclinic is designed by the local architectural firm Leigh & Orange. [Sai Ying Pun Polyclinic, Junction of Queen’s Road West and Sutherland Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The concrete barrel vaults on the roof of the clinic is a recognizable feature on Queen’s Road West. [Sai Ying Pun Polyclinic, Junction of Queen’s Road West and Sutherland Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The 27-storey Murray Building (美利大廈) on Cotton Tree Road was a government office building completed in 1969. After the government moved out in 2012, the modernist building was revitalized into a 5-star hotel. [Murray Hotel, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, 2021]
Architect Norman Foster was hired for the adaptive reuse project. Decorative stainless steel were used as design features in the project, offering the 5-star hotel an elegant touch. Murray Hotel opened for business in 2018. [Murray Hotel, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, 2021]
The former car ramp connected to Cotton Tree Drive is now a popular spot for selfies. [Murray Hotel, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, 2021]
The windows were oriented to avoid glare and direct sunlight. [Murray Hotel, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, 2021]

EARLY COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE, Central & Western District (中西區), Hong Kong

On the night of 11th November 2006, some 150,000 Hongkongers showed up at Edinburgh Place Pier to bid farewell to the third generation of Star Ferry Pier in Central, before the Modernist building was dismantled to make way for land reclamation. Politicians, opposition parities, environmentalists, conservationists, activists, NGOs, professional groups and Hong Kong Institute of Architects joined force to urge the public to fight for preserving one of the iconic structure. Their noble effort failed to stop the government’s bulldozers removing Edinburgh Place Pier and, a year later, Queen’s Pier from the urban scenery of Hong Kong. The government insisted that the 49-year-old Star Ferry Pier was not “old” enough to be classified as “historical”. But the authorities greatly underestimated the public sentiment towards the Modernist landmark, not because its architectural value could rival the most iconic world heritage, but because it was a familiar urban symbol featured well in the collective memories of many Hongkongers. The extraordinary public outcry and intense media coverage have dramatically raised public awareness about heritage conservation in Hong Kong, and eventually contributed to the preservation of the Former Police Married Quarters (PMQ) and Former Central Police Station Complex (Tai Kwun) in a few years’ time. In 2007, the same year as people were protesting about the dismantling of the Queen’s Pier, the Heritage Conservation Policy was finally passed “to protect, conserve and revitalize” historical and heritage sites and buildings in Hong Kong.

For generations before the demolition of Star Ferry Pier and Queen’s Pier, not much tears were shed in the city when old buildings were torn down to make way for new developments. To the government and real estate developers, land sales and redevelopment of old neighborhoods are often the most efficient way to make money. As the former British colony entered its post colonial era, the search of a collective identity and preservation of the collective memories have gained significant ground among the general public. Hongkongers became much more aware of how their familiar urban scenery were disappearing fast. Losing a cultural heritage is like losing a piece of precious memory in the collective psyche. In the process of strengthening a sense of belonging and self reflection of collective identity, heritage architecture plays a crucial role as tangible mediums connecting to the past. These buildings are evidences of the creativity, prosperity and memories of a bygone era, and a unique East-meet-West culture that has defined the urban diversity and architectural beauty of the city.

As the heart of the former Victoria City (維多利亞城), it is unsurprisingly that Central (中環) hosts a relatively high concentration of heritage buildings in Hong Kong. Due to limited land resources, high population density and sky high property prices, incentives for property owners to preserve historical buildings is often low in face of the lucrative rewards from redevelopment projects. In Central, however, one may notice that the surviving historical structures often serve as pleasant breathing pockets in the midst of glassy skyscrapers. These heritage buildings would introduce an exquisite character to the streetscape, and in return push up land value of the surrounding area. At the same time, successful adaptive reuse projects such as Tai Kwun, PMQ, Asia Society and Hong Kong Park, all have proven to be magnificent urban magnets and popular tourist destinations. These projects consolidate Central and surrounding areas as the historical, political and commercial heart of Hong Kong, just like how it always was since the Mid-19th Century.

