Our Chicago Exports series usually focuses on buildings in other parts of the world that were designed by Chicago firms. This time, it’s a little different.
The University of Chicago has announced that it will build a new facility in Hong Kong. The Francis and Rose Yuen Center is named for Francis Tin Fan Yuen and his wife, Rose. Mr. Yuen is a University of Chicago trustee, a member of the 1975 graduating class, and a big donor to the school.
This new U. of C. building is being made possible by $30 million from the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s charitable wing.
To the average American, that may sound like a strange source, but the Hong Kong Jockey Club is one of the territory’s most influential business and cultural groups. And if you’ve ever spent a lurid evening admiring the ponies from the stands in Happy Valley — as we have — it’s one of the world’s rare experiences that makes you feel like a global citizen while you indulge your inner James Bond.
But, back to the building.
According to a 2013 press release from the University of Chicago, the Yuen Center was designed by Bing Thom Architects in Vancouver. The new facility will act as home base for Booth business school students, and other U. of C. students, studying in the region. The university has similar facilities in London, Paris, Beijing, and Delhi. The Hong Kong facility should come online in two years.
The Hong Kong Booth replaces the University’s former facility in Singapore. Which we’ve driven past. And it was really weird to see that familiar logo so far from home. But not as strange as eating at the nearby Dan Ryan’s Chicago Grill. Or shopping at the used clothing store called Chicago. Singapore has a mild crush on the Windy City. Fortunately for displaced Booth students, there’s a Dan Ryan’s in Kowloon, too.
Currently Booth is operating out of a temporary office in Cyberport, on the western end of the island. The new location is isn’t too far away, but has a history of intrigue. It was originally built as a mess and rec center for British soldiers in the early days of this rock becoming part of Her Majesty’s empire. In the 1950’s it was turned into the Victoria Road Detention Center, described by the South China Morning Post as “Hong Kong’s most notorious prison” for housing political prisoners, spies, and others in conditions that… let’s just say weren’t up to Western standards. Its Chinese name was 摩星嶺集中營, which translates to Mount Davis Concentration Camp. Its nickname was “The zoo.”
In January of last year, the University of Chicago promised to preserve prison’s history. The SCMP quoted Gavin Tun, project director, as saying, “All architectural elements will be protected and preserved.” The Post went on to report, “A former interrogation room would house an exhibition on the site’s history. The old prison cells would be turned into classrooms.” All that for a reported $160,000 tuition for a 16-week course.
You can learn more about the new center in the University of Chicago’s video below. For a more melancholy view, see the South China Morning Post’s 45 second video here.