Location: Hong Kong, Hong Kong S.A.R. China.

Architect: Purcell; Herzog & de Meuron; Rocco Design Architects.

Tai Kwun is a joint venture between the Hong Kong government and the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which funded capital costs of $3.8bn and has committed to run the site on a not-for-profit basis for up to 10 years. The site is the largest collection of historic buildings and monuments on a single site in Hong Kong and is the result of over 170 years of change and development. Purcell was responsible for providing full architectural services for the historical buildings, Herzog & de Meuron designed two new buildings and made other site-wide interventions, and Rocco Design Architects managed the on-site executive role. Purcell’s work began in 2008, and the practice conducted vital research that highlighted the site’s significance and helped shape new policies that guided the strategic planning of the renovation project and details the design of the site for the years to come.

In total, 16 historical buildings were retained and adapted for new use, including micro-studio units for artists-in-residence, a modern art gallery, an art archive, and a range of supporting retail, food and beverage components. On a site that was conceived and built as a fortress, it was imperative to find ways of embedding the buildings back into the city, without compromising the significance of the dominant walls that surround the historic fabric. The new cultural centre will become part of residents’ every-day experience of the area and features a selection of restaurants and shops that offer culturally meaningful experiences.

Purcell’s team of conservation architects and heritage consultants carried out a thorough investigation of the compound to assess the site’s issues and to identify the potential for change. Once the conservation management plan and conservation strategy was established, condition surveys and detailed design began. Restoration plans were developed for each of the 16 retained heritage buildings, some of which were found to be in a much poorer state of repair than originally anticipated. Many of the specialist assessment and repair techniques used during the project were being introduced for the first time in Hong Kong, including paint analysis and removal of modern paint layers from fragile brickwork without damaging the substrate. The project opens up a new era in the site’s history as an international benchmark for heritage conservation in Hong Kong.

Photo credit: Edmon Leong.