In the spirit of conversion, Hong Kong now sports a new art complex that widens the scope of what we mean by exhibition.

For years, locals knew of its history as the Police Headquarters in the Mid-Levels section in Hong Kong’s Central district. With a nice, leisurely walk or ride along the escalators to get there, Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts is an ideal rendezvous spot for art, dining and community gathering in what was once a police station, courthouse and prison.

Hong Kong is home to many of the world’s leading commercial galleries but has always lacked a museum-standard not-for-profit art space. Tai Kwun, meaning “big station” in Chinese, fills that gap. Impressive in scale, three of the buildings are declared monuments that bore witness to rich history; surprising facts include Ho Chi Minh’s imprisonment there in the 1930s and its use as a Japanese army base during World War II.

With a rebirth since it was decommissioned in 2006, the inviting complex of open spaces and complex of open spaces and courtyards of 16 heritage buildings and two new buildings by Swiss architect Herzog de Meuron blend seamlessly across the Hong Kong skyline. The designers have inserted two modern buildings in the complex; a gallery for contemporary art and a 200-seat auditorium for the performing arts, film screenings and events. Both are clad in monumental perforated aluminium bricks that mimic the façades of the buildings. JC Cube, the Laundry Steps, the Prison Yard and the Parade Ground will become performance spaces for theatre, music, dance and film, with a wide range of programming. Prison cells with their original numbers and locks can be toured with video projections depicting stories of time in incarceration, including attempted jailbreaks..

Visitors can walk through more than 1,500 square metres of exhibition space that hosts six to eight exhibitions every year. Catch two inaugural exhibitions: a group show titled Dismantling the Scaffold, curated by Christina Li of Spring Workshop, along with an exhibition of new work by Hong Kong artist Wing Po So. In a bid to connect visitors to the community’s past, an exhibition titled “100 Faces of Tai Kwun” gives an intriguing glimpse into the history, the compound and its neighbourhood, complete with interactive spaces and setup.

Beyond art and culture, Tai Kwun offers dining options that range from a casual drink to cocktails to sit down meals including Café Claudel bistro and Old Bailey. Stay for as long as you can – there’s a light and sound show late evening and a perfect way to end the night if you happen to be in the neighbourhood.

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