PMQ – Hong Kong’s art hub (or is it just another shopping mall)?
I have to admit I still hadn’t been to PMQ. And that despite working in the Product Design and Development industry. I know there’s no excuse but a busy work schedule, too many China trips and two small children kept me busy. However, yesterday, I finally managed to drop by.
To be honest, when I heard “art and design hub” I was critical. After all, this is Hong Kong, a city of bankers, property tycoons and lawyers where everything related to creativity and design is looked down on. But it seems even Hong Kong’s government, who’re just administrators but no visionaries, got consultants on their payroll that told them to diversify their industry beyond greediness.
So what is PMQ? Functionally, it is an “old” (meaning older than 40 years) building between Central and Sheung Wan. The original site was a school, a beautiful (if the photos are to be trusted) colonial building. This lovely building faced the same fate as the majority of architecturally pleasing edifices, it was demolished after the Second World War to make space for more “efficient”, super ugly concrete blocks. Thank you, colonial government, for that!
Hong Kong’s government built Police Quarters on the same location for local police officers and their families. Now, as it wasn’t used anymore, someone had the idea that instead of building another skyscraper for the financial industry or yet another shopping mall for luxury brands, one could actually do something revolutionary. Don’t demolish it (sorry property developers) but keep it and see what other use there could be.
And so a former Police Quarter was transformed into an art and design hub.
To get to PMQ, take the MTR to either Central or Sheung Wan. If you don’t want to walk up the hill (and who could blame you), take the mid-level escalators, get off at Staunton Street and walk.
Once you enter PMQ at the front entrance you’ll find two buildings, “Staunton” on the left and “Hollywood” on the right. The names refer to Staunton Road (on the left) and Hollywood Road (on the right). PMQ occupies the area between both roads.
The buildings are seven stories high with a connected floor and outdoor garden on the fourth floor.
We started our exploration at Staunton and made our way up to the top floor. The two top floors weren’t that interesting as these are occupied by local design studios and design companies. As it was a Sunday, most offices were closed. Things started to get more interesting from the fifth floor onwards. There is a mixture of boutique shops selling a variety of products.
“OpenQuote“, located at Staunton on the fourth floor, sells well-designed stationary and leather products. One product that caught my eye is a genuine leather notebook. It’s a simple design but beautifully crafted and executed. And what is more, once you filled in all pages with your precious notes you can purchase refill pages for just HKD 28. Yes, refills! You actually don’t need to throw it away and buy a new one, you can re-use it! And that in a city that drives on disposable products. Revolutionary indeed!
“Bamboa“, located at Staunton on the third floor, sells bamboo products. Only bamboo products. Starting from kitchen accessories such as bowls, cups and cutlery all the way to sunglasses, tooth brushes, towels, T-Shirts and even a bicycle partially made of bamboo! It’s a great shop if you’re looking for sustainable and well-designed products for your home.
There were also a few jewellery shops in which my wife (she works in the jewellery industry) spend a lot of time. If you’re interested in unique jewellery and not just the usual “the bigger the diamond the better”, PMQ is a fantastic place. Also, all jewellery shops seems to be owned (or partially owned) by local designers that would have otherwise no way of affording their own shop due to Hong Kong’s overpriced properties.
After exploring “Staunton” for two hours we moved over to “Hollywood”. The top two floors is a restaurant so you can just start on the fifth floor. I found “Hollywood” not as interesting as “Staunton”. One floor was almost entirely occupied by a cooking class centre. There was one shop though, that was very cool.
“Obellery“, located at Hollywood on the fourth floor, sells custom-made jewellery. Their focus is on wedding bands. I loved their designs and wished I had known them a few years ago when I purchased our wedding bands. They even offer a “wedding ring making course”. Basically you pay HKD 12,800 for two persons (including 12 grams of 24ct gold) and design and make your own wedding bands. They also offer courses for silver ring making and other jewellery.
And when I just thought, this is too good to be true, I came across the ultimate sign that you’re in Hong Kong. Hello Kitty! You just can’t get rid of that bloody cat!
We ended our day at “Beef and Liberty“, a Burger restaurant at Staunton on the first floor. It was rather quiet to be honest, we were the only guests. Part of the reason might be that it was a Sunday, the other part might be that the weather was dreadful. There are live bands performing Friday’s and Saturday’s so if you’re on Hong Kong island on Friday or Saturday night, give it a try. The burgers are also pretty decent (for Hong Kong).
So is PMQ just another shopping mall? Surprisingly it isn’t. Somehow, someone in the Hong Kong government really had a great idea. Granted, you have some odd shops here and there. Hong Kong’s Trade Development Council occupies one or two shops that sell products made by Hong Kong companies. Unfortunately they didn’t choose the well crafted leather or bamboo products but mostly plastic rubbish. Oh well….
But even if you’re not out for shopping or looking at design stuff, PMQ is still a nice place to chill. The fourth floor, where both houses are connected, features a little garden. A green oasis in Hong Kong’s concrete jungle. So you can grab a coffee and a cake from one of the bakeries and cafes and just relax. Don’t try that in summer though as it’s way too hot outside.