This studio is a response to a common concern in Hong Kong and Taiwan: valuable architectural heritage are disappearing and present efforts, or the lack thereof, to transform them have at times created unintended consequences. In Hong Kong, the violent demolition of Central Ferry (2006), or the misguided conservation and reappropriation of Wanchai Market (2008) and Marine Police Headquarters (2009) have served as important lessons of avoidance for the future: not to treat our heritage as byproducts of the city and to dispose them when they are no longer in need, nor considered them as a marketing backdrop that facilitates commercial consumption. In Taiwan, we discovered similar debates and understanding to the latent values of heritage architecture with its potential impact on cultural production. Yet, arriving at this consciousness came at a cost. Very often through the form of pseudo culture combined with luxury activities disguising behind the facade of historic buildings. All of it wrapped under the name of “Cultural Heritage”. It is through the common reading and understanding of this contemporary subject matter that the two schools of architecture begun to collaborate.
The warden’s quarter at the Hsinchu Prison have provided an amazing platform to examine this contested issue through research and design by engaging different strategies of conservation, preservation, adaptive re-use and historic transformation. The complex of 18 warden’s quarters is one of the many physical remnants left behind by the Japanese colonial government in the City of Hsinchu. The houses and its surrounding garden area were originally built by the colonial rulers in Taiwan between 1920 to 1930s for the prison guards while serving as employees of the City Prison. The historic houses which are latent with history, memory and meaning remained more-or-less true to its original functional intent until late 1990s, despite major urbanistic transformations surrounding it.