Almost all 19th century colonial buildings that once stood along the waterfront of Hong Kong have been demolished. [Praya along Dex Voeux Road in Central, 1868. Photo by John Thomson, Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0]
Queen’s Building (皇后行), Victorian Era, completed in 1899, demolished in 1963
Hong Kong enjoyed a dramatic economic boom in the latter half of the 20th century. Many 19th century buildings, including the magnificent Queen’s Building, were torn down during this period. [Queen’s Building and the temporary Star Ferry Pier off Ice House Street, Central, probably taken in 1900’s, public domain]
Pedder Street Clock Tower (畢打街鐘樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1862, demolished in 1913
Among all the early buildings in Central, Pedder Street Clock Tower was one the most recognizable landmarks before it was taken down in 1913. [Pedder Street Clock Tower, Central, 1868. Photo by John Thomson, Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org. Copyrighted work available]
Murray House (美利樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1844, dismantled in 1982, restored in 2001
Murray House was one of the earliest structures still standing today. It was once a part of the Murray Military Barracks in Admiralty, occupying the site where I. M. Pei’s Bank of China Tower is standing today. [Stanley Main Street (赤柱大街), Stanley, 2021]
Murray House (美利樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1844, dismantled in 1982, restored in 2001
In 1982, Murray House (美利樓) was dismantled at its original site to make way for Bank of China. Each block and architectural component were carefully tagged and stored for future’s restoration. In 2001, the building was restored in Stanley (赤柱), a sleepy seaside destination popular for its flea market and beaches. [Stanley Main Street (赤柱大街), Stanley, 2021]
Murray House (美利樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1844, dismantled in 1982, restored in 2001
Murray House (美利樓) was restored and adapted into a retail and restaurant complex in Stanley. [Stanley Main Street (赤柱大街), Stanley, 2021]
Murray House (美利樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1844, dismantled in 1982, restored in 2001
The restored Murray House (美利樓) is popular with tourists and locals for a relaxing meal right by the sea. [Stanley Main Street (赤柱大街), Stanley, 2021]
Murray House (美利樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1844, dismantled in 1982, restored in 2001
Originally a Grade 1 historical building in Admiralty, Murray House (美利樓) is no longer a listed heritage building after the move. The restored version at Stanley no long complies with the heritage building criteria of the UNESCO. [Stanley Main Street (赤柱大街), Stanley, 2021]
Old Mental Hospital (舊精神病院), Victorian Era, completed in 1892, dismantled in 1998, northern facade restored in 2001
Often referred to as the “haunted house” on High Street (高街), the Old Mental Hospital (舊精神病院) has been a well known structure in Sai Ying Pun (西營盤). Built in 1892, the building was used to house nurses and staff of the Civil Hospital before WWII. Before establishment of Castle Peak Mental Hospital in 1961, the building was the only mental facility to serve the entire city (about 1.5 million population at that time). [Junction of High Street and Eastern Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
Old Mental Hospital (舊精神病院), Victorian Era, completed in 1892, dismantled in 1998, northern facade restored in 2001
From 1970’s to 1990’s, the Old Mental Hospital (舊精神病院) was abandoned. Stories of ghost sightings during that two decades has turned the historical building to become the famous “High Street Haunted House (高街鬼屋)”. The building was demolished in the 1990’s to make way for a new community centre. Only the northern facade was preserved part of the new building. [Junction of High Street and Eastern Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
Western Market North Block (上環街市 or 西港城), Edwardian Era, completed in 1906
Western Market in Sheung Wan (上環街市) is the remaining northern addition of the former Western Market South Block. The former main market building was demolished in 1981, while the smaller North Block is preserved. [Junction of Connaught Road West and Morrison Street, Shueng Wan, 2020]
Western Market North Block (上環街市 or 西港城), Edwardian Era, completed in 1906
As one of the oldest markets in Hong Kong, Western Market was established in 1844. The former South Block was built in 1858, while the North Block was built in 1906. The building was constructed in Queen Anne Revival architectural style. [Junction of Connaught Road West and Morrison Street, Shueng Wan, 2014]
Western Market North Block (上環街市 or 西港城), Edwardian Era, completed in 1906
Today, tenants at Western Market include some curio shops, bakery, dessert shop, and a group of textile merchants. [Junction of Connaught Road West and Morrison Street, Shueng Wan, 2014]
Western Market North Block (上環街市 or 西港城), Edwardian Era, completed in 1906
