Creative Hub PMQ is a gem in Central, Hong Kong
Posted on July 18, 2014
Every morning, a barber shop sitting at the foot of a flight of granite stairs leading to the Police Married Quarters (PMQ) opens its shutters for business. The elderly shop owner inspects his equipment and cleans his adjustable arm chairs in a two seater shop fitted within a narrow back alley. At a time when Hong Kong island has been modernised with skyscrapers and rows of luxury fashion brands in Central, this tiny shop still hangs a framed menu of services written in Chinese calligraphy and is deck with arm chair designs that feel like they’re from the 60s.
Just across the barber shop on the side of the granite steps is the remains of rubble from the Central School built in 1889; the alma mater of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the first president and founding father of The Republic of China.
The foundations at the foot of Hong Kong’s new creative hub PMQ is filled with stories from the past. Between 1889 to 1941, school children looking to receive an English education in the first public secondary school founded in Hong Kong by the British colonial government could be seen climbing the long flight of steps to school. During the Japanese occupation, as the headquarters of the Japanese cavalry, Japanese military officers in green uniforms would be seen climbing the stairs in quick succession. From 1951 to 2000, wives and children of married officers of the Hong Kong Police Force would have frequently travelled the same path. The communal quarters were a godsend for families of police officers struggling to find affordable housing with basic amenities in Hong Kong’s industrial boom years.
After being left in insolation for years, this July saw PMQ reopen as a creative hub that aims to elevate the scene further by bringing together startups and established designers in a single space. The top floor of each block hosts design studios while the rest of the levels hosts a variety of retail outlets from known brands, such as Herman Miller and Kapok, to boutique shops, such as The Refinery and 513 Paint Shop. PMQ’s “Designer-In-Residence” programme also hopes to bring top designers from around the world into the building for short-term residencies adding diversity to the refreshing tenant mix.
The space preserves an element of novelty given that some of the 130 studio units are offered short 3-month lease before another shop comes in to occupy the space. The rental rates of the space also vary based on the tenant profile with a base rent rate of HK$18,000 (~US$2300) for a 40 square metre studio unit. A local designer who’s just starting out may pay subsidised rentals of up to 50% as compared to an established brand who would pay the market rate for being in the prime Mid-Levels district. The hub is a ambitious endeavour undertaken by a group of philantrophists who wish to promote “enterprise creativity” in Hong Kong.
On a Thursday afternoon, foot traffic was sparse and only tourists and students were in sight. As a visitor, it was a perfect opportunity to initiate conversation with each storeowner. I relished learning about the stories of these creative entrepreneurs more so than the curious items and well-designed products in stock.
For that afternoon, Hong Kong was not just about glass towers and its denizens amassing wealth with minute efficiency. There I was in a charming two-block six-floor compound with wide open common areas and talents who share a common aspiration worthy of its heritage.
As the sun set and the antique shops along Hollywood Road closed for business, PMQ welcomed a different crowd from its previous tenants. Youths and young professionals gather at the weekend night market set in an atmosphere filled with live music from local bands and flashlights from visitors snapping a selfie. The lights hanging above the open-air market stores sway and blink in hypnotic fashion while a lover’s kiss drowns in chatter. It feels like Christmas in the company of creative folks who add festivity to the space, except its only summer.