By: Melissa Stevens
An ambitious project to revitalise the Central Police Station has come to fruition with the opening of the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts, creating an exciting new precinct for Hong Kong’s art scene. Tai Kwun, which translates to “big station”, is the colloquial name used by police officers and the public alike to refer to the former police headquarters and the surrounding compound – the former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison.
The oldest structure dates to 1864, and its heritage significance was officially recognised in 1995 when the compound buildings were listed as Declared Monuments. The complex was in use in different forms until 2006, when it was decided its prime location should be preserved as a public space of benefit for all.
The biggest restoration project in Hong Kong’s history began in 2010 when the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Hong Kong Government joined forces to return the 16 buildings that form the complex to their original state. The project’s lead designers were Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron, who had previously worked on Tate Modern, and the heritage architects were Purcell, who had worked on St Paul’s Cathedral.
Where possible, original materials were restored and reinstated; when that wasn’t possible, replacements were fabricated that were as close to the originals as possible. Two new buildings – JC Contemporary and JC Cube, an art gallery and performance space respectively – were carefully designed to be sympathetic to the site.
Eight years on, the HK$3.8billion project has been completed and the 27,900-square-metre site now offers visitors the chance to experience these examples of colonial architecture in all their glory, as well as a roster of innovative heritage, cultural and lifestyle offerings.
Tai Kwun director Timothy Calnin says more than 30 exhibitions, shows, performances, cultural events and education offerings of heritage, contemporary art and performing arts will be presented during Tai Kwun’s Opening Season. “We aim to live up to the magnificence of Tai Kwun’s physical environment through creativity, partnerships and attractions to make sure it stays alive and vibrant, and visitors return frequently,” he adds.
The arts are a major focus of the Tai Kwun project, and the plan is to present a rich schedule of exhibitions, performances, activities and information sessions. The art exhibition space, JC Contemporary, houses a not-for-profit art centre dedicated to presenting contemporary exhibitions and programmes in Hong Kong. It will host six to eight exhibitions each year.
Tai Kwun’s performing arts programmes will utilise indoor and outdoor spaces, with venues including the JC Cube, the Laundry Steps, the Prison Yard and the Parade Ground being used for theatre, music, dance and film.
100 Faces of Tai Kwun 11am-8pm, daily until 2 September
One of the inaugural exhibitions is 100 Faces of Tai Kwun, which consists of 100 stories collected from 100 kaifongs (local neighbours) and friends to explore the history of the Central Police Station compound and the intricate relationships of the neighbourhood.
Heritage Storytelling Spaces 11am-8pm, daily
Find out more about Tai Kwun’s history at eight designated storytelling spaces. Featured stories include that of the Police Station and details about life in Victoria Prison.
Sunday Movies 11am & 3pm, Sundays
Tai Kwun’s Sunday Movie Series will see free film screenings once a week in the semi-outdoor Laundry Steps. Films will be a combination of features and shorts, curated in collaboration with the Hong Kong International Film Festival.
Tai Kwun is also poised to become a go-to destination for dining with some of the city’s restaurant power-players establishing a presence. Visitors will find a variety of offerings with bars, local food and high-end restaurants.
Dining Concepts has added to its impressive roster of fantastical venues with Dragonfly, another collab with designer Ashley Sutton. The boutique cocktail lounge will feature art, blown glass and bespoke cocktails.
Old Bailey is the first new restaurant in two years for Jia Group. It will showcase Jiangnan cuisine, which has a sweeter palate and clean, light flavours, to promote the diversity and authenticity of regional Chinese cooking.
The Chinese Library, statement and the Dispensary
Aqua Group is opening two restaurants and a bar in Tai Kwun. The Chinese Library will have a menu drawing on different regional Chinese cuisines, while Statement restaurant will showcase innovative British dining. The Dispensary is a lounge bar that will link the two venues. The three spaces were designed by AB Concept.
Tai Kwun’s site is bordered on three sides by Old Bailey Street, Hollywood Road and Arbuthnot Road, while Chancery Lane runs along the southern (upper) prison wall. Its address is 10 Hollywood Road and there are five gates open to the public: Bauhinia House Gate (which has barrier-free access), Footbridge Gate, Blue Gate, Old Bailey Gate and Pottinger Gate. The site is open from 11am to 11pm and the Visitor Centre from 11am to 8pm.
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