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Tai Kwun exterior
Tai Kwun I Photograph: Calvin Sit

5 Hong Kong historic buildings repurposed into modern, artistic spaces

Historic structures in the city that have been repurposed as some of the most popular spots in town

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong

In Hong Kong's rapidly changing landscape, it has become increasingly difficult to stay connected to our deep cultural and historical heritage. Luckily, over the past years, there have been many revitalisation projects across our city that recreate spaces with new functions but still celebrates history. Take a trip down memory lane as we visit some of these iconic buildings that used to have different uses back in the day. Elaine Soh

RECOMMENDED: Read more about the city's best historical landmarks and lost architectural gems that will make you nostalgic for old Hong Kong 

5 Repurposed Hong Kong historic buildings

  • Attractions
  • Sheung Wan

PMQ, which stands for Police Married Quarters, used to be the site of Queen’s College in 1941 before it was reconstructed into a dormitory for police officers after World War II when the school buildings were severely destroyed. Being the first of its kind to provide official residence for married officers and their families, the PMQ provided 140 single room units and 28 double room units for the officers working in the nearby Central police station. Derelict for a decade, the venue was even used as a location for a Chinese horror film. In 2010 the complex was listed as a grade III historic building in Hong Kong to honour its historical significance, and soon after that the revitalisation and renovation began. 

Photograph: Courtesy PMQ

Since 2014, PMQ has transformed into a contemporary creative hub that we know today. It showcases a mix of creative shops and businesses, a selection of fashion labels – Andrew Kayla, A Society, Kapok, among others – and cafés and bars like Levain BakerySake Central, and Louise. The original foundation of the former Victoria College is still there and to promote its history a tunnel allows visitors to go through the foundation. 

  • Hotels
  • Kowloon Bay

The site of Camlux Hotel was previously the manufacturing home for the Hong Kong premium brand Camel vacuum flask for over two and half decades. The factory was at the forefront of manufacturing and thus accommodating for the machinery was indeed an engineering feat. Not only did the building have a hundred ton industrial-scale glass furnace on the third floor, but there were also metal pressing machines, paint spray shops, plastic injection moulding facilities and many others, all carefully arranged in a relatively small space.

An archive photo of the exterior of the factory in Kowloon Bay before renovations I Photograph: Courtesy Camlux Hotel

Today, this specially optimised building has been transformed into the Camlux Hotel which still maintains its factory aesthetic, serving as both a unique spatial experience and an homage to engineering. The hotel's guests rooms display artworks featuring the Camel products in contemporary modern designs, and Camel vacuum flask fixtures are peppered in various details of the hotels. You can learn about Camel's 75 years of history at the exhibition located just in the lobby and appreciate the importance and symbolism of Camel House as a Hong Kong-only story of success.

Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Art
  • Art
  • Central

Tai Kwun is a compound comprising the former Central Police Station, Victoria Prison and the Central Magistracy. It was one of the earliest low-rise structures built under British colonial rule. This historical site was left abandoned for years after the police station and prison was decommissioned in 2004 and 2006 respectively.

In 2008, the government announced a plan to revitalise the compound and in 2018, this unique cluster of low-rise buildings now re-emerge together as Tai Kwun - a cultural and shopping space in Central with some impressive bar and dining places that include Gishiki LoungeThe DispensaryMadame Fù. Hongkongers can even get to experience what it’s like in a historical prison cell while drinking at the cocktail Bar called Behind Bars.  

  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Tsuen Wan

Originally a textile factory in the 1950s, The Nan Fung Cotton Mills in Tsuen Wan has undergone a significant facelift to re-emerge as an art and design hub that preserves the city’s industrial history. As textile manufacturing served as the base for Hong Kong's early developments, the Mills revitalisation project is both a monument to Hong Kong's history and an inspiration to future development.

The Mills' old structure I Photograph: Courtesy The Mills

Today, The Mills houses cafes, restaurants, local designers shops, and a lot of creative space worthy for a snap in the 'gram. Every corner visit to this historic landmark is to stand at the crossroads of past, present, and future.

  • Shopping
  • Tsim Sha Tsui

Located in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui, 1881 Heritage is a 130-year-old historical building that served as the former Marine Police Headquarters in 1880 to 1996. A victorian architecture with rich colonial characteristics, this compound – except for the main block of the old Kowloon fire station – has been declared a monument under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance since 1994.

Photograph: Courtesy 1881 Heritage

In 2019, the restored colonial-style building transformed into a cultural and shopping landmark on Canton Road. It reopened with five new restaurants, a boutique hotel, and an impressive array of luxurious boutiques. The grounds were pirates were once incarcerated now stands fine dining restaurants.

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