Sometimes referred to as “blood and bandages”, the exterior facades of the Western Market are decorated with banded brick masonry. [Junction of Connaught Road West and Morrison Street, Shueng Wan, 2021]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), completed in 1912, and The Cenotaph (和平紀念碑), erected in 1923
Old Supreme Court Building is probably the most recognizable old colonial buildings in Central. The building was the former Supreme Court, then Legislative Council, and now, the Court of Final Appeal. Erected as a war memorial, the Cenotaph stands as a focal point between the Old Supreme Court, Statue Square, City Hall and Hong Kong Club. [Junction of Jackson Road and Connaught Road Central, Central, 2021]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), completed in 1912, and The Cenotaph (和平紀念碑), erected in 1923
The Cenotaph is a replica of the Cenotaph on Whitehall in London. [Statue Square, Central, 2021]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1912
Before WWII, Statue Square contained the Cenotaph, statue of Queen Victoria (commemoration of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 1887), Thomas Jackson (1st Baronet, chief manager of HSBC), Prince Albert, Duke of Connaught, Edward VII, Prince of Wales (later King George V), Queen Alexandra, Mary of Teck (future Queen Mary), Sir Henry May (Hong Kong Governor), etc. [The Supreme Court, Statue of Queen Victora (now at Victoria Park) and Hong Kong Club (left), photo by Denis H. Hazell in 1924. Source: ‘Picturesque Hong Kong’ (Ye Olde Printerie Ltd., Hong Kong), c.1925. CC BY_NC_ND 4.0, University of Bristol Library (www.hpcbristol.net]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1912
The 2.7m blindfolded staue of Justice, the Greek Goddess Themis, has been the icon of justice in Hong Kong for a century. Below the statue is the pediment with the inscription “Erected AD MDCCCCX (1910), and British Royal Coat of Arms: the three lions of England, lion of Scotland and harp of Ireland on the shield, supported by the English lion and Scottish unicorn. [Junction of Jackson Road and Chater Road, Central, 2020]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1912
The Neo-Classical building was designed by Aston Webb and Ingress Bell, who were also involved in the facade design of Buckingham Palace and Victoria and Albert Museum in London. [Junction of Jackson Road and Chater Road, Central, 2020]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1912
The colonnade of the Old Supreme Court Building is a popular spot for selfies. [Junction of Jackson Road and Chater Road, Central, 2020]
Former French Mission Building (前法國外方傳道會大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1917
The Former French Mission Building is located on Government Hill above Queen’s Road Central. Altered from a mansion called Johnston House, the current building was opened in 1917 after a major renovation. The original structure was used as the residence of the Governor, home of the Legislative Council, HSBC, Russian Consulate, government offices, before it was acquired by the Paris Foreign Missions Society in 1915. [Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2021]
Former French Mission Building (前法國外方傳道會大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1917
In 1953, the building was sold back to the government of Hong Kong. It was used as the Court of Final Appeal from 1997 to 2015. [Battery Path, Central, 2021]
The Helena May main building (梅夫人婦女會主樓), Edwardian Era, Completed in 1916
Helena May main building was opened in 1916 by Lady May, the wife of Sir Francis Henry May, the Governor of Hong Kong. The three-storey Neo-classical building has 24 rooms, a library, reading room, classrooms, etc. It was home to Helena May Institute for Women. [Junction of Upper Albert Road and Garden Road, Central, 2021]
Pedder Building (畢打行), Pre-war Period, completed in 1923
Designed by P&T, the Pedder Building at No. 12 Pedder Street is the last remaining pre-war commercial building in Central. Built in Beaux-Arts style, the building is listed as Grade I historical building. The building is consisted of nine storeys, one mezzanine floor and one basement level. It stands at 35m above street level. [Pedder Street, Central, 2020]
Pedder Building (畢打行), Pre-war Period, completed in 1923
Due to very high rent, most of Pedder Building has been vacant. [Pedder Street, Central, 2020]
Pedder Building (畢打行), Pre-war Period, completed in 1923
Some say the building is worth about HKD 3.2 billion (USD 412 million) nowadays. [Pedder Street, Central, 2020]
Blake Pier (卜公碼頭), Edwardian Era, pavilion completed in 1909, dismantled and relocated to Morse Park in 1965, restored in Stanley in 2007
Constructed in 1900 as an open pier, Blake Pier was originally located at the end of Pedder Street in Central. In 1909, a pavilion canopy was added. In 1965, the pier pavilion was dismantled and restored at Morse Park in Wong Tai Sin. It was dismantled and relocated to its current Stanley location in 2007. [Blake Pier (卜公碼頭), Stanley, 2021]
Blake Pier (卜公碼頭), pavilion completed in 1909, dismantled and relocated to Morse Park in 1965, restored in Stanley in 2007
In Stanley, the pier is popular with young couples and local retirees who come regularly for leisure fishing. [Blake Pier (卜公碼頭), Stanley, 2018]

