Since 2004 the museum had been located in Stanley Bay – isolated from other tourist attractions and without a direct visual link to the harbour. But following support from the Hong Kong government, the museum has received a new home in an historic pier building in the heart of the central business district, with stunning, and very fitting views across Victoria Harbour. The new facilities boast considerably more space than the previous museum and include 13 new galleries (several of which feature double height spaces), a library and resource centre, temporary exhibition space, café and two retail units.
However, whilst the refurbished building provides a wonderful visual backdrop to the collections, the museum team inevitably faced challenges as to how sensitive artefacts could best be preserved and displayed in a building which hovers over water. Solving these humidity and environmental issues required close working with the design, architectural, curatorial and engineering teams. For the most part, environmental control was achieved at a gallery-wide level, although we also provided some further in-case environments through passive humidity and light control.
Likewise, large-scale picture windows are a key architectural feature of the main exhibition floor, causing the design team to think carefully as to how to effectively control light levels and protect sensitive objects, whilst maintaining visual and conceptual links with the harbour view. Light reflection from the water was a particular consideration. We carefully placed large ‘buffer’ panels – which doubled as display surfaces for graphics and images – at key junctures around the galleries to help control specific, sensitive collection pieces, and to supplement the tinted glass used as part of the architectural solution.
HSD Creative Director, Jan Faulkner recognised that by overcoming these practical considerations, the refurbished building: ‘… provides some very usable and unique gallery spaces thanks to the creative architectural treatment of the existing building”.
Indeed working with the architectural team to ‘scope’ the museum journey within the building – through both black box and naturally lit environments at the outset of the commission was a key achievement. The resulting visitor experience contains a number of diverse and interesting display moods.
Presenting the unique collection
Our team were particularly delighted to work with the diverse and often eye-catching collection pieces. Exhibition media and design styling was carefully selected to complement key objects and groups from the museum’s rich collection. The Waglan Lighthouse lamp has been realistically re-created in one of the many double height gallery spaces providing a rare and unique opportunity to view a fine working example of this important maritime icon at very “close quarters”.
During the development of the project, the museum was donated many stunning ship models – including a number of freighter ship models from leading maritime transport companies operating in the region. Incorporating as many of these as possible – along with the more historic model vessels – was a key priority for the gallery designers, ensuring that the museum narrative reflected the past, present and future of Hong Kong’s maritime trade.
A focus for learning and exploration
Gallery environments have been specifically designed to appeal to target audience segments, including tourists, specialist interest groups and educational learners (particularly from secondary level upwards). Participatory elements feature through a number of physical interactives and touch-sensitive media. A full range of engaging exhibits have been realised from simple floor maps to more complex exhibits such as the navigation interactive which simulates for visitors the complex factors that have to be managed when entering Hong Kong’s busy commercial port.
Naturally exhibition texts appear both in Cantonese and English – with equal visual weight being given to both languages. As well as conservation and spatial exhibition design services, Haley Sharpe provided graphic styling intent for the project – creative and technical guidelines that were then implemented by a locally selected graphic production agency.
Educational partnerships were also fostered during the development of the project. One exhibit area within the museum’s extensive temporary and events gallery was set aside for the local City University of Hong Kong to provide a bespoke animation theatre – bringing the museum’s Qing Dynasty scroll, ‘Pacifying the South China Sea’ to life. The resulting 360 degree audio visual installation is a quirky and unique window into the characters depicted on this artefact of key historic importance. The original scroll itself is displayed deep in the lower level gallery level under restricted conservation light levels.
To complete the visitor experience the new museum boasts a striking on-site 60-seater restaurant boasting a varied food and beverage offer whilst enjoying views across both the harbour and museum galleries. This new addition also has a luxurious external deck for alfresco dinning.
Undoubtedly, the new Hong Kong Maritime Museum is Haley Sharpe’s most noteworthy exhibition design commission in this part of the world to date. The contemporary design language and sensitive display solutions demonstrate the possibilities for maritime redisplays. The Museum provides a more effective regional and global framework to Hong Kong’s maritime experience for both local and international visitors alike, and complements the other heritage offers available nearby.Back to top