Tai Kwun: Centre for Heritage and Arts

大館 : 古蹟及藝術館

Herzog & de Meuron

What we have done in Hong Kong is to transform a former Police Station into a Centre for Heritage and Arts… The principle is TABULA RASA… In daily life we all still carelessly throw away things we use every day instead of recycling and reintegrating them in a somewhat appropriate or even creative way… Re-Inventing and Re-Using pre-existing ideas and objects – not necessarily of a heroic period of the past, but simply of what we found in front of us – has become an essential element within our vocabulary since those early days and projects…think of early projects such as the ‘Marktplatz Basel’, ‘Stone House Tavole’, later of course ‘Tate Modern’ or now ‘Tai Kwun’. We adopted this strategy of working WITH instead of AGAINST the existing material world of objects because we found it natural and inspiring, often resulting in unexpected and innovative results…” 

Jacques Herzog, July 2018

The former Central Police Station, the Central Magistracy and the Victoria Prison is a walled compound of heritage buildings at the commercial centre of Hong Kong Island. Established by the British after 1841 as the colony’s main police station, magistracy, and prison, the site is one of Hong Kong’s most important remaining historic monuments. Following its decommission in 2006, the entire compound was vacated, leaving a set of open grounds and a collection of unique buildings. The compound is defined and structured by two large courtyards: the Parade Ground and the Prison Yard. Our goal is to preserve the openness and distinct character of both and to re-activate them for public use as a new type of urban found space. These spaces will define the site physically and programmatically as places of gathering, cultural exchange, leisure, and respite.

The design of JC Contemporary, located at the southwest portion of the site, is developed in close relation to the adaptive reuse of the F Hall. New connections will be created between the two buildings. Together, they will house contemporary art functions. The courtyard entrance of the JC Contemporary is defined by the building’s volume hovering above the historic revetment wall. This entrance area is protected from rain and sun, and acts as the circulation hub and foyer to both the F Hall and JC Contemporary. The F Hall will be a versatile gallery space for art exhibition or other special events. Much of the original architecture with its traces from the buildings’ past use are kept and preserved. In contrast, the adjacent JC Contemporary will feature large column free exhibition spaces with maximum flexibility. Skylights in the roof will provide natural daylight into the top gallery space. The second floor is dedicated to a restaurant with an outdoor terrace overlooking the rich and textured roofscape of the entire compound embedded in the cityscape.

Sitting as a new marker on the southeast corner of the CPS site is the new JC Cube. The volume similarly hovers above the revetment wall along Arbuthnot Road, creating a covered public outdoor gathering, cinema and performance space with a large stair whose steps may be used for informal seating. On either side of the JC Cube are old prison buildings, D Hall and E Hall, forming interior elevations for this unique outdoor venue. The height restriction is also fully taken advantage of, resulting in two more generous program spaces above: an 8m height multipurpose space with an accessible technical grid ceiling, and a mechanical plant room that houses cooling towers and equipment serving the entire site.

Both new buildings are clad with a cast aluminium façade unit system that is referencing, in terms of scale and proportion, the existing granite block elements of the characteristic bordering revetment wall surrounding the entire site, thus establishing a certain contextual relationship. The use of 100% recycled aluminium as a material provides a distinctive architectural expression and materiality, setting the new buildings apart as new insertions amongst the collection of historical masonry blocks, and at the same time addresses issues such as structural support, sun shading, and rain protection in Hong Kong’s subtropical climate. The specific porosity, patterning, and expression of the façade unit is informed by the functional and environmental requirements of the uses within

The materiality of the cast aluminium units will have a distinctive roughness and texture breaking down the façade surface, which helps to reduce the reflectivity and glare during the daytime. At night, light emitted from the building will be partially screened by the façade units, expressing the life of activities within but without creating light pollution.

The success of Tai Kwun’s revitalisation lay in a collaborative effort between Herzog & de Meuron, Purcell and Rocco Design Architects. Among the many original buildings that were retained and restored, Herzog & de Meuron have introduced two new buildings (JC Contemporary and JC Cube) to the Former Central Police Station Compound (CPSC). (Ed)

JC Cube (© Iwan Baan)

JC Contemporary (© Iwan Baan)