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Everything you need to know about Tai Kwun, Hong Kong’s new cultural hub

Thanks to a hefty HK$3.8 billion sponsorship by the Hong Kong Jockey Club and eight years of development, the freshly minted Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts — the first completed phase of the revitalisation of the former Central Police Station compound — officially opened its doors today. Considered to be the city’s largest revitalisation heritage project to date, Tai Kwun is set to offer a range of contemporary and performing arts programmes including open-air performances, contemporary exhibitions, film screenings, educational events and pop-ups in the expansive space. Naturally, there’s a lot of local excitement: It’s expected to receive as many as 9,000 visitors this weekend. Before you also flock to the city’s shiniest (and at the same time, oldest) cultural hub, here’s everything you need to know.

Tai Kwun
Image credit: Tai Kwun
A hub for Hong Kong heritage

Tai Kwun’s aim first and foremost is to put a spotlight on heritage storytelling, as well as offer a much-needed venue for local artists to thrive; it’s meant to be a place for all Hongkongers and visitors to enjoy. There couldn’t be a more apt venue: Housed within the 300,000-sq.-ft. compound is over 170 years of Hong Kong history. Built between 1864 and 1925, the 16 buildings that make up Tai Kwun — meaning ‘large station’ in Cantonese — include the former Central Police Station, former Central magistracy and Victoria Prison, which were in use until the government declared them monuments in 1995; they were later decommissioned and released for adaptive reuse in 2004. Tai Kwun has since gone through an eight-year revitalisation project. It would have been completed in October 2016, if only a wall hadn’t collapsed in the former Married Inspectors’ Quarters building.

Tai Kwun
Image credit: Herzog & de Meuron

Now, flanked by declared monument buildings within the complex, you’ll also find two brand new buildings designed by Swiss studio Herzog & de Meuron that house the Tai Kwun Contemporary gallery and a 200-seat auditorium. In the effort to compare and contrast old and new, the façade was inspired by the brickwork of the original buildings. The textured cast aluminium also helps reduce reflectivity and glare from sunlight during the day, and helps screen off light from within to reduce light pollution at night — while also expressing life and activity inside its walls.

The new contemporary art hub

The vision for Tai Kwun to be Hong Kong’s much-needed, museum-quality art hub was dreamt up as early as 2010, and it’s finally become a reality. The opening exhibition of the space is “100 Faces of Tai Kwun” (29 May–2 September), which collects 100 stories from Hongkongers who lived, worked, and spent their time in the Central Police Station environs during its heyday. Visitors will weave through tong lau art pieces, duck under nostalgic neon signage, and even sit it on an aural installation housed in a cha chaan teng setting.

Tai Kwun
Image credit: Tai Kwun

Tai Kwun Contemporary, a 1,500-sq.-m. space headed by Tobias Berger — previously of M+ and Para Site — first opened to a mysterious, invitation-only test exhibition entitled “Rehearsal” last month, featuring 20 artists and their experimental, contemporary works chosen to evoke dialogue within the space. Artists featured included Ko Sin-tung, Lee Kit, Chinese painter Qiu Shihua, American composer Alvin Lucier and more.

This month, Spring Workshop takes a break from its hiatus this year to offer Tai Kwun’s official inaugural exhibition, “Dismantling the Scaffold” (9 June–15 August), which explores states of flux and transformation during this time of opening, using the metaphor of Hong Kong’s ubiquitous scaffolding. Another exhibition, “Six-Part Practice” (through 15 August), curated by Kurt Chan Yuk-keung, is the first solo show of Hong Kong artist Wing Po So, who shares her fascination towards traditional Chinese medicine ingredients and their mythic or scientific associations.

Tai Kwun Contemporary aims to host six to eight exhibitions every year, with hopes to become one of the most important contemporary art centres in Asia.

A new home for performing arts

Tai Kwun is also set to give equal spotlight to the performing arts as well, a field in Hong Kong that has long suffered from a lack of suitable venues and public financial support. In time for opening weekend, Tai Kwun already has a slew of stage shows and live performances lined up.

