February 2001


Hong Kong Film Archive and Island East Sports Centre

Archival treasure

Sai Wan Ho has recently become home to the Hong Kong Film Archive -- a permanent home for the preservation and display of Hong Kong's historical film materials. The first dedicated facility of its type in Hong Kong, the Archive is housed in a complex featuring an adjacent leisure centre and public open space.

According to Architectural Services Department (ArchSD) Senior Architect WY Chan, the complex's planning was guided in part by site constraint and area requirements. "When we approached the design, we tried to have two separate building, with linked features on the exterior," Chan says. At the same time, the designers sought to create differing identities for each building, with exteriors clad in a combination of glass, metal cladding and tiles.
        Materials and treatments on the exterior reflect the functions within each building. The metal cladding over portions of the Film Archive walls serves an insulation purpose, providing a shield from the Western sun, while glazing envelops the resource centre and offices. On the leisure centre, solid walls mark the games hall and a span of glass encloses the gymnasium. Plant rooms are provided on the rear of the building to avoid it taking a squared form while the metal roof rests above clerestory glazing set high to avoid wayward balls in the games hall.
        The architects note a greater design emphasis on the lower exterior areas, where the buildings are more open, and where visitors will stroll through the open plaza. Colour on the two buildings is mainly in pink, white, grey and green accents to give a modern look. While the Film Archive's
exterior features straight lines, some curvilinear elements have been incorporated on the leisure centre exterior. The differing materials, colours and textures, such as the bands that traverse the facades, also serve to reduce the scale of the development. Effect lighting is being applied to the exterior, with colors set to morph across the Film Archive's main elevation and create a sense of target for people walking towards the building.
        The entrances to each building are set at 45-degree angles to the Lei King Road footpath, with both bookending the start of a paved plaza between the two buildings. The area passes through to a park beside the Island Eastern Corridor. A pattern is incorporated on the ground to point to the entrances for people approaching the complex from the rear, and the space can possibly be used in future for outdoor exhibitions or evening film screenings.

The Hong Kong Film Archive
The Hong Kong Film Archive represents the first permanent and purpose-built home for Hong Kong's
film heritage. While the local film industry can be traced back to the turn of the century, the Film Archive's own history goes back ten years. The push for such a facility was born when filmmakers, historians, researchers, programmers and the public at large realised Hong Kong was losing its film heritage. Many local movies, including most of Hong Kong's pre-war movies, were already chalked up as lost through neglect or improper storage of films. And many existing materials remained beyond reach for research or presentation.
        The group requested the government to build a permanent facility to store and preserve archival materials: film prints, advertising materials, books and other related items. The government subsequently invited the former Urban Services Department (USD) to look into the feasibility of setting up a film archive. USD staff were sent overseas to visit film archives and appreciate the specific functions and facilities. By 1993 the resulting feasibility report was endorsed by the then-Urban Council.
        A brief was subsequently prepared for Architectural Services Department and consultant Hsin Yieh Architects & Associates, including the basic facilities of store rooms, a cinema, a resources section, an exhibition hall and administration areas. The Film Archive's
specialist consultant Dr Henning Schou also provided guidance throughout the project development. Under the design, a clear division of areas is observed inside the building, with the Archive's storage, preservation and service facilities placed to the rear of the building, while selected public and semi-public areas are placed towards the glazed main facade.
        Visitors to the Archive enter into a sunlit ground floor lobby under a triple-height atrium. According to the architects, this level and the floor above feature materials -- white marble slabs, dark granite panels and metal-clad columns -- chosen to simulate the appearance of a high-class cinema. The lower lobby features an entry to the exhibition hall, a future retailing area partitioned off by glazing and the Archive's
box office. Patrons for the cinema on the first floor are offered the choice between wood-paneled elevators or a staircase to travel up to the first floor auditorium.
        The upper lobby offers space for cinema and conference attendees to mill about before entering the auditorium. Visitors can spend their time looking at small display stands or can peer back down through the small atrium to the Archive's
front doors. Above the auditorium is a signbox commissioned especially by the Archive. Set behind matte white alabaster are multi-layered images that cast shadows when the many lights behind are switched and shifted. The installation features an impression of movement through the shadows and displays six recognisable images of individuals and film characters. Another artwork brought in by the Archive is a silhouette statue of a '60s starlet and kung-fu fighter placed beside the staircase. Also provided on the first floor are washrooms and a VIP room for special guests. Placed behind closed doors to the public is the first of the four cold stores, located behind the service areas.
        The third floor above houses a resource centre for industry and research use. Video viewing booths are provided as well as the requisite shelves for books and other periodicals. Further storage for films is provided on this level and on the floor above.
        The fourth floor houses the Archive's
administration areas, as well as laboratories for film restoration and digital transfer of materials for preservation purposes. The Archive's rooftop is currently open space beneath a canopy, and houses the HVAC plant. Once additional storage space is needed -- the Archive expects its vaults to be 80 per cent full once the existing collection is completely moved in -- the roof can be enclosed and additional facilities provided. The loading required for expansion has been planned for in the structural design, the architects note.

