Tai Kwun, Centre for Heritage & Arts
Hong Kong
Project 2006-2012, realization 2011-2018

The former Central Police Station, the Central Magistracy and the Victoria Prison is a walled compound of heritage buildings at the commercial centre of Hong Kong Island. Established by the British after 1841 as the colony’s main police station, magistracy, and prison, the site is one of Hong Kong’s most important remaining historic monuments. Following its decommission in 2006, the entire compound was vacated, leaving a set of open grounds and a collection of unique buildings. From an urban perspective, the compound is a rare “courtyard” in the middle of one of the densest cities in the world. What once stood on the hillside as a prominent symbol of law and order with commanding views to the harbour has now inversely become an urban oasis of openness and calm within a forest of commercial and residential high-rises. The compound is defined and structured by two large courtyards: the Parade Ground and the Prison Yard. Our goal is to preserve the openness and distinct character of both and to re-activate them for public use as a new type of urban found space. These spaces will define the site physically and programmatically as places of gathering, cultural exchange, leisure, and respite.


The Parade Ground is surrounded on each side by several of the site’s most historic buildings, resulting in a formal open space with generous room for public recreation, events, direct access to restaurant and retail attractions, as well as smaller-scale cultural and educational spaces. The Prison Yard will be subtly transformed from a rough and forbidding area to a new open public space dedicated to cultural programming. Adding a new arts and cultural program is one of the key strategies to opening up and activating the former Prison Yard. Two new volumes that float tightly above the surrounding granite walls are conceived as distinctive but carefully inserted elements within the fabric of existing buildings. By cantilevering above the walls and keeping a minimum distance to the adjacent structures, the buildable floor area is maximized while staying within the zoning envelope and at the same time creating protective offsets from the surrounding historical buildings. As an architectural expression, it also clearly distinguishes the new buildings from the site’s historic buildings. Gathered mainly at the Lower Courtyard, the former police buildings sit proudly on either street level or on top of the granite walls, making their authority and presence in the city known. The prison buildings, on the other hand, are located behind the walls, and have historically been separated from public access and view for obvious reasons of safety and security. The new building volumes copy neither of the historical conditions but instead create a new relationship to the site context by hovering just above the wall. By raising the volumes, new public and circulation spaces are created below, resulting in generous protected places for gathering and activity, and establishing a new East-West pedestrian connection from Arbuthnot Road to Old Bailey Street. At the same time, the buildings become new markers at the two ends of the compound, bringing attention to a formerly closed-off part of the city.


The design of JC Contemporary, located at the southwest portion of the site, is developed in close relation to the adaptive reuse of the F Hall. New connections will be created between the two buildings. Together, they will house contemporary art functions. The courtyard entrance of the JC Contemporary is defined by the building’s volume hovering above the historic revetment wall. This entrance area is protected from rain and sun, and acts as the circulation hub and foyer to both the F Hall and JC Contemporary. The F Hall will be a versatile gallery space for art exhibition or other special events. Much of the original architecture with its traces from the buildings’ past use are kept and preserved. In contrast, the adjacent JC Contemporary will feature large column free exhibition spaces with maximum flexibility. Skylights in the roof will provide natural daylight into the top gallery space. The second floor is dedicated to a restaurant with an outdoor terrace overlooking the rich and textured roofscape of the entire compound embedded in the cityscape.


Sitting as a new marker on the southeast corner of the CPS site is the new JC Cube. The volume similarly hovers above the revetment wall along Arbuthnot Road, creating a covered public outdoor gathering, cinema and performance space with a large stair whose steps may be used for informal seating. On either side of the JC Cube are old prison buildings, D Hall and E Hall, forming interior elevations for this unique outdoor venue. The height restriction is also fully taken advantage of, resulting in two more generous program spaces above: an 8m height multipurpose space with an accessible technical grid ceiling, and a mechanical plant room that houses cooling towers and equipment serving the entire site.


