Tai Kwun, the art of reuse according to Herzog & de Meuron

A cultural bastion in the centre of bustling Hong Kong, Tai Kwun – Center for Heritage and Arts arose from a restoration project developed by the Herzog & de Meuron studio

Laundry Steps

“What we did in Hong Kong was convert a former police station into a cultural centre. In Hong Kong and also in China, this type of approach is totally new in the architectural world – something unusual because normally old buildings and whole districts are destroyed and replaced with new ones.” These are the words of Jacques Herzog who explained how the concept of the tabula rasa has been superseded and how a former central police station, the magistrates courts and Victoria prison were restored to create a cultural centre accessible to all.

D Hall | Photo © courtesy of Tai Kwun – Centre for Heritage and Arts

The complex is made up of sixteen historic buildings, two new buildings and external spaces that offer multifunctional sites. Tai Kwun (which means ‘Great Station” in Chinese) presents the best of cinema, photography, music, performance, design, culture and the heritage of Hong Kong.

Photo © courtesy of Iwan Baan

The core of the project are two large courtyards: the Parade Ground (surrounded on both sides by some of the most historic buildings of the site) and the Prison Yard. The aim of the project is to preserve the openness and the distinctive character of both and convert them into new urban spaces, places for gathering and cultural exchange, free time and relaxation.

Photo © courtesy of Iwan Baan

Two new buildings (JC Contemporary and JC Cube) have been introduced in the project, around the Prison Yard. They differ in form and materials but are incorporated harmoniously within the complex, maintaining a minimum distance from the adjacent structures. With these new constructions, the whole area acquires new public spaces and new roads, for example, the new east-west pedestrian link from Arbuthnot Road to Old Bailey Street.

JC Contemporary | Photo © courtesy of Tai Kwun – Centre for Heritage and Arts
Barrack Block | Photo © courtesy of Tai Kwun – Centre for Heritage and Arts
Police Headquarters Block | Photo © courtesy of Tai Kwun – Centre for Heritage and Arts

The new building, JC Contemporary, houses a non-profit art centre dedicated to presenting contemporary art exhibitions and programmes (from six to eight exhibitions a year). JC Cube, The Laundry Steps, Prison Yard and The Parade Ground are spaces for theatrical performances, music, dance and cinema with a vast range of programmes for all tastes.

Laundry Steps | Photo © courtesy of Tai Kwun – Centre for Heritage and Arts

In the south-east corner of Parade Ground is the Central Police Station (CPS) and sites for open-air cinema and performance, while on both sides of the Arbuthnot Road wing there are old prison buildings, D Hall and E Hall.

Photo © courtesy of Iwan Baan
Photo © courtesy of Iwan Baan

The two new buildings are covered with an aluminium mesh (100% recycled), a material used not only to distinguish the inclusion of the new with the historic context, but also to resolve problems related to the structural support, or as a sun shades and protection from the rain in the subtropical climate of Hong Kong. The sight of the light filtering through the metallic mesh is truly evocative.

Photo © courtesy of Iwan Baan

Credits Iwan Baan and the photographs by Tai Kwun