July 2001

Sai Ying Pun Community Complex


Everybody remembered it as a hospital for lunatics. Then, tales of ghostly sightings raged to such an extent since it was abandoned in the 1970s that, try though the government did to maintain it in reasonable condition, it couldn's because no worker would venture inside.

Built in 1891, the mental hospital in Sai Ying Pun was actually used as nurses' quarters until the Second World War. It was turned into a mental hospital after the war and continued to function as such until 1962, when the completion of Castle Peak Hospital removed the strain of rising patient numbers. It switched back to outpatient services until 1971, when operation ceased.
@@For some years the vacant building became the haunt of curious teenagers and drug addicts who used the methadone clinic nearby. It fell into disrepair and was badly burned by two fires believed to be inadvertently started by trespassers.

Colonial architecture
Scared away by its association with war, madness and drugs, locals hardly paid attention to the building's architecture, which is a blend of 19th century western and traditional Chinese styles. Its rustic granite facade, with its arched verandah, is reminiscent of works by well-known 19th century American architect Henry H Richardson. By contrast, windows with green wooden shutters set in the inner red brick gave it a Mediterranean feel. Topping all this was a tiled traditional Chinese roof.
@@The original north facade had 18 arches with a pediment marking the middle and turrets at the ends to form a classically proportioned structure. Six more arches, however, were added during an extension uphill. The asymmetry arising from its location on the sloping High Street was skilfully balanced out by the use of a stone plinth to lift the verandah off the street to present a gradation of rhythm.
@@The building was the only specimen of its kind in Hong Kong, but the interior was in a very bad condition after being left vacant for so long. Fire had destroyed much of it and the roof had collapsed. Although it would be ideal to preserve the whole building, a compromise had to be reached. Given its physical condition, it would have been very costly to restore the whole building, so a decision was reached to preserve the facade.
@@The decision was influenced by three factors. First of all, when the building was built, two-thirds of its cost went into construction of the arched granite verandah. This was reflected in the attention and detailing accorded the facade. It was also the only part of the structure which was assigned Grade 1 status by the Antiquities Advisory Board, the rest having been judged difficult to maintain because the wooden structure would be susceptible to rotting. Finally, the architect considered the superb craftsmanship evident on the facade. Its preservation would contribute towards the urban space that surrounded it.

Challenges to preservation
Except for the old granite facade, therefore, the rest of the old mental hospital was demolished, to give way to the Sai Ying Pun Community Complex.
@@Three options were considered, noted the Architectural Services Department architects responsible for the project.
@@One option was to follow the approach of the Peninsula Hotel extension in using new materials and methods, which nonetheless echoed the old. The second was to imitate the old by adopting the same design and materials. The third option was to adopt a design which would offer a contrast with the old, like IM Pei's pyramid at the Louvre.
@@The Peninsula approach was eventually chosen as it was considered the most suitable for the project.
@@The resulting community complex features a similar architectural rhythm expressed through modern materials. The fact that reinforced concrete columns and slab can support larger spans than granite columns and arches is reflected in the wider spans of the new building. The scale of the new structure, which is longer and taller, allows a proportional column grid to be established which also echoes the rhythm of the old facade.
@@The bigger building may have dwarfed the historical structure, but this is avoided by the use of the central lift core to break down the volume of the new building, by dividing it into two wings. This treatment also has functional advantages, as it adds flexibility to the internal layout. The community centre needs this flexibility to accommodate the many facilities it will contain, which include an early education training centre on the lower ground floor; group work unit on the ground floor; elderly homes on the first and second floors; a community hall; and a children day care centre on the third floor. There are also facilities for the mentally handicapped and a singleton hostel on the upper floors.
@@The lift core is topped by an octagonal metal roof that sets up a dialogue with the old facade. The scale of the new building is further broken down by the application of details in the form of decorative mouldings and window patterns that are neo-classical in style. The effort to blend the old and the new is also evident in the use of granite cladding for the east facade, where the entrance to the community hall is located.
@@Preserving the facade had its technical difficulties. It affected the construction of the community complex behind because it stood in the way of the site access. There was also concern that the facade might collapse when its derelict portion was being demolished. To prevent that from happening, the cross walls were demolished in stages, but this further reduced the amount of room available for construction of the new building. Both temporary and permanent ties were also used to hold the facade in place.
@@Differential settlement was also a potential concern as the facade stood on a much shallower foundation. Soil nails were installed on the facade's retaining wall and permanent ties with pivot joints were used to connect the facade to the new building. Apart from protective measures, repair work was carried out on the facade itself. Cracked arches were repaired with steel pins and the original first floor slab was demolished and replaced with a concrete slab fixed with resin anchor bars.

Revitalising a neighbourhood
Careful consideration was given to the type of lighting to be used, its effect on the building as well as the immediate environs.
@@Intalling floodlights inside the verandah like the Legislative Council (Legco) building in Central was considered. However, the Legco approach presents the building as a showpiece. A more subtle approach was adopted here, using interior pendant lights along the gallery and exterior fibre optic lighting to highlight the pediment and entablature.
@@The fibre optic lighting is a soft lighting that selectively highlights each bay. The effect is consistent with the peaceful environment and the system is relatively cost-effective, compared with floodlights. It is also less intrusive than other forms of lighting with respect to installation and glare.
@@The restored facade now stands quietly in an old neighbourhood where locals have long become accustomed to its presence. The group of designers enthused about the prospect of elderly residents emerging from their rooms for a stroll on the verandah while architecture buffs came to enjoy the dialogue between the historic facade and King George V Memorial Park as well as the methadone clinic, which was also built in the late-19th century.

@@Sai Ying Pun is one of the oldest districts in Hong Kong. Until the influx of developers in the 1980s and '90s, the area was home to a range of historical public and private structures from which the history of life in the territory could be traced. The Sai Ying Pun community centre project has jumpstarted preservation in this pocket of history.
@@The architects noted that the preservation in Sai Ying Pun Community Complex has sparked a sense of history, sustainable architecture and rejuvenation for the district. With the community landmark once again serving the Hong Kong people, the designers expressed hope that the area's profile will be raised and its built heritage recognised.
@@While lamenting the demolition of the neighbouring Euston Castle (Yue Yuen, a folly on Bonham Road) during the 1980s, one architect suggested the methadone clinic building could also be restored.
@@His colleagues nodded in agreement. They knew what they were talking about -- all three grew up in the area and went to the University of Hong Kong, further down the road towards Pokfulam.

Architectural Services Department
Mouchel Asia
structural engineer
Architectural Services Department
e&m engineer
Gammon Construction Ltd
Architectural Services Department
Quantity surveyor

-- Building Journal