Urban re-inventions #1: Hong Kong’s Tai Kwun hits its 1.5-year-old mark

We at Madeleine’s recently had the opportunity to do a “revisit” to a big urban renewal and revitalisation project: Tai Kwun, which celebrates its second Christmas (and hits the first-year-and-a-half anniversary of its opening).

This is a complex sitting almost in the middle of Central, just 100 steps up the hill from Queens Road Central (and steps away from the antiques part of Hollywood Road as well as a few more steps away from the delightful, quaint and favourite-of-ours, the Taipingshan area).  It used to be the police station and an adjoining prison (officially called the former Central Police Station compound), and has been converted into a unique mix of heritage and contemporary architecture.  16 heritage buildings have been meticulously restored for adaptive reuse, with two new buildings added, featuring designs inspired by the site’s historic brickwork.

The main building is in a classic Victorian style with beautiful red brick walls, and lots of heritage details, like the mosaic in the floor and the diamond patterns in the window.  The uniqueness of the site comes from its over 170-year history spanning from the mid-19th century, making it one of the earliest structures built under British colonial rule.  Through the generations, the site has constantly evolved to meet the needs of Hong Kong law enforcement requirements.

Notably, this is where the former Vietnamese leader, Ho Chi-minh, was helped when he was arrested by the British authorities in Hong Kong in 1931 to 1933.

Some remnants of the former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison have been retained, and you can go into a cell block, which is left exactly the way it was when the last prisoner left, to step into the shoes of former inmates.

There are contemporary art exhibitions, gigs out on the grass, late night gallery openings called Art After Hours, Sunday film screenings as well as a whole host of other cultural activities.  Most important of all, there’s plenty of open space with chairs and benches in the various courtyards.

There’s also the famous mango tree that overlooks the big courtyard from one corner.  There are several stories displayed throughout the site, recounting memories of people working at Tai Kwun, for example how they thought that if the tree was bearing lots of fruit one year, then there would be a lot of promotions that year.

More on a similarly interesting urban re-invention in London at Urban re-inventions #1: London’s Coal Drops Yard hits its one-year-old mark.

Two other urban re-inventions we love in this city that never stops moving are the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre in Shek Kip Mei (which almost no one knows about) and the Comix Homebase in Wanchai.  More travelogues from us to come.

For musings on recent Hong Kong-bound wanderlust that led us to a floating solar island amongst other escape ideas, read this; for our summer observations on the complicated popular movement in this city, read this.