British Military for the Jubilee Battery; Revery Architecture (formerly Bing Thom Architects) for the adaptive reuse and new campus
168 Victoria Road, Mount Davis, Hong Kong
Jubilee Battery: originally built in 1938/39; Adaptive reuse project and new campus: completed in 2018
In 2013, The University of Chicago submitted a land grant application and became the operator for the site known as the “Ex-Victoria Road Detention Centre” (Ex-VRDC) and locals commonly knew it as the “White House”. It was generally perceived as a former political detention centre with political detainees were once held. The revitalization works completed in 2018 and opened for classes in the same year.
The site where the University stands at Mount Davis, is a Grade 3 heritage site in Hong Kong with a rich and multi-layered history spanning more than a century. During its century of life, the Mount Davis site experienced various alterations and conversions in parallel with Hong Kong’s overall development. The original utilitarian heritage structures of the site were first erected in 1938/39 for Jubilee Battery, one of the new military outposts the British Military built in response to aggressive Japanese Imperialism. It complemented the Mount Davis Battery, higher up the hill as part of Hong Kong’s western coastal defence system. The military architecture with simple cubic forms, the existing buildings represented a practical/utilitarian style of that era.
The site was later occupied by Chinese Nationalist soldiers and their families exiled from China in 1949 after the Chinese Civil War. In 1950, it was rehabilitated as the Royal Engineers’ mess and quarters. Staring in 1961, it became the Victoria Road Detention Centre under the Special Branch of the Hong Kong Police Force and was simultaneously used for police training purposes. This brought more physical changes such as a barbed-wired white fence wall and “Brise Soleil” screen walls with modularized square concrete blocks were added to verandahs and outdoor areas for security and privacy as well as for natural ventilation. Overall, the site’s setting and heritage structures remained intact without drastic changes to original building masses.
Later the site was also used by the Force’s Witness Protection Unit as base and safe house. After the sovereignty handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China, the Hong Kong Police Force left and the site became unoccupied over a decade. During this period, the site was used as a movie set by a couple of prominent Chinese film directors.
The new Hong Kong Campus of University of Chicago designed by Revery Architecture (formerly known as Bing Thom Architects) adopts an integrated solution that fulfils the architectural, conservation and academic vision: to maintain heritage integrity and bring public benefit to the Hong Kong community. The contemporary ribbon-shaped new building “Tree House of Knowledge” now seamlessly integrates with the heritage clusters, floating above the contours of the site with slender columns emulating the surrounding trees. It touches down only at points of least intrusion, observing natural topography and preserving heritage buildings that sit on top of a complex setting and underwent a number of historic events. At the same time, all of these aspects integrate modern educational facilities. The campus adopts an open design, a “Promenade Deck” at the main entrance with panoramic sea views that links the new building with heritage clusters. Here, the public is welcome to visit the exterior areas and the Interpretation Centre at the heritage building.
Since its opening in 2018, the project has received many local, national and international recognition for its demonstration of sustainable adaptive reuse practice. This includes the Medal of the Year of Hong Kong and Heritage and Adaptive Reuse Award (2018-19) by the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, UNESCO Prix Versailles 2019 World Selection, Campuses category in Paris, France and the International Architecture Award 2019 in Athens, Greece.