CULTURAL CENTRE AT FORMER EXPLOSIVES MAGAZINE, Asia Society (亞洲協會), Admiralty (金鐘), Hong Kong

In late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the former Victoria Barracks at Admiralty have been torn down to make way for commercial developments, government buildings, and transportation infrastructure. Only a handful of the 19-century structures have been preserved and renovated with modern usage in today’s Hong Kong Park. East of the park, the abandoned Explosives Magazine Compound awaited its fate as rain forest gradually takes over the site. Two decades have passed. In 2002, the site was granted to Asia Society to establish their new home in Hong Kong. Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller III in New York, Asia Society is an organization that promotes cultural exchange between Asia and the United States. In 1990, Asia Society arrived in Hong Kong to establish its Hong Kong Centre. After granted the site of the former Explosives Magazine Compound, Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien were chosen to oversee the design and transformation of the site, erecting new structures and converting four former weapon production and storage buildings into one of the most fascinating cultural venues in the city.

As the New York based architects described, the 1.3 hectares site was overgrown with banyan trees and lush green vegetation despite its central location adjacent to the British consulate and Pacific Place Shopping Centre. In 2012, after a decade of construction work, Asia Society’s 65,000 s.f. new home was opened to the public. Seen as one of Hong Kong’s most successful adaptive reuse and heritage conservation project in recent years, Asia Society regularly host talks and exhibitions. The complex is separated by a nullah into two parts. Where the former explosive magazine buildings are located, the upper site houses a gallery, offices, and theatre. The lower site is occupied by a visitor centre, multi-function hall, gift shop, restaurant, and offices. Connecting the upper and lower sites, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien designed a double decker bridge that zigzags over the sloped rain forest. The upper deck is a pleasant open walkway offering great views of the adjacent commercial district. Combined with the roof of the visitor centre, the open walkway also serves as a sculpture garden.

The former explosives magazine site was designed for the home of Asia Society in 2002. The project took a decade to complete and opened as the cultural centre of Asia Society in 2012. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
A manmade waterfall marks the dramatic entrance of the cultural centre and draws visitors up to the rooftop sculpture garden. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Stones from Southern China were chosen by the architects as the main facade cladding. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2015]
The roof garden is one of the main feature at the Asia Society complex. Long Island Buddha, the 2011 sculpture made of copper and steel by artist Zhang Huan, is one of the permanent sculptures in the garden. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
A miniature Zen garden defines the heart of the roof garden. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2017]
Chloe Cheuk’s crystal balls installation, named “…Until I am Found”, is an interactive piece offering distorted image of the city’s skyline. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2017]
The double decker bridge is an architectural delight linking the two parts of the site. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2015]
From the upper deck of the bridge, visitors can peacefully enjoy the skyline of the business district of Admiralty. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
The lower site is mainly occupied by the multi-function hall where most of the talks and events are held. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Old tracks for weapon carts are preserved at the upper site, where an office, gallery and theatre are housed in three historical buildings. Outdoor artworks are also on display around the site. As contemporary representation of Chinese tradition, Zhan Wang’s Artificial Rock artworks often appear as stainless steel versions of scholar’s rocks commonly found in Suzhou gardens. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Several granite military lot markers were found when the site was taken over by Asia Society. Dated to 1910, these stones were installed by the Royal Navy to mark the boundary of the former Victoria Barracks. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Historical cannons were unearthed at the site during the renovation work. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
The former weapon laboratory has been transformed into offices. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Dated from 1880, the former Magazine A has been transformed into an art gallery that feature temporary exhibitions. Recently, a retrospective show of the works of late French artist Lalan (謝景蘭) was on display. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Yukaloo by renowned James Turrell in 2019 was the first show of the American artist in Hong Kong. His powerful LED installations led spectators into a dreamy experience of space, light, colour and time. His works filled the former weapon magazine with an aura of infinity. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2019]
Outside the gallery, a covered walkway leads visitors further into the former Magazine B, which is currently occupied by a theatre. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
The fine combination of a small fountain and planter could have been inspired by the traditional Suzhou garden. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Known as a “horizontal building in a vertical city”, the essence of horizontal and sequential movement can be clearly felt. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
The contrasting materials of the canopy and the historical building present no confusion on which is old and new. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Heading back down to the Multi-function and reception hall, we often take the lower deck of the double decker bridge. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
It is always a pleasant journey to walk through the lush green rainforest at the Asia Society. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Since 2017, Adrian Wong’s Untitled (Grate XI: Electric Bauhinia) has occupied the niche near the entrance of the Multi-function Hall. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Below the Multi-function and reception hall is Ammo, an atmospheric Italian Japanese fusion restaurant overlooking the lush green nullah that separates the upper and lower site of the complex. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]

HONG KONG PARK (香港公園), Central / Admiralty (中環/金鐘), Hong Kong

In 1890, a golden bell was installed at the main building of Wellington Barracks (威靈頓兵房), one of the three military barracks (the other two being Victoria and Murray Barracks) located between the business districts of Central (中環) and Wanchai (灣仔). The golden bell became a landmark and eventually led to the naming of the area, Kam Chung (金鐘), which literally means “golden bells”. The former naval dockyard known as Admiralty Dock gave the area its English name, Admiralty. For over 120 years, the military barracks had been a major obstruction for urban development, creating a bottleneck between Central and Wanchai. This situation remained for much of the colonial era until the late 1970’s, when the governor has finally convinced the military department to release the land. Demolition of the barracks began in late 1970’s and gave way to a series of developments that make up the present Admiralty: High Court, Government Offices, metro station, transport interchange, various commercial towers, the Asia Society complex, the luxurious retail and hotel complex known as Pacific Place, and the 8-hectare Hong Kong Park on the lower slope of Victoria Peak.

