Can the old and new coherently exist with the ever-changing city?
Journey of discovery
Walking out the Sai Ying Pun MTR exit on Bonham road, you will find yourself inside a quiet residential community with historical buildings, as well as the remains of the famous stone wall trees. Strolling slowly along the road you can enjoy glances of sea view between the towers. Just around the corner, terrace view of Centre Street extends to the Victoria Harbour before your eyes. Flock of people are flowing into the Centre Street where both the Sai Ying Pun Market and Centre Street Market are located, making it the most prosperous street in the district.
Once stepping down the Centre Street you can immediately feel the difference: steep slope, people chattering around and zero vehicular access. Elderly are walking slowly and carefully up and down the slope towards the markets, whereas some are resting along the steps, chatting, mumbling or people watching. On the opposite side of the steps is the escalator, which helps walking up the slope a lot easier than before. Behind the steps and escalator are small shops selling local stuffs such as traditional snacks, as well as youth cafes and shops selling foreign wine.
Wandering around, you can discover network of hidden back alleys and idle pocket spaces surrounded by towers and tenement buildings. These are the traces of the life and space in the past: the old tenement houses were pulled down and replaced by high rise and it started from the outer layer of the lot. The central part, where is mostly occupied by the old generation, is gradually surrounded by towers and becomes more hidden, if not isolated, from the city. The only connection to the outside is the narrow shaded lanes. The old and new sit side-by-side physically, yet be so distinct in presence. The old may, eventually and inevitably, be forgotten and eliminated as a result of city development. The old community, instead of being eliminated, should coexist with the new neighborhood; the dispirited inner part, instead of being disconnected and neglected, should establish a better dialogue to the lively and cheerful surroundings; the old generation, instead of being forgotten, should be remembered and respected.
Along the sloped Centre Street, a vacant site can be found between High Street and Third Street. Looking closer to this vacant site, marks and structure left on the ground tell the story of its past. It was Yu Lok Lane which had housed about 30 households before the demolition. The empty land, is no exception from typical urban redevelopment, is now surrounded by the back sides of new development. Walking into the empty site, four of the tenement houses are preserved and “decorated” with some “Character Defining Elements”. Although they are newly refurbished, it stands awkwardly hollow in the site.
An old tree is sitting in the middle of the site. You can picture how lively it was while people were living in this lane, chattering and gathering under the tree. Perhaps there should be a better way to revitalise old building instead of leaving them behind, giving them a new hollow shell and fading out their value to the community.
Yu Lok Lane is one of the hidden sites in the district. In order to reclaim the forgotten space, the old and the new are reintroduced, by extracting the old out and at the same time, injecting the new in.
The concept of this communal elderly centre is to reclaim the forgotten presence of space and time by introducing the new, and at the same time respecting the old. The act of architecture here is a reflection of positive connection between elderly people and the ever-changing city nowadays.
The architecture plugs into this forgotten space to complete the street wall along the Centre Street. Its form and structure imitates the existing pitch-roofed tenement buildings, but with new architectural strategies: leaky rather than sealed; light rather than dark; perforated rather than close. The street facade is merely a transparent wall where the old traditions can be displayed and taught, like Chinese opera and Chinese medicine clinic, which serves the surrounding neighborhood and allows mutual understanding of culture between generations. Meanwhile the new energy can be injected by the participation of neighborhood and thus the tradition can be passed on.
Embracing the tree
A narrow lane, situated next to the clinic, is a passage leading people to the heart of the building - the Garden Court. Stepping out from the passage is a dramatic space open up to the sky. The court, the building, the program, the circulation, and even the floors are designed to embrace the old tree, which carries symbolic meaning: to bring people together; to be a place of sharing; to reconnect people of different generations; to stimulate curiosity of their relationship with the built environment; and ultimately to the larger discourse of the city, to reclaim the forgotten presence of space and time. The tree acted as a shelter for the community and so will they.
Embracing the Garden Court is the Corridor on the second floor. It not only creates a platform to overlook the court, it also links up the old pitch-roofed buildings with the new complex. Elderly enjoy watching the energetic children playing around as an act of reminiscence of the past. Bamboos are planted along the Corridor as an extension of the existing trees, encircling the court as well as the heart of the community.
The old buildings remain as the living quarter of the elderly, but they are more connected to the community by the Communal Farm, which acts the tiny garden for the elderly and as an extension of their activities from inside to outside. Turning around the corner there is a hidden staircase linking back to the hustle and bustle street.
The interfacing between the old and new is connected by the Garden Corner and the Tea Room. These places encourage the elderly to have dialogue with the new, thus promoting the sociability.
Multi-use Craft Room on the ground floor, which just behind the Garden Court, provides a place where both the old and new can interact and enjoy communal amenity. The old no longer stays lonelily, instead opportunity is given so that their tradition and skills can be passed on. The elderly can make use of the Craft Room as a base for their carpentry class, calligraphy lesson and story telling.
The old are full of experience; the adults are eager to explore; and the children are filled with energy. The introduction of communal elderly centre is a platform to gather the three generations together so as to generate communal bonding for the district. The adults learn from the old to rediscover their roots and the old is then remembered and respected; the children have energized the forgotten space and also awaken the hearts of the elderly. Grannies, parents and grandchildren enjoy the precious family time under the shade. The community is thus coherently bonded together and this can actually spread to every doorstep.
Similar architecture can be appeared as communal folly and scattered around the district. They are ready to be explored and discovered by the community and the visitors. It not only helps completing the city fabric, but also acts as a catalyst to initiate a series of events inside each forgotten space; a space allows events to happen and interact, where social activities take place and where the forgotten space and time can be reclaimed.