Collapse at Tai Kwun/Demolition in Wong Chuk Hang
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 10:02am on 22nd June 2016
1. Collapse of building at Central Police Station, May 2016
2. Demolition of industrial building, Wong Chuk Hang, March to July 2016
On 29 May 2016, the grating sound of bricks, timber trusses and failing supports would have briefly warned of the sudden collapse of the 150-year old former Married Police Inspectors’ Quarters building inside Tai Kwun, the currently under-renovation Central Police Station/Victoria Prison. This building is one of 16 Declared Monument buildings on the site, and now will be specially noted as the only Declared Monument to have ever collapsed in Hong Kong – and collapsed while under renovation.
Funding for the entire site’s conservation is provided by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charity Trust and heritage advice and construction is ultimately under the supervision of the project’s Executive Architect and Authorised Person, Rocco Design Architects Ltd. The Building Department has started a statutory investigation looking at the factors leading to the collapse and the Hong Kong Jockey Club will mount its own enquiry with “an independent panel comprising external professionals.” These investigations need transparency, communication with the public and honesty – let’s accept nothing less.
There are, however, some reassuring sounds in Hong Kong: the ‘ding ding’ of a tram; the cries of the wet market hawker as food is discounted at day’s end; the ‘whaaa’ of the crowd during the city’s seasonal firework displays; the increasingly climatic barracking and cheers as horses round the bend into the straight at Happy Valley Racecourse. But, the sound of jackhammers is the most ubiquitous, invasive and awful noise in this too-much-concrete-encased city.
For the last three months the industrial building next to mine is undergoing its own collapse: it is being demolished. I have a bird’s-eye view as the work is now just below the height of my own office. Attracted like a bee to a flower’s pollen by the appallingly violent noises, I am enticed to the window to witness this hell-on-Earth commotion. I admire the utilitarian efficiency of the workers; their approach is well practiced, methodical and generally safe. But, the noise is unbearable. It is not the robot-like loaders with their enormous arms and impact-hammer tips that are the noisiest, but rather the hand operated jack-hammers demolishing the thickly adhered concrete on the outside of our building. The noise just drills through the concrete straight into our building into my office.
This is a controlled, deliberate demolition: with the South Island MTR Line opening later this year, property developers are up-grading their industrial buildings to commercial. The resulting homogenous, glass-clad offices will replace all traces of the quiet, honest work – and the history – of old industrial Wong Chuk Hang.
For both buildings: it’s all quickly gone with noisy reverberations and rubble collapse.
A version of this article was published in Perspective architectural magazine, July/August 2016.