Hong Kong’s historic Central Market is reopening soon as the newest revitalised heritage spot in the heart of the business district, 12 years after it was saved from redevelopment.
The 82-year-old building on Des Voeux Road Central will feature new elements, including more entrances on all four sides to connect it with surrounding skyscrapers as well as the small streets with local shops that offer a glimpse of the past.
Aside from having almost 10,800 sq ft of public space in its atrium and entrance plaza facing Queen’s Road Central , it also has a 24-hour pedestrian walkway. Thirteen market stalls which once sold fish, poultry, vegetables and fruit have been preserved.
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
“The Central Market is in the middle of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Central, as it is the gateway of the footbridge system connecting the two parts,” said the project’s leading architect, Vincent Ng Wing-shun.
With the restoration completed, the Urban Renewal Authority has handed over the landmark to the Chinachem Group to run an affordable leisure and retail hub. The group has promised to promote Hong Kong brands, and hold cultural events and activities to draw the crowds when it opens later this year.
Looking back at the four-year restoration process, architect Ng said the biggest challenge lay in bringing back its original architectural flavours while meeting current regulatory requirements.
He told the Post it would have been impractical to bring back the four-storey building’s original appearance.
“When we say we want to preserve 1930s architecture in the 21st century, there is an 80-year time difference, many requirements have changed,” he said.
The market first opened in 1842 as a bazaar for locals near Queen’s Road Central. After several shifts, the colonial government rebuilt the market in 1895 at its current site, adopting a Victorian-style marble structure decorated with arches and featuring a tower at the centre.
It was rebuilt again in 1938 using the plainer, more contemporary Bauhaus style based on the architectural tenet that “form follows function”. It was regarded as one of the most advanced fresh food markets at the time, serving shoppers from all social classes.
The government originally intended to sell the site for commercial development but, following a public outcry, decided in 2009 to preserve the market instead.
Ng’s team from AGC Design won the bid to conserve the building, but its costly proposal for a rooftop garden and swimming pool was eventually scrapped. Estimates of the original design amounted to around HK$1.5 billion (US$193.1 million), but revitalisation costs for the present look only crossed HK$500 million.
When work began, the concrete-and-steel structure was badly in need of repairs and strengthening.
Ng said he wanted to make sure that any alterations or new elements would be distinguishable from the original and removable, a major principle of heritage conservation.
In conserving the external walls, for example, the team tried to restore the original terrazzo tiles that had been concealed by layers of paint over the decades. But when a series of tests found the tiles too loose and brittle to be reinstalled, the team searched for paint of the exact tone of beige in the tiles.
The columns inside the market are now coated with a layer of composite material known as fibre-reinforced polymer, a material that can strengthen the infrastructure and restore the deteriorated concrete. Using this material meant the original appearance did not have to be altered.
Ng said he hoped the new market could form a “cultural triangle” with two other restored cultural spaces in the area, the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and the Arts and the PMQ design centre at the old police married quarters.
Chinachem has pledged to showcase local brands in retail, food and drink, and even urban farming at the landmark.
Ng agreed that the market should not be just another high-end retail shopping centre, as there were already many such stores in Central.
“Central Market will have its own special and local features, local stores with cultural and artistic features,” he said. “We want to make it down-to-earth, a place for small local businesses to promote local art and culture.”