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2007 Award of Merit

Little Hong Kong

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Project TitleLittle Hong Kong

Location18 Deep Water Drive, Shouson Hill, Hong Kong SAR, China

Size697.72 square metres

CostUS$ 2,000,000

Responsible PartyJames Thompson, Gergory L. De’eb, Crown Wine Cellars Ltd.

Heritage ArchitectAlice Lim

ContractorTony Lo

Date of CompletionMarch 2004


Project Synopsis

With the escalation of the Sino-Japanese War in the late 1930s, coastal defences were erected on the then British territory of Hong Kong and a Central Ordnance Munitions Depot was established to supply them. Constructed in 1937, the depot was located near the port of Aberdeen and came to be known by the popular Cantonese term for that area, “Little Hong Kong”. The depot was the last Allied position on Hong Kong Island to fall to the Japanese in the Battle of Hong Kong, defended by a mixed garrison of British, Canadian, Punjabi, and Chinese troops, which had originally resolved to blow themselves up along with the enemy and the munitions they guarded. 

The original configuration of the Little Hong Kong depot consisted of a headquarters building, a sentry box and a complex of twenty-four bunkers hewn into the living rock on either side of a narrow ravine. The location was intended to be hidden from attack and remote enough not to present a threat to the population in case the material stored within detonated; the narrowness of the ravine was ideal for the containment of explosions.

Since the 1970s, the complex was used by the Hong Kong Police as their driving academy, and subsequently by the Hong Kong Geotechnical Department for storing rock samples. During the 1980s, high-rise development in the area destroyed twelve of the original twenty-four bunkers. The headquarters building was demolished in 2000.  

The conservation effort was initiated in response to the threat of redevelopment of the site, and was intended to revitalize these structures by converting them into a series of commercial wine cellars, a purpose for which their subterranean location was ideally suited. Two of the bunkers were converted into a clubhouse. A new freestanding glass conservatory was also built adjacent to the clubhouse, providing additional useable space.

Conservation Approach

The project focused on protecting the overall site, one of Hong Kong’s few remaining military installations, by finding a viable way to reuse the remaining structures, creating a living museum to commemorate this overlooked period in Hong Kong’s history and landscaping for the benefit of local residents and visitors.  

Given the paucity of available information on the site, thorough research was conducted prior to the start of the conservation work to gain a comprehensive understanding of the site and its construction. In order to convert the bunkers into professional wine cellars, both environmental controls and security measures had to be improved.  Post-war fittings such as steel racks, fans and florescent lights were removed, while paint and plaster were stripped from the walls.  The steel ceilings and original steel doors were sandblasted, treated with sealant, and repainted in the original military grey.  The old electrical conduits were reused where possible.  Brickwork was carefully cleaned and restored, and damaged areas repaired before being sealed.  Concrete masonry was preserved throughout, notably the interior brick sheath and dogleg corridors intended to absorb and redirect blast waves.

Most new additions were designed to be reversible.  In the bunkers converted into cellars, industrial high pressure sodium vapour lamps, imported from the Netherlands to complement the military atmosphere, were spot-welded to the ceiling to facilitate easy removal. In the two bunkers converted into the clubhouse, a false ceiling was installed and freestanding wine racks and furniture was used in order to guarantee a minimum of interference with the original fabric of the site.

The soil slopes above the bunkers were reinforced, which entailed the construction of surface drains and retaining walls. The new conservatory was placed on an existing concrete apron, near the clubhouse bunkers.

Conservation and the Community

The conservation effort has been intended to memorialize this important passage in the history of Hong Kong for its residents, many of whom had no idea of the role that the island played in the Second World War or the bitter circumstances of its fall and occupation by the Japanese. A wide range of activities are now hosted at Little Hong Kong, including visits by local children to introduce them to the history of the complex and Victory (V-J) Day celebrations bringing together the few remaining veterans of the Battle of Hong Kong. 

Quote from the Project Team

“Having played host to a number of historical, social, educational, cultural and local arts related events, the restored Little Hong Kong has attracted people throughout the local community from all walks of life and across all age groups. Its conservation and current remembrance function demonstrates [how] sympathetic military heritage is a powerful unifying factor to bring any community closer together.”