Hong Kong Park occupies much of the former Victoria Barracks (域多利兵房). During construction, a number of historical buildings were preserved, including the Flagstaff House, Cassels Block, Wavell House, and Rawlinson House. The park design respected the natural topography of the site, maintaining a naturalistic setting for all to enjoy. Opened in 1991, Hong Kong Park was an instant hit for Hong Kongers. Combining the natural context and heritage buildings with the new water features, wide range of landscape elements, amphitheatre, lookout tower, large conservatory, and Southeast Asia’s largest aviary, the park has ensured that there would always be something to suit everyone’s taste. A combined visit to the nearby Zoological and Botanical Gardens would satisfy the desire of anyone who desires for a moment of tranquility in the heart of Hong Kong’s business district.

From 1840’s to 1979, the Victoria Barracks was the most prominent military base on Hong along Island. [Victoria Barracks, Photography by William Pryor Floyd, Image courtesy of Vacher-Hilditch Collection, University of Bristol, Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, 1868]
Situated between Central and Wanchai, the military barracks in Admiralty poses an obstruction for urban development for over 120 years, until 1970’s when the royal army finally agreed to relocate to the seaside Tamar military base and release the barrack lands for urban developments. [Photo of the Victoria Barracks, Public Domain, 1870’s]
One of the main park entrances lies next to the Victoria Peak Tram terminal at Cotton Tree Drive (紅綿道). [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2017]
Beyond the Cotton Tree Drive park entrance, a grand stair featuring a water cascade leads visitors further up to the lily pond, heritage buildings and other park facilities. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Built in early 1900’s, the Wavell House is an example of Edwardian Classical Revival architecture in Hong Kong. Today, it is used as an education centre for the aviary. [Wavell House, Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Built in 1900’s, the three-storey Cassels Block was one of the officer residences in the former Victoria Barracks. After the site was handed over in 1979, Cassels Block was preserved and converted it into the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre (香港視覺藝術中心) in 1992. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Built in 1846, the preserved Flagstaff House is the oldest surviving Western building in Hong Kong. The Greek Revival building has long been the residence of the Commander of British force. Today, it houses the Museum of Teaware (茶具文物館). [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
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Adjacent to the Museum of Teaware stands it’s new wing. It is used to display antiques and house a tea shop. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
The water feature near the Supreme Court Road entrance has long been a popular selfie spot since early 1990’s. I. M. Pei’s Bank of China Headquarters stands prominently at the back. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Full of Koi fish, turtles and frogs, the lily pond is often considered as the central focal point in Hong Kong Park. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
The pond is one of best place to photograph Paul Rudolph‘s Lippo Centre, the twin towers at the heart of modern Admiralty. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
An artificial waterfall and classical balustrade create a harmonic garden scenery at the heart of the park. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Like many parks in Hong Kong, the artificial pond has become a place for irresponsible pet owners to abandon their turtles. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
With a backdrop of luxurious apartments and the Victoria Peak, the Edward Youde Aviary (尤德觀鳥園) stands in the midst of lush green woodlands in the Hong Kong Park. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
The Edward Youde Aviary (尤德觀鳥園) is the largest aviary in Southeast Asia. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
Inside Edward Youde Aviary, a system of elevated boardwalk lead visitors into a artificial forest setting where exotic birds mainly from Indonesia live freely within the enclosure. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
The aviary is home to a number of exotic birds from Southeast Asia. Critically endangered, it is believed that fewer than 100 Bali starling living are living in the wild. [Two Bali starling hopped around the feeding area over the wooden balustrade, Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
Just a short walk from Admiralty station, most bird photography enthusiasts can easily carry their telephoto lens to the aviary at Hong Kong Park. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
Pheasants can also be found in the aviary. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
Red lory is one of the many colourful birds found in the aviary. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
The Olympic Square features an 880 people amphitheatre. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
The “Fighting SARS Memorial Architectural Scene” is erected to commemorate the frontline healthcare workers who lose their lives in the SARS epidemic in 2003. The installation features bronze busts of eight sacrificed medical workers carved by artist artist Chu Tat-shing. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
105 steps will take visitors up to the Vantage Point for a panoramic view of the park and beyond. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
The Vantage Point offers a great lookout to the surrounding urban scenery of Admiralty and Central. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Looking over Admiralty, the 5 star hotels above Pacific Place, Government Offices, and Lippo Centre line behind Hong Kong Park and its 1400 sq.m Forsgate Conservatory. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Further west of Lippo Centre, the former Tamar Royal Navy base, Bank of America, Bank of China and Citibank Tower complete the skyline of Admiralty. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Right across Cotton Tree Road stands the beautiful Murray Hotel, a well known adaptive reuse project by Norman Foster. Built in 1969, the 27-storey government building was successfully converted into a 5-star hotel and opened in 2018. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]

