About the Project
The site was originally part of Jubilee Battery at Mount Davis, which formed part of Hong Kong’s western coastal defence system. After the World War II, it was occupied by makeshift housing for refugees before being converted into a British Army Royal Engineers’ mess and quarters. It became the Victoria Road Detention Centre under the Special Branch of the Hong Kong Police Force starting in 1961 and was simultaneously used for police training purposes; later it was also used by the Force’s Witness Protection Unit. After the sovereignty handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China, the site became unoccupied. It had no permanent tenant for over a decade, and was occasionally used as a movie set. Under the Land Grant Scheme, The University of Chicago was earmarked as the prospective operator of the site in 2013, and subsequently a formal Land Grant was executed in 2016. With the generous support from the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust together with the support of alumni, parents and friends, led by University Trustee Francis Tin Fan Yuen (AB‘75) and his wife Rose Wai Mun Lee Yuen, the site was revitalised and the Hong Kong Campus opened its doors in 2018.
The Campus’ design pays homage to the site’s history and former occupants by creating the Heritage Interpretation Centre, and by preserving and highlighting significant architectural elements throughout the site. The site’s latest re-invention breaks with its past. The design combines modern functionality with preservation, featuring adaptive reuse of the existing heritage buildings on the site.
The Hong Kong campus is designed by internationally renowned Revery Architecture (formerly known as Bing Thom Architects). The symbolic Flame Tree, also known as Phoenix Tree, on the site inspired the “Treehouse of Knowledge” design concept of the late architect Bing Thom in which a ribbon-shaped new building floats above the contours of the site and integrates with the Grade 3 heritage buildings, touching down only at points of least intrusion.
The campus adopts an open design, in which the public is welcome to visit the exterior areas, which include the battery, the magazine, and the Tree of Knowledge Promontory on the Promenade deck. The tree serves as a metaphor for global education and collaboration, and highlights the new purpose of the site.
The design concept, born from a thoughtful response to the challenging hillside site through a problem-solving process to overcome a variety of site and topographical constraints, was to touch the earth lightly by floating the new building above the natural vegetation, and to seamlessly integrate with the existing heritage buildings. With a plan for adaptive reuse, the heritage buildings have been meticulously restored in accordance with a detailed Conservation Management Plan. A majority of the “White Wall”, a key element of this historic site, has also been preserved. Through revitalisation, the campus aims to provide new opportunities for public education and enjoyment of this important heritage site.
The University of Chicago conducted extensive historical research in different parts of the world, and the interpretation and curation consultant team applied principles of evidence-based interpretation to re-construct the historical usage of the site and its relation to the broader Hong Kong community over time. Interviews were conducted with former detainees, police employees, historians and local experts, and other people associated with the site, to offer diverse perspectives. Six distinct narratives spanning almost a century, form the backbone of the permanent exhibits presented in the Heritage Interpretation Centre. By interpreting the multiple layers of history, the Centre hopes to promote the heritage significance of the site and relate it to the history of Hong Kong in a broader context. The six narratives are:
Defence: THE BATTERY
Refuge: THE MATSHEDS
Royal Engineers: THE MESS
Shelter: THE SQUATTERS and THE COTTAGES
Royal Hong Kong Police Force: The CELL and THE SAFE HOUSE
Education: THE UNIVERSITY