New/Alternative Art Space- Tai Kwun
大館需要更具透明度 | More Transparency Needed at Tai Kwun
at 1:00pm on 22nd December 2018
Opening-out of the walls between prison cells in Tai Kwun''s E Hall that now accommodates a bar.
圖片: 約翰百德 Photo: John Batten
(Please scroll down for English version)
這些建築物中，有16幢是受法律保護的歷史建築物，不得拆卸。然而，歷史建築地位有一個重要的附帶條件：只有外牆受保護。結果，修復過程中出現了很多入侵性的內部翻新。由於建築物內不少地面、支柱和地基在結構上已不安全，所以做法是合理的。但是，復修也損害了文物區的歷史完整性。例如前身為監獄的E倉，地面樓層囚室之間的牆便被拆去來打通空間。這個空間現在由一間夜間營業的酒吧佔用，還起了一個俗氣和名不副實的名字「Behind Bars」（身陷囹圄）。根據保育管理計劃所指，打通E倉這個部份的原意，是「連接亞畢諾道新翼（禮堂）的前台 –– 衣物間、售票處等……以賦予這座建築物（E倉）新的可行用途，而不會不當地改變建築物的主要結構和佈局，且不會對固定裝設造成過大破壞，得不償失。」在某一點時間上，它僅作為支持空間的用途被改成了包括酒吧，一個需要支付租金的半私人商業空間。
真正體現大館歷史元素的，其實是中區警署的室內佈局、拘留囚犯的地方和警方執行法律和行政工作的空間。政府於1995年宣佈中區警署為歷史建築時只是無關痛癢，但到了現在，這個地位仍然不經意地支配著整個建築群的修復和管理。如果法定古蹟的內部保持完好，建築群的內在觀感便會截然不同，而整個文物區也會成為完全不一樣的歷史遺跡。兩座由Herzog & de Meuron操刀設計成為藝術展館和會堂的建築物仍然可以建造，但其他歷史建物的內部設定則需要保留，只對內部設計作有限度結構改動，而加入食肆、酒吧和商店的做法便會因為那些原有的內部設計而減少。溫和輕度修復的結果，無疑會令大館的規劃更深入呈現其歷史和牢獄背景。參觀大館會更像到訪澳洲亞瑟港的聯合國教科民組織世界遺產監獄遺址，而參觀時需要徵收象徵式的入場費。
More Transparency Needed at Tai Kwun
by John Batten
A district councilor recently sent me a tough message: “The Ma Jian incident has rubbed the veneer of success off the Tai Kwun project and opened people’s eyes to the failures: The new prison it has become…expensive restaurants around the yards….” The decision to cancel the two talks of Ma Jian’s at Tai Kwun was made entirely by Tai Kwun management, there was no pressure from either the government or the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC). How did it happen? I have some observations:
When the HKJC was asked in 2007 by the government to finance and manage the rehabilitation of the former Central Police Station (CPS) complex (now known at Tai Kwun), its experience managing construction projects had been limited to its own racing facilities and the Kau Sai Chau Public Golf Courses. Tai Kwun’s rehabilitation was tricky as many of the buildings were fragile and required intensive repair. Consequently, the project has needed the outside expertise of heritage conservation, engineering, architectural, branding, property management and facility consultants. From the outset of this project there has been a healthy tension to get the balance right between the government’s demand for “revitalization”, meaning having a heritage site repurposed, and the correct approach to conservation versus its future public and private uses.
Sixteen of these buildings are protected as Monuments, a statutory category that means they cannot be demolished. However, there is a significant proviso to that status: only the facades of the Monuments in Tai Kwun are protected. Consequently, there has been much invasive interior renovation. This has been justified as many of the buildings’ floors, pillars and foundations were structurally unsafe. However, the renovation has also compromised the integrity of the site’s heritage: for example, on the ground floor of E Hall, one of the former prison cell blocks, the walls between the cells have been demolished and opened-up. Now occupying this space is a night-time bar, with the tacky and now-untrue name of ‘Behind Bars’. The original intention of opening-up this section of E Hall was, according to the Conservation Management Plan to be “a front of house in connection with the new (auditorium) Arbuthnot Wing – cloakroom, ticket point etc….to give this building (E Hall) a new viable use that does not unduly alter the principal fabric and layout of the building (and) is thought to outweigh the damage to the fixtures and fittings this entails.” At some point, its use as only a support space was altered to also include a bar; a rent-paying, semi-private, commercial space.
It is the interiors within the CPS, places of internment for prisoners in the prison and law enforcement and administration for the police, that truly embodies the heritage of the site. The original government declaration of Monument status for the CPS in 1995, innocuous at the time, has, even now, unwittingly governed the restoration and management of the site. If the interiors of the declared Monuments had been kept intact, the complex would have an entirely different internal appearance and it would be a different heritage complex. The two new Herzog & de Meuron buildings designed as art galleries and auditorium, could still have been built, but many of the other heritage buildings would have required that their interior configurations be kept. Structural changes to the interiors would have been limited and placing restaurants, bars and shops into the site would have been curtailed by the size of those interiors. The result of a much milder renovation would inevitably have seen the site being planned as a more intense heritage and prison experience. Visiting Tai Kwun could have been similar as visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the convict prison at Port Arthur in Australia, and a modest entrance fee would have been charged.
However, early on, it was decided, according to the Conservation Management Plan that “to turn the site into a Museum would be both inconsistent with the majority view collected in public consultations and would also not have a lasting interest. This would make such a use unsustainable in the long term. In any event, the basic requirements to make the buildings safe would require a great deal of intervention. Buildings need to have a beneficial use if they are to have a sustainable future. This involves new services, better access and escape provisions, as well as structural strengthening and repair.”
A concern for any operator of a publicly-owned heritage facility open to the public is how to make it financially self-sufficient or self-funded. The professional advisors and consultants to the HKJC felt that that when conserving Tai Kwun many of the heritage building should be “re-adapted” and available to be rented. Consequently, some of Tai Kwun’s best spaces, especially at ground floor level, have been rented to commercial businesses. And, another source of revenue is renting Tai Kwun’s facilities for events, such as the recent Hong Kong Literary Festival. But, will these renters really cover the costs of running Tai Kwun? And, if they don’t, should the HKJC and the public, consider changing the balance towards heritage conservation over commercial considerations? Tai Kwun’s Conservation Management Plan is supposed to be a dynamic document and can be adjusted to reflect changing circumstances in the future.
Since opening earlier this year, Tai Kwun has established its mark as a new art, culture and heritage destination for the Hong Kong public. However, the Ma Jian incident was a shock: Tai Kwun management’s self-censorship has shown the strong influence that that management - and the many consultants employed over the years – has had on Tai Kwun’s formation. Tai Kwun is no longer a building site requiring such central management control. It does however need the checks and balances that any publicly responsible organization requires: transparency of information, communication with the press and public, and (a more) independent Board of governance and dynamic advisory committees. I see Tai Kwun evolving and the Ma Jian incident has – perversely - ‘assisted’ all of us to make it better.
Disclosure: John Batten is a member of the HKJC-appointed Tai Kwun Arts Advisory Group
This article was originally published in Ming Pao Weekly, 8 December 2018, Chinese version translated by Aulina Chan.