VICTORIA PRISON (域多利監獄), Tai Kwun (大館), Central (中環), Hong Kong

The former Victoria Prison or Gaol is the third main component of the Tai Kwun Centre of Heritage and Arts. Built in August 1841, some say the prison was the first permanent Western architecture constructed in Hong Kong. It served as the city’s first prison until 2006, when the complex was decommissioned for good. Today, the prison halls are largely preserved as listed historical buildings. Some are opened to the public to showcase the history, while some are being converted into restaurants and bars. But it’s the Prison Yard, the tranquil courtyard in the midst of the prison compound that is the real gem. Under the shade of Frangipani and Candlenut trees, movable beach chairs are provided for relaxation. In the evening, the courtyard is dimly lit to maintain a peaceful ambience.

At either end of the Prison Yard, renowned architect Herzog de Meuron has left their mark by erecting two cubic structures that appear to be floating in mid air above the prison walls. Serving as a theatre, one of the cubic structure is known as JC Cube. The other cube, named JC Contemporary, is a sleek looking museum of contemporary art. Beneath the JC Cube lies the stepped plaza Laundry Steps, where movie screening and live performances would regularly be held. Echoing the brick and stone masonry of the heritage structures, the cast aluminium facade of the cubic structures offer a dramatic contrast between the old and new.

If the Parade Ground courtyard at the lower platform is reserved for the vibrancy of retail and dining activities, the Prison Yard at the upper platform is all about the venues for cultural exhibitions and performances. While the Central Police Headquarters on Hollywood Road and Central Magistracy on Arbuthnot Road were all about establishing an authoritative image to the public, the unpretentious buildings of the Victoria Prison, which have been walled off from the city ever since 1841, offers the perfect setting for contemporary culture and architecture to establish a new identity for the compound. Converting the cold prison blocks into a welcoming urban oasis has so far proven to be successful.

