Openings China

Police station turns contemporary art space

If planning permission is granted it will be the first non-profit hub in the city

Herzog & De Meuron, Central Police Station, Hong Kong, China, courtyard looking northwest

HONG KONG. Plans to open a major contemporary art space in Hong Kong move a step closer this month when a planning permission request to develop the city’s historic Central Police Station (CPS) compound will be submitted to the Hong Kong government. If approved, the 19th-century site should be transformed into a key, non-profit arts hub, a first for the city which is dominated by privately funded art schemes.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust is driving the project by funding the HK$1.8bn cost of renovating the disused police compound. The government has leased the site to the club which—according to a 2007 mission statement—plans to “fund recurrent deficits for its initial years of operation until it becomes financially self-sustaining”. Part of the complex, to be converted by Swiss architecture team Herzog & De Meuron, may be given over to commercial elements.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club asked Asia Art Archive (AAA), a Hong-Kong based contemporary art resource, to put together a plan in 2009 to overhaul the site. David Elliott, the artistic director of the 2010 Sydney Biennale, is advising the club on governance, finance and programming.

The mid 19th-century CPS complex is one of the few remaining historic locations in a city dominated by modern private developments (some of the first colonial structures built in the first year of British rule are found there). The historical aspect of the site, decommissioned in 2006, meant that Herzog & De Meuron’s initial design was rejected by the government in 2008. The design, which included a 525 ft skeletal tower, fell foul of local conservation groups. “The tower is going to ruin [the site ],” Margaret Brooke, chair of Heritage Hong Kong, said at the time.

Herzog & De Meuron’s revised designs, unveiled late last year under a conservation management plan produced by UK architectural firm Purcell Miller Tritton, includes retaining 16 buildings out of 19 with two new structures adding 1,500 sq. m of exhibition space. Claire Hsu, founder of the AAA, said: “There should also be a research library and ‘ideas platform’ attached to the new exhibition space.”

She hopes that smaller non-profit bodies based in Hong Kong, such as the Para/Site Gallery, 1A contemporary art space and new media collective Videotage, will eventually be based at the centre. “The CPS project could act as a springboard for such organisations, forming an arts cluster alongside a Whitechapel Gallery-type exhibition programme,” adds Hsu, who is considering relocating the archive to the new venue.

The CPS venture should launch by 2014 in parallel with the opening of the West Kowloon Cultural District, the HK$21.6bn arts development. A new museum called M+ is planned for the site. “What CPS will do is fill the gap between small existing spaces and the future mega museum in West Kowloon,” said Hsu.

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