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City Weekend

Hong Kong police station ‘shows how city should preserve its heritage’

The Old Tai Po Police Station, which was the subject of a five-year-long revitalisation programme, receives nod from Unesco awards jury

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 September, 2016, 4:59pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 11:40am

The architectural and environmental revitalisation of Hong Kong’s Old Tai Po Police Station has received international recognition.

The site won an honourable mention in this year’s Unesco Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation for its transformation into a Green Hub for Sustainable Living.

A spokesperson overseeing the heritage awards programme praised the Old Tai Po Police Station for successfully conserving “a very significant colonial building”, while many other heritage buildings continue to rapidly disappear from the city.

Unesco judges commended the project’s respect for the natural environment, landscape and building patina.

Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden oversaw the police station’s revival under the government’s Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme in 2010.

Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden’s head of sustainable living and agriculture Idy Wong Lai-yin welcomed the Unesco recognition.

“We submitted the proposal because we think the project was very special in the way that we used an integrated conservation approach, which looked after the heritage in terms of architecture and history ... but we also took care of the heritage trees and the egretry [bird],” she said.

“We took a perspective of looking [at] the overall environment.”

“Instilling new life into the oldest colonial property in the New Territories, the centre provides an oasis in the midst of Hong Kong’s highly urbanised environment.”
Unesco judges citation

Heritage conservation has been a contentious topic in Hong Kong in recent years.

Wong said heritage revitalisation and conservation projects should not just focus on the structure, but should also consider the surrounding environment.

“This building was not that attractive, compared to other [heritage buildings], in terms of its size and architecture style,” she said.

“[But] its history is very prominent. For us, we saw it in a different way. The trees on this site ... made it so special and highlighting this element as a whole added value to the overall conservation project.

“People appreciate the site not just for its history or as an architectural preservation project, they like the place as a ‘green oasis’ as well.”

The Unesco jury said the police station had been transformed from a deserted relic into a vibrant venue for learning about sustainable development, and it revealed layers of cultural history embedded in its buildings while maintaining the site’s distinctive ecosystem.

“Informed by extensive historical research and a thorough understanding of the area’s rich biodiversity, the project retains much of the complex’s original architectural fabric and natural setting, giving little impression of the degree of intervention,” the jury concluded.

“Instilling new life into the oldest colonial property in the New Territories, the centre provides an oasis in the midst of Hong Kong’s highly urbanised environment.”

The Old Tai Po Police Station was the first permanent station constructed in the New Territories in 1899, one year following the British lease of the New Territories. A flag raising ceremony marking the British takeover was held at the police station.

Current Hong Kong laws fail the test of heritage protection

At that time, one quarter of the New Territories police force was stationed in Tai Po.

The site is comprised of three single-storey buildings, including the main building, staff quarters block and the canteen clock, and is situated on the hilltop of Wan Tau Kok Lane. The main building is noted for its distinct colonial architecture, with features such as verandahs, red brick walls, chimneys and pitched roofs.

The station was used as the police headquarters for the New Territories until 1949. Over the following decades, the building was used by various police departments before it was eventually closed in 1987.

The site was given grade two historic building status by the Antiquities Advisory Board in 1988, and was subsequently upgraded to grade one status in 2009.

The following year, the Development Bureau selected Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden for the transformation project, which would end up costing some HK$50 million to complete.

Today, the Green Hub project seeks to be an example of sustainable living. Residential transformative workshops and a range of low-carbon living programmes are provided to give individuals and organisations alternatives to current standards of resource consumption.

The hub serves dishes made only with locally sourced and organic ingredients in an effort to communicate the benefits of sustainable eating and to highlight the consequences of today’s globalised food system.

According to Wong, since the Green Hub opened in August last year, the response from the public has been overwhelming.

“Originally we expected in the first year we would receive around 20,000 visitors — that was our target. [After] one year the visitor numbers exceeded 50,000,” Wong said.

Unesco awards and honourable mentions were given to four other Chinese projects, with the Conservation and Restoration of Taoping Qiang Village in Sichuan receiving the sole award for Distinction.

The Sanro-Den Hall, a prayer hall at Sukunahikona Shrine in Ozu City, Japan, took out the top prize.

No lack of cultural heritage in Hong Kong, if we bother to look for it

More than 190 projects have been recognised under Unesco’s Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation since they began in 2000. Over the years, more than 630 entries from 25 countries ranging from family homes to palace complexes have been submitted to the organisation.

Award winners are selected by a panel of international conservation experts. This year, they reviewed more than 40 entries from six different countries, including Australia, China, India, Iran, Japan and Pakistan.

Last year, Mei Ho House in Sham Shui Po also received an honourable mention in the awards. It is Hong Kong’s sole surviving Mark I H-shaped resettlement block, and was converted into a youth hostel in 2013.