using a super heated water system, “basically a kind of steam cleaning,” explains Sparrow, to remove the layers of paint all the way to the original brick inner facades. Two of the dormitory buildings were originally faced with brickwork internally. Over the years, where the decision had been taken to over paint those surfaces, modern paint has been used, which was compromising the building’s health. “It was a kind of plastic paint which trapped moisture in,” says Sparrow. “This was making the brickwork deteriorate, so we took the decision to do conservation cleaning.” Using this approach, the team were able to remove the paint without damaging the brick substrates. In addition, the team sampled various joinery items to identify the timber species, which helped them identify suitable repair materials. “Where we had to do window repairs, we could use the same timber species or a like-for-like material.” Statutory compliance presented the architects with a further challenge; in Hong Kong, building regulations assume that a project is new build. “For example,” explains the architect, “if you’ve got existing staircases which are too steep to apply to the current codes, you can’t always rebuild the staircase because there may not be enough space in the existing enclosure, which may mean major re-planning.” He adds: “In effect, you’re going to destroy the very thing you’re trying to save.” To resolve this issue, Purcell undertook assessments of staircases and their arrangements, including comprehensive risk assessments and taking the resulting mitigation measures. “We did a lot of negotiations, and luckily our executive architects were excellent in having the discussions with the building departments to overcome some of these issues.”

Contrasting additions

The site has not just been restored and revitalised, new functions have been added across the former prison compound. As well as providing provisions for the necessary retail, restaurant and back-of-house functionalities to keep the facility both practically and financially sustainable – catering largely for local ‘boutique’ businesses – the two new Herzog & de Meuron volumes offer large-scale modern cultural spaces alongside the heritage aspects of the compound. The Tai Kwun Contemporary is a 16,000 art space hosting frequent exhibitions,

ft2 ADF MARCH 2019

mainly from local artists, and the ‘Cube’ houses a 200-seat auditorium plus an amphitheatre. The distinct and somewhat dramatic new volumes ‘float’ above the surrounding buildings, cantilevered above the compound’s enclosing granite walls. While integrated tightly into the compound, the two new buildings both deliberately contrast with their historic neighbours. However, although explicitly modern, both featuring 100 per cent recycled aluminium external ‘padding,’ the architects took inspiration from the surrounding heritage, while concurrently addressing practical issues of structural support, sun shading and rain protection. The buildings’ geometry was taken from some of the existing masonry work around the site, with their textured facades breaking down scale and reducing reflectivity and glare. The cladding itself also took reference from the original granite walls, the bonding pattern being incorporated in the new buildings’ design. “We’ve always said that we advocate that new interventions should always be of their time, and the two new buildings achieved this very well,” notes Gary.

Informed judgements The careful treatment of the site’s long history is professed in each facet of this project. Unique in Hong Kong in terms of its size and treatment, the compound already serves thousands of visitors a day, offering them access to a public cultural venue in a previously impenetrable complex. The fully restored site is an impressive testament to the architects’ design ambition, with attention to detail in historical accuracy the top priority. Many of the specialist assessment and repair techniques used during the project were being introduced for the first time in Hong Kong, and Sparrow notes that diligence was evident throughout: “We’ve tried not to make a leap of faith in decisions, when we can actually use technical data to make the best informed judgements.”

He comments on how the public have reacted to Tai Kwun so far: “The proof is in the numbers. In the six months since the site opened at the end of May 2018, more than 1.5 million people have visited. Sparrow concludes: “It was the Jockey

Club’s intentions not only to physically integrate the site into the city, but also emotionally. They want people to return again and again, to come back for dinners, shows, exhibitions, heritage, and, from what I can see, that’s happened.” 



“Our task was to try and embed the site back into the city”

Gary Sparrow, associate, Purcell

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