Exploring the “Green Hub”
Today is the third day of the Chinese New Year. On behalf of all colleagues in the Development Bureau, I would like to wish you all good luck, good health and every success in your work. Hong Kong is a fast paced city. If you want to take a break and find a place to relax in the weekend, there are in fact many choices. For instance, you can explore the city’s historic buildings and find out more about the rich built heritage of Hong Kong as well as their history, art and culture. Here, I would like to introduce to you the “Green Hub” (Old Tai Po Police Station) under the “Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme” of the Development Bureau and have invited the person in charge to share with us their experiences in restoring and revitalising this heritage site into a "Green Hub for Sustainable Living" to promote ecologically responsible and low-carbon living.
The "Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme" was launched in 2008 to conserve historic and heritage buildings in Hong Kong through appropriate and sustainable means. The scheme has so far entered the fifth round, involving 19 projects, with nine of those already in operation such as the Old Tai Po Police Station.
Located on a small hill at Wan Tau Kok Lane in Tai Po, the Old Tai Po Police Station was the first police station and headquarters built in the New Territories in 1899. The site of the police station was the location where the British flag-raising ceremony took place, marking the official British takeover of the New Territories. The Old Tai Po Police Station presently comprises the Main Building, the Canteen Block, the Staff Quarters Block and a large lawn area. The station is of colonial form with features like verandah and louvre windows, which also cater for the hot and humid climate in Hong Kong. There may be some Chinese influence on the design of the police station, including the Chinese-style pitched roofs covered with pan-and-roll tiles supported on timber battens and purlins.
Challenges in renovating the old building
The Green Hub is a project of the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden Corporation (KFBG). The Head of Sustainable Living and Agriculture at the KFBG, Ms WONG Lai Yin, Idy, said it was a challenging task to restore the century-old compound to its original appearance and bring it to meet the prevailing statutory requirements. Somehow the conservation team followed clues and solved puzzle like detectives. There is a case cracked with the help of the only black and white photograph of the building just built. In the case, the colour of the exterior walls was thought to be white according to previous investigation. It is not until after testing the very bottom layer of paint and comparing with the black and white photograph that the original wall colour was revealed. Besides, the original faux rustication on the external walls, which was believed to be a decorative feature making the walls look like granite, was unveiled and restored during renovation.
Meanwhile, there are more than 30 trees in the Old Tai Po Police Station including two Old and Valuable Trees (OVT), namely Chinese Banyan and Camphor. How to preserve the trees and minimize disturbance to the adjacent egretry are big challenges. Now, the natural environment within and surrounding the“Green Hub” is more vibrant than that before the renovation, with more insects, frogs, birds being attracted to, which is hard to come by.
Apart from providing docent services for the historic building, Ms Idy WONG says, they would also hold low carbon diet workshops and 2- to 5-day residential transformative workshops for participants to experience slow-living and enjoy a different side of Hong Kong. Some of the workshops are aimed at promoting food wise culture. Through the experience of bringing food from field to table and recovering food waste, participants deepen their understanding about the relationship between individual, society and nature.
Among the workshops is Vegan Raw Dessert Cookery Class held by the Green Hub. Participants pick fresh organic herb and edible flowers from the Kitchen Garden as garnish to brighten the oatmeal cookies they made with the seasonal flavors. Apart from cooking skills, the course teacher highlights the wisdom of eating in season and consumer choices that have a positive impact on our environment and our community. Ms SETO Kam-yan, Constance, a participant of the Green Hub’s programme, said she loved the environment and atmosphere at the Green Hub. She said it not only maintained the history of the old police station, but also injected an element of education value to promote green living, creating a natural environment for the peace seeking visitors and she would come more often.
Alternative experience and attracting visitors
In the blink of an eye, the Green Hub has operated for about two and a half years. I am pleased to see that diversity and vitality have been injected into the Grade 1 historic building again with plants and insects flourishing in the nature, alongside beautiful the historic building. According to the latest statistics, it attracted about 64 000 attendees in 2017, more than 58 000 attendees in 2016 and the original target of 40 000 attendees. I think, besides the figures, the most important is that the public can really enjoy the simplistic and environmentally friendly activities and gain something from joining in the activities.
Looking ahead, we will strive a balance between development and heritage conservation. To enhance the heritage conservation policy, we will continue to select suitable historic buildings for the “Revitalising Historic Buildings through Partnership Scheme” and inject new life into them, providing a good place for the public to relax and stay away from city life. However, please note that the Green Hub will be closed on Tuesdays and specified dates including the first four days of the Lunar New Year.
18 February, 2018