The vaults
Preserving films properly is a highly specialised process, calling for cold stores designed specifically for the materials safeguarded within. The developing process for film is continuous; as the film ages, acidic gas is slowly emitted in less-than ideal storage situations. Over time, these emissions lead to irreparable deterioration to a reel of film, as well as to film stock resting nearby. Stringent temperature and humidity control is needed to slow this process.
        The Archive's
vaults are divided across several floors, with areas capable of storing prints of different ages, conditions, reel lengths or types separately as necessary. Film prints are stored under strictly controlled conditions at four degrees centigrade -- the range of fluctuation is plus or minus half a degree. Relative humidity is always below 35 percent using a Munters dehumidification system supplied by Hong Kong and China Gas.
        The dehumidification adopts a bespoke configuration -- the first of its type worldwide -- using two compartments for dehumidification and for extracting the acid emissions from the film. For environmental reasons, air is treated before it is released to outside the building.
        Walls and floors inside the vaults are insulated with a 100 mm proprietary system, with steel plate flooring shielding insulation underfoot. The design ensures no air leakage. Storage racks run on tracks within the high ceiling spaces, with the floor reinforced to take up the load. Fire protection is provided in all stores with an HFP system.
        Because of the temperature changes when removing prints from the vaults, prints awaiting screening are placed for a day within acclimatisation rooms provided at the store entries. To gradually warm up the prints and prevent condensation, a separate air-conditioning system allows temperatures to rise at about one degree per hour.
        Aside from the stores for film reels, the fourth floor contains a relatively less-chilly storage area for film-related materials -- books, posters, videotapes, VCDs, DVDs and other items -- in the Archive's
collection. All storage areas are designed to operate around-the-clock, and a back-up system is provided to ensure that the cold stores will at no time shut down.

