Hong Kong heritage: Tai Kwun 2010 vs 2019

Posted on May 25, 2019 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

tai kwun

tai kwun

 

Since its opening in mid 2018, Tai Kwun (means 'big station' in Cantonese) has become the hottest heritage destintation in Hong Kong. Located at the eastern end of Hollywood Road, the 300,000sq ft compound comprises three declared monuments: the former Central Police Station, former Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison. The revitalisation project is the biggest conservation project in Hong Kong –costing HK$3.8 billion– was led by The Hong Kong Jockey Club in partnership with the Hong Kong Government. The aim was to redevelope the site into a world-class heritage and arts centre.

 

Tai kwun

Tai kwun

tai kwun

 

Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, who are also responsible for the city's M+ museum of visual culture (opens in 2020), worked with UK conservation architects Purcell, and local firm Rocco Design Architects to revitalise 16 historic buildings, a prison yard and parade ground dating between 1864 and 1925. Aside from restoring the old buildings, two new buildings – JC Contemporary and JC Cube – were added to house an art centre dedicated to contemporary art, and a 200-seat auditorium, respectively.

 

tai kwun

tai kwun  tai kwun

tai kwun

After the restoration (2019)

 

Interestingly, I was lucky to have visited the compound just before the restoration works began in 2011. In 2010, the annual deTour creative festival (which coincides with the Business of design week) took place here, so I was able to explore the site and record the exteriors and interiors before the restorations began.

When you look at the photos, you would notice that no significant structural changes were made to the 16 heritage buildings aside from new paint, the removal of wires and some essential restoration works. It is never easy to restore heritage sites, especially a compound with 16 buildings, and I think this project has to be one of the most sucessful cases in Hong Kong (if you look at the disastrous 1881 Heritage in Kowloon, then you would know what I mean).

 

Central Police Station

central police station

central police station

central police station  Central Police Station

central police station

Central Police Station

Central Police Station   Central Police Station

Central Police Station

Central Police Station

The exterior of the site in 2010

 

central police station  tai kwun

Entrance – Before and after

 

The two new buildings are clad with a façade unit system made from 100% recycled cast aluminum, and the units create a contrast with the historical masonry blocks underneath. The the cast aluminum units have a distinctive roughness and texture, which helps to reduce the reflectivity and glare during the daytime. At night, light emitted from the building would be partially screened by the façade units, but without creating light pollution. The new additions have certainly made the site even more 'instagrammable' among visitors.

 

tai kwun

tai kwun

tai kwun

tai kwun

tai kwun

tai kwun

The new JC contemporary & JC Cube designed by Herzog & de Meuron

 

Wandering inside the JC contemporary building, I was reminded of the new extension at Tate Modern in London, which was also designed by the same architectural firm. The use of concrete and the design of the spiral staircases are very similar. The catch with employing starchitects is that they like to apply their signature styles onto most of their works; the best example is Norman Foster's airports – honestly, the world doesn't need another cloned Foster-style airport! I do hope that the new M+ museum is not going to be a replica of Tate Modern.

 

jc contemporary  jc contemporary

jc contemporary

jc contemporary

Inside the JC Contemporary building: the spiral staircase

 

jc contemporary Wing Po So

jc contemporary Wing Po So

jc contemporary

jc contemporary wong ping

Art exhbitions: 1st & 2nd rows – Wing Po So's 6-part practice; last row: Wong Ping's animation

 

The 177-year rich history of the heritage complex reflects Hong Kong's ups and downs during the British colonial era. Not only Ho Chi Minh was imprisoned here for 2 years in 1931-33, it was also used as a Japanese army base during the Second World War. Visitors can find out the history of the complex at the heritage storytelling spaces, and free guided tours are available daily.

As always, shopping and restaurants play a major role in a complex like this. Thankfully, the shops and restaurants here are mostly independent and local rather than chains like Starbucks or Pizza Express. A cultural centre needs alternative shops and restaurants to differentiate it from other shopping malls, and Tai Kwun has achieved this.

 

tai kwun

tai kwun  tai kwun

tai kwun

tai kwun  tai kwun 

tai kwun

tai kwun  tai kwun

The heritage storytelling space, the former prison cells and a former court room

 

Although I think the architects of the project have successfully restored and revitalised the complex, I can't help feeling that 'something' is lost in the process as well. Perhaps this is inevitable due to the scale of this project.

When I look at the photos taken inside the prison in 2010, the place had a slightly eerie and atmospheric feel, whereas now, the prison looks more polished and embellished. It is a shame that many of the fascinating old signage and inmate call system were removed too. Without these details, the prison looks more like a film set, and the authenticity is lost. But then again, as most Hong Kongers would say: "Hong Kong is a city with no memory" (old buildings are constantly being torn down and replaced daily), so when it comes to conservation, this probably is the best that you could ever hope for.

 

Central Police Station  Central Police Station

Central Police Station

Central Police Station

Central Police Station  Central Police Station

Central Police Station

Central Police Station  Central Police Station

Central Police Station

Central Police Station

Central Police Station

Central Police Station  Central Police Station

Central Police Station

The prison cells before the restorations (2010)

 

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This post was posted in Hong Kong, Exhibitions, Architecture, Art, Architectural conservation, Contemporary, contemporary, Hong Kong art and was tagged with Hong Kong, art and design exhibitions, heritage, Architectural conservation, contemporary art, contemporary architecture, Hong Kong art

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