First published in ELEQT on 19 February 2012.
There are tons of restored barracks scattered around town, since the Brits established quite a few of them to strengthen their defences on their new found colony a few centuries back. The Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre is among the lot, transformed from the former Whitfield Barracks, which was built in the 1860s at Tsim Sha Tsui, now making a part of the Kowloon Park. Originally made up of 85 structures designed in the typical Victorian colonial military fashion, they are now only able to preserve four of those, with the restored Blocks S61 and S62 forming part of the centre. Serving as a conservation works education centre, its building structure is also a live tribute to sustainable architecture in Hong Kong, adapting the historic military blocks to suit the complexities of modern devices and displays. Obviously they did a rather good job, because last time I was there, lots of recent local graduates from the nearby universities were on site, posing for various group shots.
Their Permanent Exhibition is pretty interactive, with loads of videos showing the contrast between the past and present in local architecture and archeology. The one I love best is how they recreated the tram windows and seats, showing outside those windows a video of some super innovative dude several centuries back, who carried a video recorder with him and just sat in a tram, filming an uber long documentary of what the street view was back then. You could see people just running away from his camera, obviously scared of being sucked into the devil lenses [Read: common belief of cameras when it was first introduced]. It is an amazing experience, since it almost felt like I was transported back there on that tram.
The way they embedded Ming dynasty style underglaze blue porcelain bowls on the floor of the exhibition room is definitely very edgy, and a cool method to attract the patrons' attention to the ceramics history of Hong Kong. To learn more about the exhibits, just turn up on the first floor of the building at 2:00pm or 4:00pm on a Saturday, Sunday, or Public Holiday, and join in their Permanent Exhibition Guided Tours, where professional guides from the Antiquities and Monuments Office will take you through the exhibition in detail for a good understand of Hong Kong's infrastructural history.
They also have a stylish activity room inside the exhibition, with a set of built-in traditional Chinese medicine cabinet, each storing some artifacts or antiques for kiddies to pull out and explore. There is a Reference Library on the ground floor, which I saw lots of uncles efficiently utilising the air conditioning and internet. The centre also hosts Special Lectures on topics such as what roles do Po Leung Kuk (3 March 2012) and Lee Hysan (17 March 2012) play in the Hong Kong society for those who are interested in the sociological part of our city.
They built an outdoor cafe and garden area right outside of the centre, which comfortable and spacious, attracting lots of domestic helpers gathering there on Sundays for some well-deserved rest. The centre also hosts a different tour around the building. The aim is different from the exhibits tour, with this one introducing the history and architectural features of the centre, such as its blend with local Chinese materials and adaption for the hot-humid climate; the changes after its restoration, which started in 2003 and completed in 2005; as well as the concept of adaptive re-use in old buildings. Just turn up on the ground floor of the centre at 3:00pm on Sundays, and their experienced guides from the Antiquities and Monuments Office will walk through the sites with you.
Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre
Address: Kowloon Park, Haiphong Road, Tsim Sha Tsui.
Telephone: 2208 4400