Central Police Station, also known as the “Big Station” (Tai Kwun in Cantonese) has been transformed over the course of nearly a decade into the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts and is now open for public enjoyment and promoting the arts in what amounts to one of the city’s largest conservation and conversion of a heritage site.
The building sits in one of the first areas of Hong Kong to have been colonized by the British. Many of the original colonial buildings in this area were demolished long ago to make way for new development, but the former Police Station stands as a testament to the Hong Kong of days gone by. Tai Kwun is made up of a cluster of declared monuments including the former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison.
The building underwent an 8-year, $3.8 billion dollar renovation headed by the Hong Kong Jockey Club in what is the biggest and most expensive heritage conservation project the city has seen.
16 buildings of former Central Police Station and Victoria Prison were included in the revitilisation project. Some of the buildings are more than 150 years old and hold a wealth of Hong Kong’s cultural memory and heritage.
The renovation has updated the space while still maintaining many of the historical features. Some prison cells in the building were left as is so visitors can see them, as has the original prison yard where high profile inmates such as Ho Chi Minh – leader of Vietnamese independence would have spent time. A 60 year old mango tree was also left untouched at the demands of the HK Police Force.
In addition to the gallery and exhibit space, Tai Kwun also contains some 12 bars and restaurants as well as shops such as local ceramics company Loveramics and Yuen’s Tailor which was employed to make ceremonial uniforms for the police force.
The Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts opened with its inaugural exhibit: “100 Faces of Tai Kwun” which is set to run through 2 September
With an array of narratives, memoirs and anecdotes on display, ‘100 Faces of Tai Kwun’ features stories of ex-officers, ex-offenders, shop owners, kaifongs (neighbors in Cantonese), and scholars etc, unfolding the intricate network of interpersonal relationships in the neighborhood and their perspectives of the CPS compound.
In addition, the exhibition has set up a “mini Central” in the exhibition using the contours of the tenement buildings (tong laus) and signboards from different eras in Central to interpret an old Central streetscape with elements of modern designs and celebrate the legends of the historic community.
Local illustrator, Flyingpig, was invited to present the various tales. He created the illustrations for the exhibition as well as a new book, Once Upon a Time in Tai Kwun based on the 100 stories of the Central kaifongs.
A series of other free programs will run from 29 May and will include theatre performances, singing, film screening, musical performances and art exhibits. Find out the full programme and follow along to find the details of future events on the Tai Kwun website or their Facebook page.
Note: In order to preserve the historical integrity of the building, event organizers have set up a timed entry system. Members of the public who wish to visit should apply for a timed entry ticket on the event website and plan to use public transportation if at all possible as parking near Tai Kwun is likely to be quite scarce.