Revitalisation of Old Tai Po Police Station into a Green Hub for Sustainable Living

從舊大埔警署到綠匯學苑: 實現永續生活

Billy Tam 譚漢華


The Green Hub, an adaptive re-use of the historically significant Old Tai Po Police Station (OTPPS), served as a demonstration of sustainable living with architecture, heritage and nature through the collaboration with the community. It has transformed the historical building into a centre for promoting low-carbon living.

Integration of software and hardware in any conservation project does play a key role in ‘re-using’ the architecture without overlooking its layers of history and memories.

The success of the Green Hub had demonstrated how the integration of software and hardware does play a key role in an adaptive re-use conservation project.

• Software – Client’s decisions on how the building to be re-use for operation

• Hardware – Architect’s inspiration and adaptive re-use upon understanding the brief

• Existing building – Old Tai Po Police Station with award -> not focus but add value

• Heritage building – 1st English-style Government building

• Ecological & cultural – habitat of Tai Po Market Egretry with Old and Valuable Trees

At the early beginning stage, Kadoorie Farm Botanic Garden Corporation had treasured the historical significant values of the Old Tai Po Police Station and had creatively decided to transform the heritage building into an inspiring education centre that promotes low-carbon living and a sustainable future. The Kadoorie Farm had set-up the objections and goals in the early stage of the project that to achieve an integrated approach to conserving the historic, architectural and ecological values of the heritage property by extending the project’s primary focus on historic and architectural heritage to a wider appreciation of Hong Kong’s ecological and cultural heritage resources so as to continue to serve the community under a new mission. The original spatial layout has been highly respected during the design process. Instead of superimposing new usage onto the building and attempting a large-scale reconstruction, the project team carefully examined the existing room layout and designed new programmes that could best fit into it and only minimal changes were made to the building’s original layout.

To the hardware, the project team had purposely protected and retained the adjacent habitat of Tai Po Market Egretry, Old and Valuable Trees and most of the trees within the site and had restored the original building structure and architectural elements. For instance, the existing verandah and louvre windows are restored to preserve its colonial appearance and historical value; Recycled and sustainable materials were used to minimize the construction waste generated from alteration and demolition; Enchanted Garden with water features at central courtyard had significantly enriched the wildlife’s habitats; The garden also work as a basin for organic resources and horticultural waste. Greywater recycling system has been installed to illustrate the water management process and together with the education programme provided, the Green Hub, a centre that develop, teach and promote affordable and meaningful strategies for lowcarbon and sustainable living.

In order to preserve the Grade 1 historic building, conservation principles were set-up at the early design to guide the project team to develop the appropriate treatments and level of interventions for the character-defining elements and for historic building fabrics of the Old Tai Po Police Station. The major principles are as follows:-

  a) Respect the changes

  b) Retain authenticity and integrity

  c) Minimum intervention

  d) Repair rather than replace

  e) Reversibility

  f) Integrate the new and the old

One of the major difficulties that conservation projects would be encountered or hindered are the compliance with the ever-changing ordinance and regulations. Every building shall be constructed in compliance with the statutory requirement to ensure the buildings are in structural stable and safe for the public use. Nowadays there are no particular conservation- and heritage-related regulations guideline for conservation revitalization projects. The adaptive reuse of the Old Tai Po Police Station had to comply with the current statutory requirements which makes conservation projects more challenging. On one hand, the architect and project teams need to look for solutions to not only restore the building to its original appearance, but also to suit the client’s operation needs. On the contrary, the building design and planning are required to comply with the current statutory requirement but with historical and physical restrictions. Most of the buildings under conservation projects were built in pre-war or more than 50 years ago, some of the regulations even had not been formulated at the time. There are current statutory requirements that might consider not applicable and stringent which makes conservation project more challenging. Design potential of these projects are often hindered by the current statutory requirement.

There are also limitation and restriction encountered in the Green Hub project which are briefly summarized as follow:-

Timber Roof with Double Pan Tiles

To restore the beauty of the original Chinese-style timber roof, a creative solution was found for the layering of the double pan and roll roof tiles – this roofing style is commonly found in colonial buildings in Hong Kong. The original roof tile design was followed with only slight modifications, in a new arrangement that complies with the ‘Code of Practice on Wind Effects in Hong Kong 2004’. Instead of using structural steel clad with timber, a modern ‘update’ to the traditional design was successfully carried out by adding concealed steel ties which connect the two layers of tiles and the timber structure underneath. All timber members and roof tiles were crafted to form a structural system that satisfies the Buildings Department’s requirements.

The Old Tai Po Police Station made a major contribution to the advancement of local conservation practice as the process helped establish a rigorous set of submission/approval requirements for projects that involve substantial reroofing of a building using timber. The OTPPS project was the very first in Hong Kong to receive approval from the Buildings Department for the use of timber as structural members to restore the roof of an old building, and as such this is a breakthrough project.

The use of timber structures to restore the roof of an old building in Hong Kong was a conservation practice or option that had not been attempted or was unavailable to local projects before. Parts of the timber roof structure in the Main Building at Old Tai Po Police Station had, over the years, been replaced by steel purlins, and they had gradually turned rusty because of water leakage in the roof tiles. Previously, in a situation like this, structural steel clad with timber would be used to restore the roof. But the Old Tai Po Police Station has demonstrated how local conservation using timber roof structures can be achieved. This whole timber roof restoration exercise was thoroughly and rigorously carried out, and the resulting timber roof structure complies with the current wind code and meets all other statutory requirements. This momentous highlight of the project was the fruit of a multi-phase collaboration between the projects’ structural engineers and heritage consultant, and the Heritage Unit in the Buildings Department.

The successful restoration of roof members at Old Tai Po Police Station using timber has now set a local precedent as well as a benchmark for future projects. This pioneering effort has, without doubt, advanced local heritage conservation practice. The success of the Green Hub shall not only come from the efforts made by the client, operator and the consultant team, the Government Departments also play an important role to the realization of the project. The Government Departments shall be open-minded to relax the current building ordinance and regulations to relax some requirements so that the design potential for revitalization could be maximized. This would not only provide a second life to the architecture, but also beneficial to the general public for enjoyment.

Billy Tam is Director of Thomas Chow Architects.

Enchanted Garden

Folk Art Workshop

Enchanted garden

Healing garden


South façade

Master layout plan

Longitudinal section
(All image and drawings courtesy Thomas Chow Architects Ltd.)