Gabriel is a structural engineer graduated from the University of Queensland, Australia in 1995 and obtained his Master of Science from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 1999. Joining Arup in 2008, he worked on the Tai Kwun project
as the Project Manager from 2009 to its opening in 2018, leading a multidisciplinary team of engineers in Hong Kong while collaborating with international architects
and heritage experts for the conservation and revitalisation work. Tai Kwun has been widely recognised for its technical excellence in a number of awards, including the RIBA International Award for Excellence, Institution of Civil Engineers Awards, and Hong Kong Institution of Engineers Structural and Fire Engineering Excellence Awards.
What are the essential aspects to preserve and improve on the refurbishment projects?
The most important aspect is safety. Buildings with a certain historical value rarely have record drawings or construction information. As it might affect safety and stability of the future development, the team started the refurbishment project by identifying structural forms and assessing building conditions by comprehensive structural survey with opening-up investigation and testing of material samples collected.
The whole process took three months to obtain useful information for the material and structural engineers to assess stability and capacity of each historic building. From then, we looked for options to proposing the next action, either on adaptively reusing or strengthening the building.
The second component is code-compliance. Since some of the buildings were constructed in the late 19th century with limited codes and regulations in place at the time of construction, innovative solutions were adopted using a balanced design approach between modern-day regulations and preservation of historic fabric. We need to comply with safety regulations, such as by using a fire engineering approach while considering historical elements preservation at the same time.
Working on the heritage project, we need to pay much attention on keeping the original outlook while upholding safety and stability standards.
In this particular project, we worked very closely with the team comprising of international architects and conservation experts, local stakeholders and government bodies to maintain authenticity of the buildings.
It is sustainable to adaptively reuse existing buildings as we do not want to do a lot of demolition or new construction. Historic buildings are retained and given a new life by holistic assessment and strategic strengthening work where required to enhance performance and durability. This also reduced a lot of construction wastes and avoided the use of new construction materials.
The third component is space and connectivity. Very luckily, in this particular project, we have two open spaces called the Prison Yard and the Parade Ground. These public spaces are very rare especially at the heart of this commercial hub of Hong Kong, where people can enjoy and relax in the environment. We worked very hard to keep these open spaces and improve the connectivity and accessibility from one building to another. New public entrances were also introduced around the site, making the previously enclosed compound more publicly accessible.