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Project Profile


2008 Honourable Mention

The Béthanie

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Project Title: The Béthanie

LocationPokfulam, Hong Kong SAR, China

Size18,000 square metres (site area); 5,200 square metres (building area)

CostUS$ 10,650,000

Responsible PartyPhilip Soden, Nelson Ho

Heritage ArchitectPhilip Liao

ContractorWan Chung Construction Co. Ltd.

Date of CompletionNovember 2007

Project Synopsis

The Béthanie was built as a sanatorium and chapel in 1875 by the Missions Étrangères de Paris (the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris). Its architect was Father Pierre Marie Osouf, a church figure who later served as the first Archbishop of Tokyo (1891 to 1906).

The building took its name from Bethany, the village of the biblical Lazarus, a name that also means “House of Affliction”. The French Mission, the primary agent of French Catholic evangelism in Asia, had been active in Hong Kong since the foundation of the colony in 1842, and used the Béthanie as a place for the convalescence of its missionaries, following examples in France and in the Nilgiri Hills of India. The Béthanie sanatorium had a record of successful treatment, losing only one hundred patients in almost 100 years of operation.

During the Second World War, the Japanese army occupied the Béthanie, as they did with many other public and institutional buildings in Hong Kong. Use of the building gradually declined after the War, especially after the expulsion of missionaries from China in 1949. An organization called Hongkong Land acquired the property in 1974 and the Hong Kong government took ownership following year. Between 1978 and 1997, the building served as part of the University of Hong Kong. In 1981, it achieved the status of a designated Grade II listed monument. Prior to that, the building had been scheduled for demolition.

In 2000, the Hong Kong government spearheaded a feasibility study to determine possible future uses for the building. In 2003, the government resolved to transfer ownership to the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, which then initiated the conservation of the building and its surrounds, and its conversion into an associate campus and performance venue.

The Hong Kong Academy for the Performing of Arts simultaneously acquired the neighbouring property, a former dairy farm founded in 1886. The Manson farm site consists of two unusual octagonal milking parlours, topped by cupolas dating from the 1880s. These were both included in the academy’s conservation and conversion framework.

Conservation Approach

The conservation effort for the Béthanie integrated the two adjacent properties into a single campus complex. This complex today houses performance venues, an exhibition hall, a chapel and a museum dedicated to the history of the Béthanie, and is the permanent location of the School of Film and Television.

The first step in the conservation process was the structural repair of the heritage building. The Neo-Gothic chapel section is the most architecturally distinguished part of the structure, and special attention was paid to restoring its decorative elements to their former glory. In general, the project had the goal of retaining original materials as much as possible and where new materials were required, matching those with examples based on the original designs.

To this end, the team recreated the historic wood altar rails, including their carved and fitted tracery, and cleaned and repaired the existing nineteenth-century tiles. Because most of the original statuary was missing, including the standing saints that had been set on corbels along the nave, these were carefully reproduced and installed.

The restoration of the original stained glass windows in the apse end of the chapel required particular care. Nineteen of the windows had been removed in the 1970s and they could not be located. Employing considerable detective work, the conservation team tracked down seven of the windows in Zetland Hall, the Freemasons’ Lodge, where they had been installed during the restoration of the hall in 1998; while another two were found in storage in a government facility. Thanks to the understanding of the Trustees of Zetland Hall and the Hong Kong government, the nine windows were returned to the Béthanie and reinstalled.

These included the remarkable Sacred Heart window above the altar. Anderson Art Glass and Interiors expertly reproduced the remaining ten missing windows; the level of artisanship was such that the difference between the original and replacement glass is virtually imperceptible. The only major change to the windows was the use of typhoon-resistant steel in place of the original wooden frames.

The most dramatic change to the property was the creation of a multi-function studio on the roof of the sanatorium section of the building, adjacent to the chapel. The Hong Kong Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) had stipulated that the roof of the structure should reproduce the original pitched roof of the sanatorium, which had been replaced by a flat block in previous repair work. Since the AMO specified the form and not the materials, the project architect had the latitude to create an innovative glass-roofed space that honoured the original roof form but allowed for natural lighting within the studio space below.

Conservation and the Community

As the School of Film and Television for the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, the Béthanie now hosts full-time classes in film and television production, as well as occasional performing arts programmes. A museum detailing the history of the building is open to the public and the chapel is used for church services, weddings and concerts. The Béthanie is now widely recognized in Hong Kong as an outstanding remnant of Hong Kong heritage, serving as a striking monument to the memory of Christian evangelism in the Far East.

Quote from the Project Team

“This historic site, with contemporary usage, will undoubtedly have a new life for many years to come. Marrying academic and cultural usage with a historic monument in a harmonious way is a new development for Hong Kong.”