Both new buildings are clad with a cast aluminium façade unit system that is referencing, in terms of scale and proportion, the existing granite block elements of the characteristic bordering revetment wall surrounding the entire site, thus establishing a certain contextual relationship. The use of 100% recycled aluminium as a material provides a distinctive architectural expression and materiality, setting the new buildings apart as new insertions amongst the collection of historical masonry blocks, and at the same time addresses issues such as structural support, sun shading, and rain protection in Hong Kong’s subtropical climate. The specific porosity, patterning, and expression of the façade unit is informed by the functional and environmental requirements of the uses within. The materiality of the cast aluminium units will have a distinctive roughness and texture breaking down the façade surface, which helps to reduce the reflectivity and glare during the daytime. At night, light emitted from the building will be partially screened by the façade units, expressing the life of activities within but without creating light pollution.

Herzog & de Meuron, 2018


“What we have done in Hong Kong is to transform a former Police Station into a Cultural Centre. In Hong Kong and also in Mainland China this is still a totally new approach to architecture - an unusual thing to do because normally old buildings and entire neighbourhoods are being removed and being replaced by new ones. The principle is TABULA RASA. For us architects, also in the West, it was quite similar until not so long ago. Modernism was making pre-existing things look old, shabby and uncool. In daily life we all still carelessly throw away things we use every day instead of recycling and reintegrating them in a somewhat appropriate or even creative way. In the 1970s, when we started our practice, we first had to find and define our own architectural language. Re-Inventing and Re-Using pre-existing ideas and objects - not necessarily of a heroic period of the past, but simply of what we found in front of us – has become an essential element within our vocabulary since those early days and projects...think of early projects such as the 'Marktplatz Basel', 'Stone House Tavole', later of course 'Tate Modern' or now 'Tai Kwun'. We adopted this strategy of working WITH instead of AGAINST the existing material world of objects because we found it natural and inspiring, often resulting in unexpected and innovative results.


There is no fundamental difference for such an approach, whether you do it in Basel or in London, in Liguria or in Hong Kong.”

Jacques Herzog, July 2018



Herzog & de Meuron Team:
Partners: Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Ascan Mergenthaler (Partner in Charge)
Project Team: Edman Choy (Associate, Project Manager), Chi-Yan Chan (Project Manager), Vladimir Pajkic (Associate, Project Director, until 2011) Raymond Jr. Gaëtan (Associate, until 2012)
Abdulfatah Adan, Maximilian Beckenbauer, Julien Combes, Peter Dougherty, Piotr Fortuna, Carl Kristoffer Hägerström, Kelvin Ho, Justin Hui, Kentaro Ishida, Anna Jach, Anssi Kankkunen, Johannes Rudolf Kohnle, Pawel Krzeminski, Jin Tack Lim, Mark Loughnan (Associate), Jaroslav Mach, Donald Mak, James Albert Martin, Jose Ramon Mayoral Moratilla, Olivier Meystre, Lukas Nordström, Cristian Oprea, Leonardo Pérez-Alonso, Thomas Polster, Maki Portilla Kawamura, Tom Powell, Oana Stanescu, Fumiko Takahama, Zachary Martin Vourlas, Sung Goo Yang, Daniela Zimmer


The Hong Kong Jockey Club, Hong Kong



Design Consultant: Herzog & de Meuron, Basel, Switzerland

Executive Architect: Rocco Design Architects Ltd., Hong Kong, China

Conservation Architect: Purcell, London, UK

Structural Engineering, Lighting Consultant: Arup, Hong Kong, China; Arup, London, UK

Civil Engineering, Facade Engineering, Security Consultant, Fire Engineering, Geotechnical Engineering, IT Consultant: Arup, Hong Kong, China