Earlier versions of Victoria Prison have long gone, including the one with a radial plan dated to 1858. [Photo: University of Bristol – Historical Photographs of China reference number: NA16-009. Image from an album in The National Archives. 1860’s]
Today, the JC Contemporary cantilevers over the granite walls of Victoria Prison and red brick facades of the Central Police Headquarters along Old Bailey Street. [Tai Kwun at junction of Old Bailey Street and Staunton Street, Central, 2021]
At the junction of Old Bailey Street and Chancery Lane, the Blue Gate (now painted green) marks the main entrance of Victoria Prison. From my childhood home just a dozen of steps away, my curiosity would explode whenever a police truck arrived with new prison inmates. Back in the 1980’s, the prison was actually used as a transit and repatriation centre for Vietnamese refugees. [Blue Gate of Victoria Prison at junction of Old Bailey Street and Chancery Lane, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The southern extent of Victoria Prison is bounded by the granite wall along Chancery Lane. [Prison wall at Chancery Lane, Central, 2021]
I remember most walls of the Victoria Prison were topped with glass pieces when I was a child. Today, only a small amount of glass is left. [Former prison wall at Chancery Lane, Central, 2021]
The JC Cube overhangs beyond the prison wall along Arbuthnot Road. [Tai Kwun at Arbuthnot Road, Central, 2021]
From Central Magistracy, a small chapel decorated with wall paintings marks the entrance vestibule into the former Victoria Prison. [Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
Herzog de Meuron chose a cladding design contrasting to the heritage masonry buildings for the new cubic buildings. [Former Victoria Prison, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The Victoria Prison was damaged during WWII, and has gone through extensive restoration after the war. [Hall B, Victoria Prison, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Hong Kong was declared a port of first asylum for Vietnamese refugees. The prison was used as a transit and repatriation centre. [Former Victoria Prison, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The Victoria Prison has imprisoned all kinds of people in its 165 years of history, including some well known figures such as Vietnamese revolutionary and politician Ho Chi Minh. [Former prison hall, Tai Kwun, Central, 2018]
One of the prison buildings was used to showcase projections of Chinese and Italian sword fighting techniques as part of the Way of the Sword: Warrior Traditions in China and Italy exhibition. [Former prison hall, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The Laundry Steps serves as a connection point between the platform of Central Magistracy and Prison Yard. [Laundry Steps, Tai Kwun, Central, 2018]
Beneath the JC Cube is Laundry Steps, a welcoming stepped plaza designated for live performances. [Laundry Steps, Tai Kwun, Central, 2020]
The Laundry Steps is a great place for movie screening. [Laundry Steps, Tai Kwun, Central, 2020]
During the pandemic, beach chairs were removed from the Prison Yard. Only the Frangipani and Candlenut trees remain as the main features of the courtyard. [Prison Yard, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
Live performances would occasionally be held at the Prison Yard. [Prison Yard, Tai Kwun, Central, 2018]
Built in 1913, and modified in 1931 and 1948, Hall F was considered to have less historical value compared to other buildings in the compound. Left of Hall F is the passageway leading to the Blue Gate. [Prison Yard, Tai Kwun, Central, 2018]
Built in 1858, the 3-storey D Hall of former Victoria Prison is the oldest surviving structure in Tai Kwun. [Prison Yard, Tai Kwun, Central, 2018]
The first floor of D Hall was once used as a hospital and psychiatric ward, while the second floor housed youth detainees. Today, the ground floor is converted into a causal restaurant managed by a NGO. [Prison Yard, Tai Kwun, Central, 2020]
Design by Herzog de Meuron, a cast aluminium cladding system made from recycled vehicle wheels in Australia is used for the outer skin of JC Contemporary and JC Cube. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The slit of glazing reveals the spiral stair up to the exhibition floors of the JC Contemporary. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
A minimalist base of concrete and glass lifts the JC Contemporary up beyond the prison wall. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
The spiral staircase in the JC Contemporary is a popular selfie spot today. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]
Wet Feet_Dry Feet:Borders and Games by Belgian artist Francis Aly was one of the many exhibitions hosted at the JC Contemporary recently. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, March 2021]
The small Artist’s Book Library on the second floor of JC Contemporary is a pleasant place to take a break. [JC Contemporary, Tai Kwun, Central, 2021]

CENTRAL POLICE HEADQUARTERS & MAGISTRACY, Tai Kwun (大館), Central (中環), Hong Kong

In the business district of Hong Kong, it is always an uphill battle to preserve a heritage building against the power of urban development. The former Police Married Quarters (PMQ) is a rare exception, and so as the former Central Police Station Compound just a few blocks down Hollywood Road. In the past two years, the most exciting new attraction in Hong Kong has to be Tai Kwun (大館). Consisted of 16 heritage buildings, 2 courtyards and 2 new structures, Tai Kwun is the the largest heritage and art compound in the city. Literally means “big station” in Chinese, “Tai Kwun” refers to how people used to call this former police compound over a century ago. Today, Tai Kwun is home to art and history exhibitions, outdoor performances, a 200-seat auditorium, design shops, restaurants and bars. Perhaps everyone acknowledges that there isn’t much old Hong Kong left to see nowadays, that’s why Tai Kwun has become an instant hit on Instagram and made it onto Time magazine’s list of World Greatest Places when the compound first opened to the public in 2018.

The story of Tai Kwun dates as far back as 1841, the year when the British first set foot in Hong Kong. On the slope of Tai Ping Shan in Central, Captain William Caine who also served as Chief Magistrate and Head of Police and Gaol chose the current site bounded by Hollywood Road (荷李活道), Old Bailey Street (奧卑利街), Chancery Lane (贊善里) and Arbuthnot Road (亞畢諾道) to build the city’s first prison, police station and magistracy office all in one compound. Expansions and alterations of the splendid compound gradually establish the authority of the colonial police force upon the public. Most buildings were erected before 1925, despite expansions and alterations continued to transform Tai Kwun well into 1950’s. For 160 years the compound served as Central’s law enforcement hub until 2006 when the compound was finally decommissioned. In 2007, conceptualization of the Tai Kwun revitalization project began to take shape. Construction and conservation work began in 2011 and took 8 years to complete. After spending HKD 3.7 billion from the Hong Kong Jockey Club charity trust, Tai Kwun finally opened its doors in May 2018.

