Following the Central Police Station compound’s decommissioning in 2006, The Hong Kong Jockey Club sought to regenerate the site for re-use, and in 2018, the compound reopened as the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts.

Purcell have restored and adapted the 6-acre site in the heart of Hong Kong for new use. The restoration has ensured the longevity of the compound and has provided new arts facilities to be enjoyed by both visitors and the local community.

Within the first four months of the site opening, Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts received its 1 millionth visitor.

A Declared Monument Status

The Central Police Station compound was previously headquarters of the police, the central magistrate’s court and the main prison for the colony. As a Declared Monument Status site, its diverse architectural structure reflects Hong Kong’s vast heritage.

Working in partnership with the Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, The Hong Kong Jockey Club aimed to transform the compound into a cultural venue for both the local people and visitors to enjoy.

The intention was to create something that is at once new, yet familiar, that is seen as culturally relevant to all people in Hong Kong, whatever their social background and is sustainable in the long term.

Conservation Management Plan

Purcell was commissioned as Conservation Architects to research the history and significance of the Central Police Station compound in order to identify the areas of the site that could be retained whilst accessing its scope for change.

Purcell’s Conservation Management Plan recognised that the 6-acre site set the principal objective as one of retaining and conserving the compound’s significant features whilst identifying areas of the site which were having an adverse impact on its significance.

The report advised that the least intrusive uses were introduced into spaces of high significance, with the most intrusive in those space of low significance. Building on this, Purcell provided the advocacy in support of stakeholder consultation, and ultimately, statutory approval.

Restoration and Adaptation

As the single largest heritage project throughout Hong Kong’s history, Purcell revitalised 16 heritage buildings, the exterior arches and pillars of the old brick structures as well as introducing new uses to otherwise vacant public spaces.

The overall objective was to conserve the heritage resource in accordance with the policies and guidelines of the Conservation Management Plan. This was typified by the restoration of character-defining elements and selected artefacts, the removal of intrusive historic alterations added over time and works to facilitate meeting building codes to allow the buildings to have beneficial use.

The location of various new uses has been a key point carefully considered to enable the best possible preservation of the heritage resources consistent with fitting new uses and achieving statutory compliance.

Throughout the project, Purcell worked in collaboration with Herzog & de Meuron who designed two new buildings within the compound and Rocco Design Architects as the Executive Architect.

Conservation and Adaptive Re-use

It was recognised that the open spaces such as the former prison yard’s significance were to be acknowledged. There was pressure to occupy these outdoor spaces for dining but the parade ground at least was conceived as a set-piece that should be preserved as an open space. This approach also created a new opportunity by offering the potential for gathering and performance events, a type of venue that is in very short supply in Central Hong Kong.

The principal interventions comprised of the construction of two new buildings; a multi-purpose auditorium and a modern art gallery as well as a bridge across a main road to link the site directly to the Mid Levels escalator.

Works also included the removal of three existing buildings that were regarded as intrusive in order to enhance more of the site’s unique spatial qualities.The building services infrastructure was completely renewed and mostly built below ground.

The decision to build these interventions and to create a centre for heritage and arts was driven by the recognition that in order to be sustainable in the long term the site had to deliver more than a restored former Police Station. The site needed to be embedded back into the city so that the local people would return again and regard it as part of their daily lives.

The combination of conservation and adaptive reuse to preserve the compound has breathed new life into the site and has transformed it into a lively centre dedicated to contemporary art and heritage.

In 2019, Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts won the UNESCO Asia-Pacific 'Award of ‘Excellence’ for Cultural Heritage Conservation.