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Universities in Hong Kong

University of Chicago unveils sleek Hong Kong complex on site of former Victoria Road Detention Centre

More than 100 students on university’s executive MBA programme have already started using campus in Pok Fu Lam

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 8:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 1:08am

It once held inmates arrested after the city’s 1967 leftist riots but now jail cells have been converted into a sleek classroom, and floor to ceiling windows showcase a view of the sea along Hong Kong Island’s westernmost coast.

On Tuesday, the University of Chicago unveiled the results of a US$75 million (HK$586 million) restoration and construction project that breathed new life into the former Victoria Road Detention Centre in Pok Fu Lam and turned it into a modern academic complex.

More than 100 students on its 21-month executive MBA programme, which costs HK$1.305 million in tuition fees, have already started using The Hong Kong Jockey Club University of Chicago Academic Complex/The University of Chicago Francis and Rose Yuen Campus in Hong Kong and there are also plans for members of the public to experience its rich heritage.

From December, the school will organise tours around the campus on 168 Victoria Road and open a heritage museum. The original centre was built in the 1950s on a disused gun emplacement that had been part of the Jubilee Battery used to defend the city in the second world war.

Later, the Special Branch, the counter-espionage arm of the Hong Kong police, took it over and used it for both left- and right-wing detainees.

Professor Lee Ka-yee, chairwoman of the campus’ faculty advisory board, highlighted some of the efforts by the university and project designer Revery Architecture, formerly known as Bing Thom Architects, to conserve the site while giving it new life to fit its new function as an educational facility.

Business school’s site once held left-wing activists and right-wing spies

She gave the example of a classroom in the Block B annex, which is still under construction, which will feature detention cell marks both on the ceiling and walls kept from its past.

“The block has an open design with [square latticed patterns] on walls,” said Lee, a chemistry professor who was born and raised in Hong Kong.

To revitalise the block to include a classroom, which would require air conditioning, a glass door was added to prevent air from escaping while allowing views from both sides, she said.

Also, to help visitors visualise the past, the school was working on a replica of a gun with a six-inch barrel that was once used in the battery.

It had also managed to get in touch with former detainees or those related to them with the aim of getting more information to be included in future exhibitions, Lee said.

The size of the campus is 53,000 sq ft.

‘We prisoners called it the Mount Davis Concentration Camp’

The University of Chicago has had a presence in Hong Kong since 2014 at Cyberport, following its move from Singapore after more than a decade there.

Richard Johnson, associate dean of the executive MBA programme, said the university had found it challenging attracting a broad diversity of students in the Lion City, which was a hallmark of its offering.

He said 60 per cent of students had been from Singapore or based in the city. “But now we have only 27 per cent of students from Hong Kong or based in Hong Kong, with the rest from 14 other countries in Asia.”

The campus is expected to be fully completed in November and the university will also hold its non-degree executive education programmes in topics including marketing and leadership there, along with free seminars on social innovation.