Transformation of the Former PMQ

Sustainable Development of the Community and City

改造前已婚警察宿舍 : 可持續的社區與城市發展

Alice Yeung  楊麗芳

荷李活道前已婚警察宿舍的活化項目為2009年「保育中環」政策的八大項目之一。由最初維多利亞城內第一間廟宇城隍廟,到後來香港第一所官立學校中央書院,然後二次大戰後改建為第一所已婚警察宿舍,最後透過活化再利用成為現在標誌性的創意產業地標「元創坊」,這幢建築和這片土地見證著城市的空間變遷以及塑造了香港人的身份認同。本文闡述項目的保育理念,以最小規模的改動及加建盡量保留原有的建築元素,並通過引入本土年輕設計師為舊建築賦予新的意義。活化項目不僅保育了歷史建築,更重塑並拓展社區空間,促成人與環境的互動,達致城市的可持續發展。


The PMQ (Police Married Quarters) project was initiated by the HKSAR Government under the “Conserving Central” scheme in 2009. The project aim was to revitalise a site that itself had been a transformational place since the earliest days of Hong Kong and make it a creative industries landmark, conserving the heritage of the site in the process.

The site of the former Police Married Quarters had witnessed three (and now a fourth) key socio-economic revolutions that have shaped the identity of Hong Kong people since British colonisation in 1841. It was home to the first urban Chinese Town Hall (known as Shing Wong Temple) from 1843 to 1876. In 1889, the site’s second incarnation was used as the location for the renowned Central School. After being damaged during the Japanese Occupation in the Second World War, a new building was erected on site that served as the first Police Married Quarters for Chinese officers from 1951-2000. The Antiquities Advisory Board rated it a Grade 3 Historic Building in November 2010.

A conservation philosophy of “as much as necessary and as little as possible” was used to guide the revitalisation of the building. As the interior spaces of the former PMQ were predominately domestic in scale, to make the project viable and sustainable as a destination, it was felt necessary to create new functional and usable spaces. These included an architectural addition, the Qube, linking the two original main blocks and providing a fully enclosed space for creative industry events. A semi-open courtyard covered by a glass canopy and a public landscaped roof was added at the top of the Qube.

To reveal the historical layers of the site, preserving and making accessible the foundation stones and archaeological remains of the former Central School was identified as an important goal. As a result, an Underground Interpretation Area (UIA) was constructed for visitors to walk along a specially created viewing corridor.

Other interventions were aimed at making the site more permeable, connected and accessible to all by opening multiple access points to surrounding streets. Lifts and ramps for buggies and wheelchairs were also added. The link between the main blocks also created a covered portico for the main site entrance.

The building’s domestic flat units have been made into affordable workshop and retail spaces for artists and craftspeople. These lodgings evoke memories of Hong Kong’s early public housing with their kitchens located in open corridors and dining areas shared among families living on the same floor. Similar ideas of sharing and interaction have been adopted for the modern use by the creative industries now present in PMQ. The designers and others occupying units along the open corridor are encouraged to exchange ideas. Art pieces on display there spark interaction with visitors. PMQ is now a model for further cultural and creative venues in Hong Kong.

Re-adaptive principles
Four general principles guide the adaptive re-use of historical buildings, both in Hong Kong and internationally. 

First, the “archaeological approach” – renovate faithfully everything that has existed until now while meeting all safety and other regulatory requirements. The Green Hub at Old Tai Po Police Station is an example of this. It adopted a low-level intervention when dealing with character-defining elements and historic building features. Other local examples include Tai Fu Tai Mansion and the Tang Ancestral Hall. The archaeological approach is suitable for buildings with relatively high historical values where the past of the buildings can be faithfully revealed.

