If you have read my post from the Night Market yesterday, you’ll know that I’ve been to PMQ. That’s the former police married quarters in Central, which was been reborn as a design hub.
It is a very interesting building, so let me write a little bit more about it today. The original police married quarters were built in 1951 – on the site of the former Central Government School Victoria College, which was destroyed during the Japanese Occupation in world war two (more info here). The quarters provided accommodation to married junior police officers.
It is a very functional building complex. The site has three buildings, two large buildings called Block A and Block B, which constitute a total of about 15400 square metres gross floor area together with a total of 196 original living units, and a Junior Police Call Clubhouse ancillary to the quarters blocks.
All three buildings were vacated in 2000 and valued at $3 billion. But they remained empty for years because no one could decide what to do with them. Eventually, in the policy address of 2009, the government unveiled the ‘Conserving Central’ plan, which promised preservation of several key heritage sites in Central, including Murray Building, Central Market, the Central Police Station Compound and the Police Married Quarters.
Four NGOs to bid for how they might utilise the building permanently. The winning bid, awarded in late 2010, was made by a mysterious, charitable trio of local businessmen who support culture and education, and go by the name of ‘Musketeers Foundation’. They invested in renovating the building and turning it into a hub for local, creative entrepreneurs.
The new PMQ opened its doors on April 11 and is a base for local designers. The old accommodation units have been rented out to over 100 different locally based designers – and several have already opened their doors.
On top of that, there is The Cube – a huge exhibition space that links the two buildings (this is not finished yet), as well as a glass-covered courtyard (which is the heart of the night market) plus several commercial spaces on the lower floors, which will help to subsidise operation costs.
There are a handful of rooms for ‘guest’ designers and 15 units reserved as ‘pop up’ spaces. The foundations of the old Victoria College are accessible via an underground tunnel in the central courtyard (you can visit them on a guided tour, here is more info), giving extra gravitas to the heritage of the site.
What I liked best about the building is that it retained its distinct looks – clear lines, you can still see all the individual rooms, and the straight lines. The studios are small, but the aim is to foster a community (not to create another boring office complex). And it is true, when a door is open (apparently tenants must keep their doors open from 1pm to 8p every day), people wander in – and I noticed several designers visiting each other and hanging out with each other.
That’s similar to the building’s history. In the past, everyone lived together and the most important space in the building was not the dormitory units, it was the common areas, the verandahs and shared kitchens. The aim is to retain this and to foster a strong community.