Hong Kong’s Iconic State Theatre to Return to Glory as a Heritage Project and Culture Hub

Front door of State Theatre in the late stage showing Jackie Chan’s movie Rumble in the Bronx. Image courtesy of New World Development.
L to R: Tony Lam, Director of AGC Design; Adrian Cheng, CEO of New World Development; Matthew Potter, Director of WillkinsonEyre; Brian Anderson, Director of Cultural Heritage at Purcell. Image courtesy of New World Development.
Elevators at State Theatre. Image courtesy of New World Development.
The State Theatre features a captivating parabolic exoskeleton truss at the roof. Photo by: Haider Kikabhoy. Image courtesy of New World Development.
Rendering of new State Theatre proposed design. Image courtesy of New World Development.
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CoBo Social Market News Reports

Once destined for demolition, the hotspot for cinephiles in the ‘50s receives a new lease on life at the hands of New World Development.

 

TEXT: Christina Ko
IMAGES: Courtesy of New World Development

Historical architecture is always a tough subject in Hong Kong, a city whose penchant for shiny and new high rises often outweighs its reverence for structures that hail from a bygone era. The solution is typically a large-scale heritage revitalisation project, with the likes of Tai Kwun, PMQ and Asia Society Hong Kong making big business for international architecture firms eager to put their stamp on the Hong Kong skyline.

The latest big remodel in that vein involves North Point’s State Theatre, known in its post-war heyday of the ‘50s as the go-to place to catch the latest local flick (back when Hong Kong had the most thriving film industry in all of Asia), which fell to disuse and was almost demolished until local organisations and nearby residents lobbied for its designation as a Grade I historical building.

 

Front door of State Theatre in the late stage showing Jackie Chan’s movie Rumble in the Bronx. Image courtesy of New World Development.
L to R: Tony Lam, Director of AGC Design; Adrian Cheng, CEO of New World Development; Matthew Potter, Director of WillkinsonEyre; Brian Anderson, Director of Cultural Heritage at Purcell. Image courtesy of New World Development.

 

It will now be repurposed under the deft eye of Adrian Cheng, CEO of New World Development. Although Cheng sits at the helm of a development conglomerate, his interest in heritage and culture is well-documented, so we can expect that when the structure re-emerges in its new form, it will pay due homage to its past life, while also exhibiting a renewed lease on life.

Wendy Ng, an architectural conservationist who sits on the advisory team for the building’s redevelopment, is one person who will make sure of that. Involved in lobbying for the State Theatre’s designation as a heritage site—one that was a clear uphill battle, given the building was badly preserved, thanks to a fire in the ‘90s and its conversion into a snooker hall since—Ng grew up in the theatre’s storied halls as the daughter of one of the shop tenants. Here, she shares her connection to the site, and an early sneak peek at what lies in the building’s future.

 

Tell us about the relevance of the State Theatre, both within Hong Kong’s history as well as your own personal history.

Within Hong Kong’s history, it’s highly representative [as a beacon of the culture scene] in early post-war Hong Kong, a pioneer in bringing international performances to [the city], as well as being the oldest surviving post-war theatre building in the context of “Little Shanghai” as North Point was known in the 1930s–50s.

I spent my childhood there during the 80s and 90s as a shop occupant’s daughter. Apart from staying in my mother’s shoe shop, I also played with kids of other shop occupants around the arcade. We used to have dinner at the restaurant upstairs, and watched many movies released by Golden Harvest at the theatre. After the theatre ceased operation and was converted into a billiard hall, I still hung around there with my friends.

Elevators at State Theatre. Image courtesy of New World Development.

 

What are some of the architectural highlights we can find in the current structure and how will they be preserved or reworked?

The curved façade with the theatre’s grand entrance facing King’s Road, the relief panel designed by the artist Mei Yutian, and the exposed parabolic reinforced concrete roof trusses are definitely the key architectural features of this Modernist structure. The plan is to conserve the iconic architecture, including the parabolic exoskeleton truss and mural relief, and transform the derelict building into a landmark steeped in cinematic culture.

 

WilkinsonEyre, Purcell and AGC Design are three of the firms commissioned to work on this project. What is each firm bringing to the table?

WilkinsonEyre and Purcell, the two British firms, are the leading team. WilkinsonEyre has worked on the Gasholders London redevelopment scheme while Purcell was the conservation architect of Tai Kwun, the former Central Police Station Compound in Hong Kong. Hong Kong-based AGC Design took part in the revitalisation of Lui Seng Chun, an 89-year-old house in Hong Kong which was restored as a Chinese Medicine Centre.

Drawing on an elite team of local and international designers and artisans, the Group plans to restore, preserve and revitalize the Grade I historic site, but the elite team won’t be starting the site inspection until this month (November).

 

How does this project differ from other heritage and revitalisation projects we see in Hong Kong?

It is quite unique as a privately-owned and built heritage site, originally being proposed with the lowest historic grading, later designated with the second highest historic grading thanks to joint efforts by the local community (Walk in Hong Kong, the Conservancy Association, Docomomo Hong Kong), and international groups (Docomomo International). Advocacy for the State Theatre received overwhelming support from the general public, as well as many representatives with different backgrounds, including scholars, architects, artists, musicians, politicians, and even the descendent of its founder, Harry Odell.

It has been a community hub and so accessible to the North Point kaifongs (district locals), as a building for entertainment (theatre) and commercial activities (restaurant, shopping arcade)— unlike many of Hong Kong’s other revitalised projects, which are mostly government buildings.

 

The State Theatre features a captivating parabolic exoskeleton truss at the roof. Photo by: Haider Kikabhoy. Image courtesy of New World Development.
Rendering of new State Theatre proposed design. Image courtesy of New World Development.

 

What will the finished project entail? 

The idea is definitely to bring back and showcase the building’s architectural merits, artisanship and cinematic culture. So the conservation project will include the revitalisation of the roof structure, while the cinematic functions will also be restored, turning the State Theatre back into a cultural events hub.

In addition to the conservation and development plan, the group has begun to collect relics and memorabilia of the State Theatre, and initiated a systematic documentation of its oral history. About 100 artefacts related to the State Theatre and the North Point area have been collected so far, including components of its projectors, the theatre billboard, screening contracts and more. These items will be curated and displayed in the future State Theatre, where the public will be able to enjoy cultural activities, such as guided heritage and culture tours, as part of the conservation plan.

 

 

 
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