Acoustics Engineering, AV consultant: Shen Milsom & Wilke Ltd., Hong Kong, China

BEAM+ Sustainability Consultant: Hyder Consulting Ltd., Hong Kong, China

Environmental & Archaeology Consultant: ERM, Hong Kong, China

Landscape Consultant: AECOM, Hong Kong, China

MEP Engineering: J Roger Preston Ltd., Hong Kong, China

Planning Consultant: Townland Consultants Ltd., Hong Kong, China

Quantity Surveyor: Rider Levett Bucknall Ltd., Hong Kong, China

Signage Consultant: Marc & Chantal Design, Hong Kong, China

Traffic Planning: MVA, Hong Kong, China



Building Physics: Transsolar Energietechnik GmbH, Stuttgart, Germany

Art Advisor: David Elliot, Berlin, Germany

Metallurgist: C M Whittington & Associates Pty Ltd., Melbourne, Australia

Retail Operation Consultant: Knight Frank, Hong Kong, China

Scenography: dUCKS scéno, Vaulx-en-Velin, France

Theatre Advisor: Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, Philip Soden, Hong Kong, China

Tree Survey Consultant: Hong Kong University, Prof. C Y Jim, Hong Kong, China


Building Data:

Site Area: 156'077sqft / 14'500m²

Gross Floor Area (GFA): 290'626sqft / 27'000m²

Number of Levels: 24

Footprint: 113'021sqft / 10'500m²

Length: 459ft / 140m

Width: 361ft / 110m

Height: 164ft / 50m


Detailed Data:

Open Courtyard Area: 4'000m²

Old Bailey Wing:

foot print: 800m²

floor area: 4'100m²

dimensions : 33m (L) x 25m (W) x 26m (H)

building envelope area: 4'200m² (including soffit & roof)

Arbuthnot Wing:

foot print: 550m²

floor area: 3'100m²

dimensions: 32m (L) x 20m (W) x 31m (H)

building envelope area: 3'300m² (including soffit & roof)


Use / Function

Old Bailey Wing + F Hall Galleries

Old Bailey Wing 1/F Galleries, 384m², 5m tall, artificial lighting

Old Bailey Wing 3/F Galleries, 394m², 7m tall, diffused skylight

F Hall 1/F, 405m², original historic space converted, artificial lighting

F Hall G/F, 180m², original historic space converted, artificial lighting

Arbuthnot Wing Multi-purpose Hall

8m tall space

205 seats capacity

8m tall space

fixed auditorium seating

tension wire grid ceiling

Tai Kwun site Arts & Cultural Program

37% of total floor area


Art galleries

Multi-purpose halls


Local NGOs offices

Tai Kwun site Retail, Food & Beverage

27% of total floor area




Boutique shops

Tai Kwun site Public Use & Plant

36% of total floor area


Visitor Centre

Education Centre

Heritage Interpretation Spaces and Tours

Police Reporting Centre

Pedestrian footbridge connection to Mid-level escalators

Parade Ground and Prison Yard open spaces & seating areas

Arbuthnot Wing Laundry Yard covered outdoor gathering spaces

Old Bailey Wing public viewing terrace


Parade Ground basement plant room

Arbuthnot Wing top floor plant room

Old Bailey Wing basement plant room

Ablutions Block electricity transformer room




Gerhard Mack, Herzog & de Meuron: Herzog & de Meuron 2005-2007. Das Gesamtwerk. Band 6. Edited by: Gerhard Mack. Basel, Birkhäuser, 2018.

Gerhard Mack, Herzog & de Meuron: Herzog & de Meuron 2005-2007. The Complete Works. Volume 6. Edited by: Gerhard Mack. Basel, Birkhäuser, 2018.

Luis Fernández-Galiano (Ed.):  Arquitectura Viva Monografias. Herzog & de Meuron 2013-2017.
Vol. No. 191-192, Madrid, Arquitectura Viva SL, 12.2016.

Luis Fernández-Galiano (Ed.): Arquitectura Viva Monografías. Herzog & de Meuron 2005-2013.
Vol. No. 157/158, Madrid, Arquitectura Viva SL, 09.2012.