Share

Haw Par Mansion: 1930’s splendour given new lease of life as music academy

After a start-stop funding approval process that left completion of its proposed revitalisation in doubt, heritage-listed Haw Par Mansion is on track for new life as a music academy.

Roger Wu Tsan-sum, chief executive of the Haw Par Music Foundation, confirmed in April that government funding had been approved for the HK$167.3 million project.

Works can now continue on the last remaining elements of the culturally significant site in Tai Hang, as envisaged by the project’s lead architect Bing Thom, the Vancouver-based architect who passed away last week in Hong Kong.

Haw Par Mansion, its private garden and the public Tiger Balm Gardens were built in the 1930s by Hong Kong entrepreneur and philanthropist Aw Boon Haw, known as “the king of Tiger Balm”.

The public garden and an iconic seven-storey pagoda had been demolished earlier for residential redevelopment, but in 2001, then-owner Cheung Kong (Holdings) Limited handed the remaining mansion and its private garden – by now awarded Grade 1 heritage status – to the government for preservation through the Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme. Topping up the government funding would be public and private-sector donations.

In early 2013, in-principle approval was granted to Haw Par Music Foundation, a not-for-profit entity set up to operate the revitalised facility, but last year Wu, himself an architect with heritage specialty, expressed concern over the delay in funding approval – leading to speculation that the whole project could be jeopardised.

Following a review and subsequent funding approval this year, Wu said, construction began on-site in June 2016. Completion of the re-named Har Paw Music Farm is expected by the end of 2017.

The four-storey mansion is an example of the Chinese Eclectic style of architecture seen in Hong Kong between the 1920s and 1930s, Wu said. It features an adoption of Western construction methods, and is decorated with architectural features borrowed from traditional Chinese architecture.

“Beautiful decorations such as stained glass windows and doors, decorative mouldings gilded with gold, and murals showing Indian and Burmese influence, can still be found on site,” he added.

The private garden is also of Chinese Eclectic style, having layout and features of a French garden with Chinese elements.

Bing Thom heard about the project a few years ago during a casual conversation with Carrie Lam, Chief Secretary for Administration, on the sidelines of an international conference they were both attending.

Thom had designed several new-build cultural projects in North America, including the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver, and Arena Stage, a regional theatre in Washington DC, as well as cultural centres in the Chinese mainland cities of Shijiazhuang and Tianjin – so the prospect appealed to him of retrofitting a heritage building for contemporary use in the city of his birth (his parents moved from Hong Kong to Canada when he was very young).

Thom competed for and won the project based on his idea, honed in consultation with Har Paw heiress Sally Aw, to turn the mansion into a music conservatory and cultural venue for public enjoyment. (Thom has subsequently won two other design competitions in Hong Kong, involving the Xiqu Centre, Chinese opera house within the West Kowloon Cultural District, and the Chicago Booth executive education campus on Mount Davis).

Roger Wu said that, through the revitalisation project, “Haw Par Music Foundation is committed to serve a dual purpose: to conserve the unique Haw Par Mansion as a heritage landmark open to the public, as well as to provide a cultural environment for the people of Hong Kong to study Western and Chinese music.”

Its adaptive reuse will contribute to heritage conservation in Hong Kong by ensuring that the architectural details of the mansion will be well preserved and emphasised, Wu said.

“The main entrance hall will be adapted as an interpretation area to showcase the historic and architectural background of the Haw Par Mansion and the Aw family, as well as the history of the Tiger Balm Garden and the process for conserving and revitalising the mansion into Haw Par Music Farm.”

The garden and the interpretation area will be open to the public free of charge during office hours, and through guided tours by arrangement.

Consistent with the east-meets-west architectural style of the building, Wu said, the venue will provide a cultural environment for students studying both Chinese and Western music.

“Apart from providing music education, Haw Par Music Farm will encourage students to participate in community services by offering a number of social outreach programmes.”

It will also offer scholarships and bursaries to underprivileged members of society, as well as music therapy and musical appreciation classes for the elderly.

Bing Thom’s approach was one of minimal intervention. The significant defining elements of the building are to be preserved, and the decor based around furnishings and artifacts currently stored in the mansion as well as from the Aw family’s private collection.

Authenticity in this project, he said, was critical for Hong Kong “where the issue of cultural identity is so important now”.