Tai Kwun
Image credit: Tai Kwun

Out on the lawn, you’ll find Dreamlike Horses (29 May–3 June), a Le French May satellite event featuring La Compagnie des Quidams and their gigantic inflatable equestrian puppets telling stories of dreams and transformations.

Shakespeare enthusiasts will be intrigued with Micro Shakespeare (8–18 June) which brings Spain’s Laitrum Theatre out to the former Prison Yard, for an open-air box theatre performance of improvised and abridged Shakespeare, each show lasting only eight minutes.

The programme rounds out with a two-day music festival, circus performances and workshops, free weekend film screenings and live music shows, and even lunchtime performances of everything from stand-up to mini-concerts every Monday and Wednesday.

One of the particularly notable offerings to mark in your calendars for July is the opening of Tai Kwun’s theatre season. It’s set to bring four productions to Hong Kong, including Niv Patel’s Knock Knock — one of the most talked-about shows at Edinburgh Fringe 2017, and Hong Kong’s own Titus Andronicus 2.0, Tang Shu-wing’s award-winning Cantonese rendition of the Bard’s drama.

Swish new dining outlets
Ashley Sutton
Ashley Sutton at The Iron Fairies Hong Kong

Apart from arts and culture, Tai Kwun is also looking to be quite the food lover’s paradise. Hot openings set to open later this year include Dragonfly, a nature-inspired Dining Concepts venue by Ashley Sutton, known for his other fantastical restaurant-bar concepts such as Dear Lilly, The Iron Fairies, J.Boroski and Ophelia.

French Creations is also adding to its portfolio of French bistro concepts with Café Claudel (below), a stylish, al fresco venue inspired by Parisian cafes in the 1920s, decorated with contemporary art pieces.

Tai Kwun - Cafe Claudel

JIA Group is also opening their third Chinese restaurant, Old Bailey, which will serve Chinese cuisine with roots from the Jiangnan region. You’ll get a taste of cities south of the Yangtze River — namely Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, and more. Designed by Herzog & de Meuron in partnership with local talents Adonian Chan of Trilingua Design, Korean American chef Mina Park of Sook, and Teakha‘s Nana Chan, the space is expected to exude a homey conviviality, with relaxed wooden interiors  alongside a terrace space.

To add to the mix, Christian Rhomberg (formerly of Kee Club) makes his return with the 8,000-sq.-ft. East-meets-West concept Madame Fu, taking up prime space on the top floor of the former Barracks Block (below) and offering a mix of Cantonese dim sum, Northern Chinese favourites, as well as afternoon tea and Western sweets.

Tai Kwun
Image credit: Tai Kwun

To round out a fabulous list of new places to eat and drink, Aqua Restaurant Group has also just announced two new restaurants and one new bar set to open in September in the Headquarters Block: The Chinese Library, which will be showing off founder David Yeo’s extensive cookbook collection and regional recipes; contemporary British eatery Statement; and a stylish lounge concept joining both establishments called The Dispensary.

Tai Kwun
Image credit: Tai Kwun

Soon to come with further information is also the bar concept Behind Bar, which we expect to be a casual watering hole located at the former prison courtyard (above); premium Chinese tea purveyors LockCha Tea House; social enterprise restaurant hc:Bistro; and Hong Kong-style tea house MaoMao Eat.

With a dizzying choice of places to eat, drink, and soak up arts and culture at Tai Kwun — and let’s not forget, this is just phase one of the opening — we foresee this part of SoHo becoming spectacularly convivial as the month and the year rounds out. For more information, check out Tai Kwun and be sure to download the app to obtain your Tai Kwun pass for free entry.

Everything you need to know about Tai Kwun, Hong Kong’s new cultural hub

Evelyn Lok

Managing Editor

When not trying out the latest beauty and wellness trends, Evelyn is likely enjoying a perfectly balanced negroni or exploring some of Hong Kong's best new places to eat and drink. At Lifestyle Asia she covers everything from the biggest events in town to interviews with Hong Kong specialists, with topics spanning art, food and drink, health, tech, and travel.

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