Anyone living in Hong Kong must have certainly seen 1950s iconic photographs by Fan Ho and James Chung capturing sun rays on the stairs of the Central Market.
First wet market in the city, Central Market was built in 1842 by the British colonial government just after they arrived in Hong Kong, months before the Treaty of Nanking formalising the colonisation was even signed.
In 1895, it was rebuilt into a more elegant building, adopting a Victorian-style marble structure decorated with arches and featuring a tower at the centre.
It was demolished in 1937 and rebuilt again as its current iteration in 1939 using a more contemporary Bauhaus style with slim horizontal lines based on the architectural precept that “form follows function”.
Bounded by Des Voeux Road, Queen’s Road, Queen Victoria Street and Jubilee Street, it was considered as one of the most advanced fresh food markets at the time, serving people of all social classes, and the largest meat market in Southeast Asia.
In 1989, Central Market was converted to form part of the Mid-Levels Escalator with the façade on Des Voeux Road being demolished, and, in 1994, part of the market was converted to the Central Escalator Link Alley Shopping Arcade marking the starting point of the escalators.
The market eventually closed in 2003. In 2009, the government attempted to sell the building for commercial development, but, after receiving public backlash, they decided to preserve it, thanks to a Grade III historical building classification.
The rehabilitation and preservation works started in 2017. After four years of renovation, the first phase has been completed, and the Central Market partially reopened to the public on 23 August 2021, as “Playground for All”, jointly managed and operated by the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) and Chinachem Group.
Central Market can now be considered as the third pillar of the “Heritage Triangle” with Tai Kwun and PMQ, the two other iconic revitalised heritage attractions in the district, synergising and connecting communities across multiple projects, creating community spaces that can be shared and enjoyed by the public.
From the origin of the revitalisation project, preserving the collective memory of the place was crucial and efforts have been made in that respect, notably by the use of similar materials to keep the colour, type, and thickness of the original plastering. For example, traditional washing and polishing plastering techniques have been used to recreate the traditional look of the iconic main staircase, which has been redefined as a semi-open space for community performances. Elements of heritage conservation have also been integrated into the architectural design to enhance the historical ingenuity of the building.
Thirteen of the market stalls have been preserved for their unique characters and appeal, some of which were offered to popular old brands and social enterprises, extending the legacy of the city. Two will welcome interactive exhibitions showcasing the building’s history.
On the 24-hour pedestrian passageway connecting to Mid-levels on the second floor, a display of a rare collection of historical photos of Central Market by Hong Kong history expert Cheng Po-hung will immerse the public into the building history and life through the years.
Central Market does not only retain the original architectural elements illustrating the building’s long-standing history, but is also aiming at becoming a “21st Century Marketplace” through a flexible and interactive design, combining cultural legacy and innovation. It boasts an open concept design with bi-folding doors on both sides on the ground floor to foster connection and engagement. The resulting large central atrium is equipped with projection and sound systems and will be used for street performances and large-scale events.
In addition, a multi-functional event space is located on the first floor, and will welcome workshops, exhibitions and cultural performances. For the soft opening, the first event is a kid-friendly STEAM workshop, a joint collaboration between Hong Kong Science and Technology Park and Cyberport.
Not a wet market anymore, Central Market will certainly become, not only a new lifestyle and entertainment hotspot, but also a new landmark place to enjoy arts and cultural happenings, as well as educational programmes.
More information about their events programmes here: Central Market Events Calendar