Developer: Nan Fung Development Ltd
* Nan Fung Group Design Department
* Thomas Chow Architects
Location: Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong SAR, China
Hong Kong is a city of constant regeneration that has traditionally never wasted much time on sentimental musings of its past. Until relatively recently, most people thought nothing about pulling down historic buildings to make way for taller, shinier, replacements. As a result, very few of the city’s historic buildings have survived.
That way of thinking has changed radically in recent years, however. So while the majority of the city’s most prominent colonial architecture has long since been razed, there is now a growing trend to preserve and revitalise whatever remnants of its cultural heritage remain. Location plan
The Mills is a prime example of this. Completed in 2018 and consisting of three contiguous blocks of a derelict textile mill established during the 1950’s by Nan Fung (now one of the city’s more prominent property developers), The Mills serves as a tangible memory of Hong Kong’s early modern industrialisation.
The project has three main components:
- The Fabrica, a business incubator, investment platform and laboratory for tech startups, is “like a WeWork space for textile people” as one juror put it. Faciltiies include a maker space with various high-tech equipment, including 3D printers.
- The Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile, which specialises in Hong Kong’s inherited textile legacy. The Centre includes exhibition and lecture space and has maintained the collective memory of the city’s old factory buildings through character defining details and historical artifacts, including some of the original machinery formerly installed onsite.
- The Shopfloor, an experiential retail model that incorporates an educational mission to help customers understand the principles of heritage conservation, recycling, upcycling and sustainability, especially in relation to the textile industry.
Popular photo-taking spot at retained factory staircase
The former factory buildings have now been completely renovated. On the one hand, this involves an element of modern design executed to a very high level of finish. Parts of the structure have been opened up to provide open space and natural light. Detailing is precise, glass has been used extensively, and lighting systems have been nicely implemented. The formerly empty rooftop, meanwhile, has been landscaped and repurposed as an events facility. The Park (Roof Garden)
On the other hand, designers have also been careful to retain as many original details of the former factory as possible, including its former paint schemes and, where available, artifacts that remained onsite at the start of the renovation.
The developer has clearly treated The Mills as a “labour of love”, foregoing the much higher profits available for redeveloping the site for residential purposes. In doing so, they have successfully reconnected to the local community on many levels, including the holding of textile-themed socially-oriented events involving the general public. Management has also actively recruited staff from among the factory’s former workers and has been careful to feature niche local retailers and food and beverage outlets rather than relying on established brands. The Hall as an ideal venue for large scale installation and event for community building
The project has been embraced in particular by the younger generation, which has turned out in large numbers not only in the real world but also digitally, creating something of a phenomenon on local social media channels. Attendance of around three million visitors since its 2018 opening is testament to its success, despite enduring a long period of anti-government protests kicking off shortly after doors were opened, followed immediately by more than a year of COVID-induced restrictions.
Featuring a mix of revisitilisation, heritage, arts, retail, adapative re-use, conservation, and beautiful architecture, The Mills is a strikingly successful project that has captured the imagination of the local people in ways few had anticipated. As one juror put it: “It was an uphill battle against the naysayers, but they’ve succeeded against the odds – we have so few places like this in Hong Kong, where people are gagging for venues that are not just another high-rise shopping mall.