Béthanie

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FOCUS -

Built: 1875 Lo­ca­tion: Pok Fu Lam Restora­tion: com­pleted 2006

The stately chapel with its com­mand­ing views of the sea once looked out across pas­toral fields where cows grazed. Béthanie was built to put up con­va­lesc­ing French mis­sion­ar­ies. From 1975 to 1995, it housed the Hong Kong Uni­ver­sity Press.

In 2003, the gov­ern­ment granted the Hong Kong Academy for Per­form­ing Arts HK$74.2 mil­lion to­ward renovation of the di­lap­i­dated Béthanie site. A fur­ther HK$17 mil­lion was raised through dona­tions.

Ar­chi­tec­ture firm Philip Liao and Part­ners re­ceived the com­mis­sion. “We found three pieces of stained glass and hand­made the rest to match,” re­calls Philip Liao. “Un­der the floor boards, we found a stash of vin­tage wine; the cooler half-base­ment was suit­able for a wine cel­lar.”

The struc­tures now look the same as 140 years ago, al­beit with air­con­di­tion­ing and ve­hic­u­lar ac­cess from Pok Fu Lam Road. Liao cre­ated four dis­tinct spa­ces: a mu­seum that in­cludes wine racks found on site; a chapel pop­u­lar for host­ing wed­dings; a dance stu­dio for events un­der a new glass roof; and the Well­come The­atre in what used to be a cow shed.

Liao com­ments: “Béthanie serves as a bea­con for the gov­ern­ment to move un­used stock into its re­vi­tal­iza­tion scheme. In­ven­tory gets a new life, new use and a con­nec­tion to the public.”

Man­hat­tan ar­chi­tects Tod Wil­liams and Bil­lie Tsien won the com­mis­sion to trans­form Vic­to­ria Bar­racks into a state-of-the-art fa­cil­ity via a tough ju­ried com­pe­ti­tion. One of the mag­a­zines is now a gallery; the other is a theater; while the lab­o­ra­tory houses Asia So­ci­ety’s of­fices. The rail tracks that fa­cil­i­tated easy move­ment of am­mu­ni­tion were re­stored to em­pha­size the build­ings’ orig­i­nal pur­pose.

The ar­chi­tects cre­ated a new en­try pavil­ion and a zigzag bridge con­nect­ing the site’s two lev­els. The for­mer in­cludes a large func­tion hall, roof gar­den and AMMO restau­rant de­signed by Joyce Wang Stu­dio. Ref­er­enc­ing the do­mes­tic ar­chi­tec­ture of Frank Lloyd Wright, the pavil­ion’s sweep­ing can­tilevered over­hangs seem to dis­ap­pear into the sur­round­ing jun­gle when viewed from Jus­tice Drive.

Lynne DiSte­fano, co-founder of The Uni­ver­sity of Hong Kong’s Divi­sion of Ar­chi­tec­tural Con­ser­va­tion Pro­grammes, states: “The project speaks of a deep un­der­stand­ing of the site and (il­lus­trates) how to al­low his­toric build­ings to be fully ex­pressed while in­cor­po­rat­ing them into some­thing new, im­por­tant and rel­e­vant to Hong Kong.”

Two rows of pre-World War I ten­e­ment build­ings wedged be­tween Mal­lory Street and Burrows Street were orig­i­nally built for res­i­den­tial pur­poses. Fol­low­ing the 1894 plague that nearly dec­i­mated Hong Kong, the Chad­wick Re­port called for ar­chi­tec­tural so­lu­tions to squalid liv­ing con­di­tions. The re­sult was the tong lau: low-rise build­ings com­bin­ing res­i­den­tial flats with ground floor shops. Chi­nese con­struc­tion meth­ods that made use of lo­cal ma­te­ri­als were mar­ried to Lon­don­style build­ing codes.

Ur b a n R e n e w a l A u t h o r i ty as­signed ar­chi­tec­tural firm Aedas, led by project di­rec­tor Ed­ward Le­ung, to turn the ten­e­ment build­ings into an arts venue, open to free move­ment by the public. As the struc­tures on Mal­lory Street were in a bet­ter con­di­tion than those on Burrows Street, Aedas kept the lat­ter’s fa­cade, pre­served the for­mer and cre­ated a foot­bridge to link the two blocks. The parts that most vis­cer­ally re­call the past were re­stored. A rot­ting tim­ber stair­case was metic­u­lously dis­as­sem­bled, each piece treated with anti-mould agent, and re­assem­bled on a steel frame base. Eighty per­cent of the orig­i­nal ma­te­ri­als were re­cy­cled.

