The Mills: A Textile Heritage Centre
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 6:07pm on 21st April 2019
1. Norberto Roldan, Incantations in the land of virgins, monsters, sorcerers, and angry gods, Patadyong wraparound skirts, mixed media and floral patterned fabrics imported from China, 150x86cm each, 1999-2019
2. Reya Afisina, Under-construction as Long as You''re Not Paying Attention, print on fabric, 2018-2019
3. Jakkai Siributr, Fast Fashion, installation, 2015-2016
4. Lam Tung Pang & COLLECTIVE, Wavy Weaving Wall, roof-top installation, 2019
The Nan Fung Group is a well-known Hong Kong property developer whose origins as a textile manufacturer began in 1954. Located in Tsuen Wan’s industrial area, the company’s original six factories, or more accurately, textiles mills, eventually became Hong Kong’s biggest yarn manufacturer. The importance of the textile industry to Hong Kong’s development as one of Asia’s ‘tigers’ (a term rarely heard nowadays) cannot be overstated. By 1970, 43% of Hong Kong’s considerable manufacturing workforce was employed in the textile industries.
Hong Kong’s industrial economy evolved after the 1980s, shifting from actual manufacturing to become a hub for services, support and logistics, predominantly for goods manufactured in the previously closed mainland. Nan Fung’s mills lingered longer than most and continued weaving until their closure in 2008. Coinciding with the city’s debate about preserving its built heritage, the factories were astutely appreciated as the company’s legacy and as an example of Hong Kong’s industrial heritage.
Three of the original mill factories were demolished and redeveloped in the 1990s, whilst the other three (Mills 4, 5, and 6) have been retained. In 2014, on the 60th anniversary of the company’s founding, a plan to preserve these three buildings was announced. The Mills was inaugurated as a heritage project to accommodate arts, education and exhibition activities through its Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile (CHART) which is separately funded through a charity, the Mill6 Foundation. Contributing to its revenue, The Mills also houses cafes, noodle shops, burger outlets and restaurants alongside shops selling design products. A large co-sharing space for those working in design and the creative arts, especially related to fashion and textiles, completes the interior makeover.
I visited The Mills before it was fully operational, but it was already obvious that the unfussy conversion from closed industrial buildings into open, bright and airy spaces successfully allowed a contemporary update without overwhelming the industrial ambience of the former factories. Complementing the impressive interiors are the large open rooftops. These huge spaces are open for visitors to freely sit at the provided tables under umbrellas. Also installed at roof-level is a long mural, Wavy Weaving Wall, executed by Hong Kong artist Lam Tung Pang and COLLECTIVE architecture group, honoring the textile workers who worked in the mills. Lam, coincidentally, currently has a new solo exhibition at Blindspot Gallery in Wong Chuk Hang.
The conversion has retained many of the factories’ original features through adaptation. Old windows are incorporated into new signage and the former main factory iron gates featuring the Golden Cup trademark, one of the mills’ textile brands, now sit behind the main foyer reception. Upcycled timber from factory doors have been repurposed as benches and a green-painted staircase has been kept in its original condition and remains a main link between floors. Now fully open, The Mills adds an impressive story of industry to Hong Kong’s rich built heritage.
Link for further info:
This article was originally published in Perspective architectural magazine, April 2019.