Performing arts in Hong Kong

Old Hong Kong police station a historic work of art

Long-awaited opening of complex as gallery and heritage centre will be a landmark for cultural development and conservation in the city

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2018, 1:53am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2018, 1:53am

The long-awaited opening of a new arts and heritage centre at the former Central Police Station complex later this month will be a landmark for cultural development and conservation in Hong Kong.

The challenging project is the city’s most extensive and, at a cost of HK$3.8 billion, most expensive heritage restoration project. The work has taken years, but the results are impressive. Visitors will be able to judge for themselves when the doors first open on May 29.

The project has, at times, been controversial. That is not surprising.

It involves the restoration of 16 buildings, and creation of two new ones, in a busy residential area in the heart of Hong Kong. The 13,600 square metre compound, including a police headquarters, a court and prison, is of great historical significance, dating back to the early years of British colonial rule.

Former Hong Kong prison and police station turned arts complex to open this month after US$485 million, eight-year restoration

The news that the project would be developed and funded by the Jockey Club came as a surprise when announced in the chief executive’s policy address in 2007. Ambitious plans, featuring a tall transparent tower, were scrapped the following year after a backlash from residents in the area.

New proposals were put in place and work began. But the project suffered a setback in 2016, when a wall and part of a roof of the former married inspectors’ quarters collapsed.

One of the biggest challenges was developing the site in a way that observed both modern building regulations and the rules on conservation.

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The Jockey Club hopes the work will become a blueprint for future projects. Certainly, there should be debate about the experience and lessons learned. If necessary, regulations should be changed.

Despite the challenges, the complex has been worth the wait. The impressive new centre blends old and new. Historic features have been sensitively conserved and adapted.

But there is also a striking new gallery, intended to burnish Hong Kong’s emerging reputation as a centre for contemporary art. That is an admirable aim. But this type of art is not to everyone’s taste.

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The feedback from visitors will need to be monitored carefully to ensure exhibitions have sufficient appeal. The true test for the project will come when the visitors start streaming in. But it has the potential to set the benchmark for similar projects in the future.