Second, minimal intervention – making just the number of modern alterations necessary, mainly in interiors, so the historical image of a building remains intact. One example of this approach is Herzog & de Meuron’s Tate Modern. The building itself was originally a thermal power plant abandoned in the 1980s. The principle of minimal intervention led to just minor alterations and the addition of a two-storey glass box at the roof top level. The original exterior brown brick walls, interior steel structure and bold vertical slot windows were preserved to reflect the historical scenes of the machinery and industrial era. A local example is The Mills by Nan Fung Group, where factory buildings that housed textile mills have been transformed into a new gathering, cultural and commercial venue home to many start-up artists and designers as well as generating cultural and social activities.

Third, add a modern element to a historical structure to give the old building a rebirth. This approach respects the contemporary spirit of the modern age. An overseas example is Herzog & de Meuron’s Caixa Forum, an abandoned electric power station to which extra storeys encased in oxidised cast-iron were added at the top. Made with a harmonious colour and texture as the existing bricks, this combination of old and new materials created a rich dialogue between the past – Madrid’s former industrial age – and the present. Another Herzog & de Meuron project, Elbphilharmonie, an old warehouse that originally stored tea and cocoa powder that’s now Hamburg’s most iconic concert hall, provides another example where a modern approach was applied to an old building. In this case, a crystal-clear wave-shaped structure was added on top to combine the old and new elements. From the point of view of conservation/revitalisation, there is merit in recycling and reusing old structures as an urban resource. By inserting new items into an old structure, new life can be given to a historical building.

Fourth, add a historical pastiche structure to an old building. Qianmen Avenue in Beijing, by Yung Ho Chang and IROJE Architects & Planners, exemplifies this approach. Qianmen Avenue is a traditional commercial street, adjacent to Tiananmen Square. The renovation, completed before the Beijing Olympics in 2008, aimed at reproducing the architectural style of the late Qing Dynasty. Historical pastiche elements were inserted into old buildings along the avenue, allowing the appearance and atmosphere of the past to be retained despite the presence of many franchise stores.

All the above four principles can be applied for adaptive re-use, with none of the them, except perhaps the last one, being better or worse than the others. Every historical building has its own background, history, condition and character, making it difficult to apply any form of standardised solution or typical approach for adaptive re-use projects. Buildings of high historical value, such as the Forbidden City or the Parthenon, might best be fully preserved. Others with less historical value could be partly conserved, with some alterations or additions allowed that revitalise the buildings and nearby communities.

The ultimate, long-term goal for any adaptive design project should be to reuse a historical structure in way that to provide for the sustainable development of a community or city. A successful outcome will not only rejuvenate the historical structure itself, but also form a magnet and regenerate the local urban environment, helping the general public be better able to see and understand local culture and history.

Historical revitalisation projects should also aim at achieving a dialogue between the old and new – physically, spatially, culturally and spiritually. Such schemes should also emphasise community vision, historical and archaeological research, urban design strategies and connectivity with a district’s overall masterplan.

There is no ‘correct theory’ or single language for doing architecture. Regarding this discipline, an article in Architizer featured a debate between Peter Eisenman and Peter Zumthor on their ideologies. The former, a late modernist, one of the New York Five, regards architecture as a conceptual, cultural and intellectual enterprise. The latter, a phenomenologist, respects the sensory experience of light, colour and materials. Neither is better than the other, yet they both have addressed different aspects of architecture and produced influential works.

Most buildings are designed to stand for at least 50 years. Architects need to understand all aspects of any site’s conditions and produce a building for it that is appropriate to the context. Another crucial point is that architects should have the skills needed to realise their concepts with no loss in translation from thinking to drawing and finally to building.

Alice Yeung is the Assistant Director (Architectural) of Architectural Services Department.
楊麗芳是建築署助理署長(建築設計)。

View of covered courtyard from the Qube

Exploded isometric showing added elements of PMQ

Night view of North block (© Jake Wong)

Reused retail unit with generous corridor

Workshop by local artisan in generous balcony space

North-south section showing the Qube

Ground floor plan

View from junction of Aberdeen Street and Hollywood Road