Since late sum­mer of 2013, the Hong Kong Arts Cen­tre moved in as the site’s an­chor ten­ant. A gallery, li­brary and Comix Home Base — a comics and an­i­ma­tion hub — now draw both artists and the gen­eral public to the re­stored struc­ture.

On a clear June night this year, St. An­drew’s Church opened its doors to mu­sic lovers by host­ing a recital by the French a cap­pella group En­sem­ble de Caelis. By of­fer­ing the venue to sec­u­lar events, the evan­gel­i­cal Angli­can es­tab­lish­ment is ful­fill­ing its 21st-cen­tury man­date of com­mu­nity-fo­cused ac­ces­si­bil­ity.

Nel­son Chen, an ac­tive mem­ber of St. An­drew’s con­gre­ga­tion, was the architect re­spon­si­ble for St. An­drew’s ren­o­va­tions since the late 90s. Af­ter Hong Kong’s re­turn to the moth­er­land, St. An­drew’s be­gan to of­fer more ser­vices in Chi­nese as its con­gre­ga­tion swelled.

“St. An­drew’s faced se­vere space short­ages,” says Chen. “The ex­ist­ing front court­yard site was never pre­vi­ously con­sid­ered for ex­pan­sion. How­ever, from study­ing the site plan, it was re­vealed that this po­ten­tial area oc­cu­pied a foot­print equiv­a­lent to more than three times that of the orig­i­nal church.”

Chen sub­se­quently de­signed Life Cen­tre on the site to house two sta­teof-the-art au­di­to­ri­ums. “The semi­cir­cu­lar shape lent it­self nat­u­rally to am­phithe­aters,” says Chen. A stone wall of the church was re­pur­posed as Life Cen­tre’s fa­cade, while a land­scaped roof gar­den was added.

“St. An­drew’s is my fam­ily’s spir­i­tual home in Hong Kong,” says Chen. “It was both a great priv­i­lege and a hum­bling re­spon­si­bil­ity to de­sign Life Cen­tre, which was built largely with funds from fel­low con­gre­ga­tion mem­bers.”

Civil ser­vant Ron Phillips de­signed Mur­ray Build­ing to be the city’s tallest gov­ern­ment struc­ture, with thought­ful sun shad­ing for each win­dow. Af­ter its staff was re­lo­cated to Ta­mar’s Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment Com­plex, the struc­ture was sold by public ten­der to Wharf (Hold­ings). Its lo­ca­tion be­side the Peak Tram ter­mi­nus and Hong Kong Park made it ideal for a ho­tel. To that end, Wharf en­listed Foster and Part­ners to han­dle The Mur­ray’s restora­tion and renovation, with An­dre Fu de­sign­ing its Can­tonese restau­rant Guo Fu Lou.

“Along with its deep win­dows, white fa­cade and ma­jes­tic ground level arches, the build­ing of­fers an early ex­am­ple of sus­tain­able de­sign,” says Colin Ward from Foster’s Hong Kong of­fice. One of the chal­lenges was to make the struc­ture more pedes­trian friendly. “A for­mer gov­ern­ment build­ing, The Mur­ray had been fenced off from the sur­round­ing area for se­cu­rity rea­sons. It was de­signed at a time when the city was planned around the car.”

With 336 guest rooms, one of the five-star prop­erty’s key fea­tures will be the land­scaped rooftop restau­rant in­tended to be a con­tin­u­a­tion of Hong Kong Park’s tree canopy. “Our de­sign in­tent has been to rediscover the ro­mance of go­ing to a ho­tel,” says Ward.

T h e Mu r r a y, l i k e t h e o t h e r re­stored and re­vi­tal­ized projects men­tioned in the ar­ti­cle, is ex­pected to be a ma­jor land­mark in the city when it is opened to the public later this year. Be­tween them th­ese struc­tures are shin­ing ex­am­ples of how to com­bine re­spect for his­tory while mak­ing way for greater in­clu­siv­ity than was al­lowed in the past.

The Mur­ray St. An­drew’s Church

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