As a child having lived for a decade at the intersection of Old Bailey Street and Chancery Lane just 10m away from the Blue Gate of Victoria Prison, entering the walled compound that has been off limits to the public for the last 160 years has been quite special to me. I used to walk past the prison along Chancery Lane and imagine what might lie on the other side of the high stone wall topped with pieces of broken glass. As the revitalized Tai Kwun unveiled its mysterious face, my childhood curiosity has finally been fed. It is delightful for me to see that Tai Kwun has been carefully preserved, restored and everyone, including me, can finally see, touch and enjoy whatever that are taking place at both sides of the prison walls.

The compound is defined by three main groups of buildings: Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison. Buildings of the Police Station cluster around the Parade Ground courtyard at the lower platform, while the prison structures stand around the Prison Yard at the upper platform. The beautiful Magistracy building is situated in between at the middle platform. [Visitor centre display shows the three areas of Tai Kwun: Police Station in blue, Magistracy in orange, and the Prison in yellow, 2021]
A pedestrian footbridge links up Tai Kwun with the Central – Mid Levels Escalator. [Junction of Old Bailey Street and Hollywood Road, 2020]
The once tranquil Old Bailey Street has seen its streetscape dramatically developed into a welcoming pub scene. [Tai Kwun at seen from Old Bailey Street, 2020]
The Central Police Headquarters building along Hollywood Road is seen as the poster child of the compound. [Tai Kwun as seen from Hollywood Road, 2021]
From Hollywood Road, a sloped lane leads visitors up to the Parade Ground courtyard. [Tai Kwun as seen from Hollywood Road, 2021]
No longer in use, the front entrance of the Central Police Headquarters on Hollywood Road reveals the colonial power of the British government. [Tai Kwun at Hollywood Road, 2021]
Classical style was used in to impose a powerful image upon the public. The Central Police Headquarters was the first attempt by the colonial police force to establish its authority to the city. [Tai Kwun as seen from Hollywood Road, 2021]
Designed by British architect Leslie Owen Ross, the Central Police Headquarters represented the authority of law and order with classical motifs such as fluted columns and lion decorations. [Tai Kwun as seen from Hollywood Road, 2021]
The former inspector residences define the corner of Arbuthnot Road and Hollywood Road. [Junction of Hollywood and Arbuthnot Road, 2021]
Built in 1914, the Central Magistracy stands as the most prominent structure on Arbuthnot Road. Just like Central Police Headquarters, the court house adopted a classical approach to establish its powerful image to the public. [Near junction of Hollywood and Arbuthnot Road, 2021]
The year 1914 was clearly marked on the keystone of the Central Magistracy. [Near junction of Hollywood and Arbuthnot Road, 2021]
Canton red bricks were used extensively for Central Magistracy and Central Police Headquarters. [Arbuthnot Road, 2021]
Inside the compound, an arched doorway divided the Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison. [Outside Central Magistracy, Tai Kwun, 2020]
The decorative entrance of the Central Magistracy is carefully preserved. [Central Magistracy, Tai Kwun, 2021]
The entrance of the Central Magistracy is now a hot spot for taking selfies. [Central Magistracy, Tai Kwun, 2021]
At the former Central Police Headquarters, the Parade Ground courtyard served as the main event and parade space for the colonial police force. Now, it has become the main event space for Tai Kwun Heritage and Arts Compound. [Parade Ground, Tai Kwun, 2019]
Standing at the west side of Parade Ground is the former Armoury building. Now, it has become a bar popular with tourists and expatriates. [Parade Ground, Tai Kwun, 2018]
The Parade Ground is also a designated spot for setting up large Christmas trees in Central. [Parade Ground, Tai Kwun, 2020]
During the Covid 19 pandemic, public performances are occasionally held depending on the temporary regulations during the time. Parade Ground, Tai Kwun, 2019]
During weekends, performances at Parade Ground are often catered for families and kids. [Parade Ground, Tai Kwun, 2021]
Inside the Central Police Headquarters, fluted columns and decorative mouldings filled the space with a strong colonial setting. [Interior of Central Police Headquarters, Tai Kwun, 2020]
Iron stair railing and floor tiles are preserved inside thee Central Police Headquarters. The building is now used to house heritage display, temporary exhibitions, restaurants and shops. [Interior of Central Police Headquarters, Tai Kwun, 2020]
In 2018, the first exhibition at Central Police Headquarters focused on old businesses in the surrounding neighbourhood. [Interior of Central Police Headquarters, Tai Kwun, 2018]
Footbridges at each level connect the Police Station area with the Victoria Prison. [Tai Kwun, 2021]
During Chinese New Year, the alleyway separating the Ventral Police Headquarters and the Victoria Prison would be filled with red lanterns. [Tai Kwun, 2020]

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]