Sis and I took my niece to visit tai kwun centre for heritage and arts at the site of the former central police station/prison. It’s free to enter but visitors need a reservation. Sis had lunch plans, so ony stayed with us for about 10mins, my niece and I explored the site together. Tai Kwun translates to Big Station, which was the nickname for the police station. It’s always been an imposing building as seen from outside, but we didn’t realise how large the site is. The station was decommissioned in 2006. The jockey club funded the 10 year, almost USD500million restoration to a heritage centre.
The visitor’s centre had a small exhibition showing the site’s history, from the first building put up in 1864 which then grew in size until the last building in 1925. Part of the site was destroyed by Japanese bombers during WW2, to newspaper clips of famous criminals and trials. The revitalisation project aims to set up the site as a centre for heritage and arts, with space built for concerts, exhibitions and education.
Our first impression, really nice. The complex was built in Victorian times and consisted of the police station, barracks, magistrate court and prison. There are 16 buildings in total and all meticulously preserved and restored. My niece says it feels very much like a National Trust property, a rarity here because the government has a habit of destroying and pulling down historical buildings so property developers can profit.
The prison courtyard is now a pleasant sitting area with a smattering of sculptures and interesting pieces. Some of the prison cells are open for visit. None of the smell or dirt that presumably was there but we could see how crowded it was, they kept the beds in one cell and the entire cell is filled with one bunk bed and one extra bed. No space even to walk.
The clever way they showed prison life is through projections of images and short animation onto the wall. We could see how many were placed in a cell, what they did during the day, hard labour, counting the days, and even an escape attempt.
There are 2 new buildings, both will be used for exhibitions and concerts. Made from aluminium blocks, the modern and cubic designs contrast and compliment the century-old Victorian architecture of the other buildings.
Overall, 10 out of 10. We were both so surprised at the quality of the restoration, the aptness of the exhibit and the general sense of tranquility of the centre. We stopped at one of the café’s for mango smoothie and the café décor has the police staion feel. And the smoothie was made from real mangos. Even if they had charged a modest admission fee, it’ll be worth it.