4N Design Architects breathe new life into a 1960s apartment building in one of Hong Kong’s historic neighbourhoods.
September 23rd, 2019
Number 36 Gage Street sits in an area of Hong Kong that’s steeped in history, and it’s pleasing to find that this 1960s colonial structure has not only been allowed to remain, but that it has also been revitalised. It now sits proudly amid the bustle of the wet market that has dominated Graham Street and Gage Street for decades.
Long before number 36 came into being, its site had made its mark, sitting as it does right next to Pak Tsz Park, the site of many a meeting for the revolutionaries who led the Chinese Revolution of 1911, including Dr Sun Yat-sen himself, who became the first president of the Republic of China.
Number 36 sits on top of a laneway leading to this historic park, and, as part of the building’s revitalisation by 4N Design Architects on behalf of property developer Sino Group, the old sign ‘Pak Tse Lane’ has been polished up and made good as new, like the rest of the building. The graffiti work by Hong Kong-based French artist Invader has also remained.
4N Design Architects are well versed in restoring Hong Kong’s heritage buildings, having worked on other revitalisation projects with the Urban Renewal Authority (URA). It was their work on a 1930s building in Prince Edward that drew Sino Group’s eye, and it led them to this once-unassuming building on Gage Street.
“Before [we renovated it], 36 Gage Street was just another old building with no character. The interiors were very old and very dated,” says Danny Ng, who founded the design studio alongside Sinner Sin.
Now, however, the simple geometry of its Bauhaus-influenced facade has been restored and repainted in white and dark grey; the five residential units inside – along with the ground-floor shop – have been transformed into fresh, contemporary apartments of roughly 500 square feet each.
“We made the interiors stylish but without too many details,” says Ng. “Sometimes, when you think too much on a project, you end up over designing,” That’s why, in this case, they kept things simple, with warm timber flooring, clean lines and some easy-on-the-eye built-in cabinetry.
They furnished the top-floor apartment at Sino’s request, choosing “very comfortable colour tones: white, grey and brown, tying in with the timber. We added some decorative elements with a touch of blue,” including the tiles in the bathroom.
From start to finish, the project took about a year, says Ng, with “two or three months of putting the schematics together … and the actual renovation took six months.”
It was, he says, a “normal” timeline, and the only challenges they faced were technical issues they expected. “There was not enough electricity in the building, so we had to apply for more, for example,” says Ng. “But these are issues that can easily be overcome. And in terms of design, the client gave us lots of freedom.”
With this creative license, 4N decided to have some fun with lighting – particularly the exterior. “In many of our projects, we like to design the lighting. In this case, it was especially about lighting the exteriors to bring the building to life at night. We mostly worked with wall washers,” which help to emphasise 36 Gage Street’s linear elements and its right angles.
The result is that 36 Gage Street looks bright and beautiful next to its soulful yet dilapidated neighbours, and it adds style to this neighbourhood in a way that’s respectful of its heritage.
Of course, towers have been built and demolished since it first came into being in the 1960s, and the wet markets are diminishing as the area gets gentrified and is redeveloped. Sun Yat-sen and his compadres would hardly recognise the area they once plotted a revolution in over a century ago.
Even since the 1960s, the changes have been considerable. “In 50 years, the area has changed a lot,” agrees Ng. “The ’60s were another world in Hong Kong.” But here 36 Gage Street still stands; a small yet lovely reminder of what once was.
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