The cinema
The 127-seat cinema is housed on the first floor and is accessed from the mezzanine lobby area. Inside the auditorium, rows of seats rise at a shallow pitch from the front stage towards a curved back wall. Above the rows, the ceiling takes a stepped arrangement echoing the depth between aisle steps.
        The seats follow a continental seating arrangement without aisles interrupting the rows. Instead, the rows are accessed from aisles at either side of the theatre hall. The arrangement is optimum for a cinema, remarks Leisure and Cultural Services Department Technical Director Mark Taylor, as viewers otherwise pressed up against side walls would have no chance to hear the cinema sound system's
correct spatial effect. Space for four wheelchairs has been provided on both sides of the hall and safety lighting is provided with phosphorescent glowstrips on the steps.
        To control reverberation and keep any echo imperceptible within the hall, the Archive set several acoustic requirements, explains Taylor. "We gave the acoustician some particular criteria: That we wanted higher absorption at lower level, semi-absorption at higher level to stop the lateral sound reflection, and we didn't
want a straight back wall, hence the curve." As a result, acoustically treated wood paneling lines the upper walls while cloth covers the lower spans.
        To serve the needs of conferences, the stage is retractable and heavy old-style cinema curtains offer a suitable backdrop. All seats boast writing tablets, designed to quickly stow and cause no obstruction in panic or emergency situations. To the side of the projection room above, simultaneous translation rooms are encased in glass to offer staff a full view of the screen and stage. The facilities allow for conferences to be held in three languages -- one spoken and two in translation.
        Unlike conventional theatres, the Archive's
cinema is designed to screen movies on 35 mm, 16 mm and 8 mm film. As such, the projection room is much larger than at cinemas elsewhere in Hong Kong. To handle high-definition video projection a Hughs JVC projector, with line doublers and enhancers to offer the highest image quality, is installed beneath the main projection room. The unit is set low to prevent keystoning distortion and maintain image quality. Placed on a motorised pantograph for ease of access, the projector sits in a sound-proof and separately ventilated enclosure above the cinema entrance.
        The sound system handles mono, stereo and surround sound, as well as all types of Dolby. A principal cinema sound system handles films while a video sound system, using separate speakers, is also provided. A separate public address system is included in the setup, as well as the infra-red system for the hard-at-hearing and for translation purposes.

Island East Sports Centre
As with the Film Archive, main access to the leisure centre is from Lei King Road. From the main entry, visitors can choose their destinations in a range of leisure facilities for all ages. The complex is designed to offer features commonly found in existing centres across Hong Kong, but with the additional provision of recreation for the elderly to suit the experience to the entire family.
        "The family leisure centre is designed to suit people of all ages, from very old to very young," explains Chan. "The intention of this building is to design to suit all age groups. The concept originates from England. Previously the indoor games halls have been more oriented to younger age groups with facilities mainly covering sports such as squash, basketball. But now the whole family leisure centre concept is that the family can come and enjoy the facility." The move to design such centres in Hong Kong, with an Ap Lei Chau facility being the first of its type in 1998, takes into account social change, adds Chan. "The Hong Kong population is getting older and all facilities should cater to all people."
        The designers sought a welcoming indoor environment for family users. "We tried to create some family character which is suitable for the whole family to go to. We tried to make the scale and features not too institutional-looking, including plenty of landscaping inside."
        The ground floor offers a reception area, a dance room and the fitness room. Visitors seeking a dip in the indoor pool need only head up the escalators to the first floor. On this level is both a spacious leisure pool and a 25 metre training pool, as well as changing rooms and toilet areas.
        A second floor with a cafeteria, pool management offices and a children's
play room overlooks the pools. From here, resting family members, leisure centre staff and children alike can cast their eyes across the pool area's Lost World-themed fittings, play equipment and murals.
        The third floor houses an indoor bowling green, similar to that installed at Ap Lei Chau, planned with the leisure centre's
older patrons in mind. Also on the floor are multi-purpose and table tennis rooms.
        The indoor games hall occupies the fourth floor alongside an indoor golf driving range. On the uppermost level, above the games hall's
spectator seating, are offices and a conference room for building administration purposes.
        A unique feature for a leisure centre project is the provision of an underground carpark, with the entry and exit at the leisure centre's
ground floor. Approximately 100 spaces are provided for the public and users can take direct elevators from the carpark into either the leisure centre or the Film Archive.

owner Leisure & Cultural Services Department
architect, structural engineer Architectural Services Department
consultant architect Hsin Yieh Architects & Associates
m & e engineer Parsons Brinckerhoff Architectural Services Department
quantity surveyor WT Partnership Architectural Services Department
completion contractor China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation
electrical installation, air-conditioning & cold room installation Southa Technical Ltd
sport & water play installation Parks Supplies (HK) Ltd

-- Building Journal