ultramarinus – beyond the sea

North Point, Quarry Bay, Taikoo Shing, Shau Kei Wan & Chai Wan

LANDMARKS FOR THE LOCALS, North Point (北角), Hong Kong

What does “fort”, “oil”, “electric”, “power”, and “wharf” have in common? They are all street names in North Point that reveals the neighborhood’s strategic location and utilitarian past. The “fort” or battery hill is long gone, leaving behind a parkette up on Fortress Hill Road that even local residents may not know about its existence, and the name “Fortress Hill” that defines the westernmost area of North Point District. The former oil depot, powerplant and wharf facilities that gave us the street names “oil”, “electric”, “power”, and “wharf” have all been replaced by high density residential developments. In the 20th century, North Point has gone through series of transformations, from just a defensive battery at the northernmost point of Hong Kong Island and a cluster of infrastructure facilities that supported the adjacent Victoria City, to an area teeming with domestic life where amusement park, theatres, swim sheds, department stores, and red-light businesses sprang up and then mostly faded away. Due to a large influx of mainland immigrants in mid 20th century, especially the Hokkien Fujianese and Shanghaiese, North Point has become the most densely populated place on earth in late 1960’s, according to the Guinness Book of Records. Today, the urban density of North Point may no longer ranked top of the world, but a stroll on King’s Road, the district’s main thoroughfare where blocks after blocks of concrete apartments encroaching in all directions, can still be disorienting for many.

Published by Hong Kong Art Centre as part of “Via North Point” art programme in 2020, a local magazine did a poll with a group of local residents about their favorite landmarks in North Point. Unlike the monumental and glamorous urban icons in Central or Tsim Sha Tsui, their top five selected landmarks include two theatres, a pier, a market and even a street intersection. For them, these daily scenery have defined the collective identity and a sense of belonging for the community. For us who have been working in the adjacent Quarry Bay for the past eight years, North Point is also an area we would pass by almost everyday. We share some of their sentiments and also find beauty from these what may seem like ordinary street scenery by first glance. Here are their top five favorite landmarks in North Point:

NO. 5: King’s Road (英皇道) and the North Point Road (北角道) Intersection (4.3%)

Being the most important thoroughfare in North Point, King’s Road is probably the street that most residents in the neighborhood would visit on a daily basis. [2014]
Densely packed concrete buildings abutting each other is a common scene in King’s Road. [2014]
Taking the tram is probably the best way to experience King’s Road. [2017]
With a concrete footbridge, an apartment block painted with eyecatching red outlines, and a rail junction where the tram turns into Chun Yeung Street Market, the intersection of King’s Road and North Point Road is a well recognized intersection in North Point. [2021]
Against the backdrop of eye-catching Coronet Court (皇冠大廈), even a simple footbridge can be photogenic. [2022]
Coronet Court (皇冠大廈) dominates visually at the street intersection even if one is not facing the building. [2022]
From the footbridge at North Point Road, scenery of King’s Road can be neatly framed. [2022]
Somehow, openings of the footbridge match perfectlynfine with the round corner of the adjacent building. [2021]
At North Point Road, some trams would divert from King’s Road and make a detour into Chun Yeung Street Market. [2022]

NO. 4: State Theatre (皇都戲院) 8.7%

Now under scaffolding, the listed former cinema awaits for its turn of rejuvenation. Opened in 1952, the unique concrete structural arches on the roof have make the former cinema a one-of-a-kind building in the city. [2021]

NO.3 : North Point Pier (北角碼頭) 10.9%

Offering the most prominent harbourfront promenade in the area, North Point Pier has been a local’s favourite for years. [2020]

NO. 2: Sunbeam Theatre (新光戲院) 17.4%

Founded by Shanghainese emigrants in the 1950’s, Sunbeam Theatre (新光戲院) is the most important theatre in Hong Kong to showcase Cantonese opera. [2020]
Neon sign of Sunbeam Theatre has been a prominent feature in North Point for decades. [2022]
Sunbeam Theatre features Cantonese opera all year round. [2022]

NO.1: Chun Yeung Street Market (春秧街街市) 21.7%

Appeared on foreign travel shows and guidebooks, Chun Yeung Street Market is no doubt the most well known attraction of North Point. Named after a wealthy sugar tycoon Koeh Chhun-iong (郭春秧) who bought a huge lot of North Point in 1921, Chun Yeung Street Market has been a busy commercial street for a century. [2017]
Bisected by the tram railroad right in the middle, Chun Yeung Street Market is renowned as the only railroad market in Hong Kong. [2022]
Known as Little Fujian, Chun Yeung Street Market is a great place to find traditional Fujianese and Chiuchow food. [2022]
Double Happiness Noodle has been a fixture at the street market for half a century. [2015]
Many come to Chun Yeung Street Market for seafood at bargain prices in the evening. [2014]
While Chun Yeung Street Market is famous for produce, meat and seafood, the adjacent Marble Road Market is filled with stalls selling all kinds of dried goods. [2015]
To many, Chun Yeung Street is a great spot for urban photography. [2022]
Handcrafted souvenir mahjong tiles depict the landmarks of North Point, including Chun Yeung Street Market in the far left, then Sunbeam Theatre (second from left), and North Point Pier (third from left).

LANDMARKS IN FORTRESS HILL:

Situated between Causeway Bay and the heart of North Point, Fortress Hill (炮台山) has long been under the radar. In recent months, East Coast Park Precinct in Fortress Hill has emerged as one of the hottest new attractions in Hong Kong. Apart from the harbourfront lookout, the following two spots in Fortress Hill are also gaining popularity on Instagram as well.

Oi! Art Space (油街實現), Former Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club

Oi! Street Art Space is housed in the former Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club headquarters and clubhouse. [2022]
Serving as the former Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club headquarters and clubhouse between 1908 and 1939, the masonry building is now a Grade II historic building and a popular landmark in the neighborhood. [2022]
Oi! Street Art Space is an inviting community art centre. [2017]
Small art exhibitions would sometimes be held at Oi! Street Art Space. [2017]
Open to both Electric Road and Oil Street, Oi! Street Art Space is a highly welcoming node for the community. [2017]

Staircase at Fortress Hill MTR Station

Thanks to IG and blogs, perhaps the most recognizable landmark in Fortress Hill is the checkered staircase right by Fortress Hill MTR Station. [2017]

BREAKING THE BARRIER, Island Eastern Corridor (東區走廊), Hong Kong

In Canada, there has long been a debate of tearing down the elevated Gardiner Expressway in Toronto waterfront. Maintaining the deteriorating and somewhat underused infrastructure has become a burden for the city. As the trend of urban sprawl reversed in recent two decades, land in downtown Toronto, especially along the waterfront of Lake Ontario, has become precious asset for the city. Since 1960’s, the Gardiner has been a prominent barrier that cut off the city from its waterfront. The uninviting wasteland underneath the expressway has prevented most pedestrians walking to the waterfront especially at night. Since 1990’s, studies have been made for replacing the expressway, such as turning it into a tunnel or an urban park like the Highline in New York. Despite all the studies and debates, most of the Gardiner Expressway still remains in Toronto waterfront today. On confronting an aging waterfront expressway that hinders urban development and pedestrian connection, Toronto wasn’t alone. Negative aspects of these waterfront expressway are quite universal: poor waterfront access, wasteland below the structure, discontinued harbourfront, undesirable air ventilation, unattractive streetscape, high maintenance cost, etc. Since 1990’s, a wave of waterfront revitalization projects and demolition of elevated expressways have sprung up across the globe. Double decker Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco was torn down in 1991, and so did Rio de Janerio’s Perimetral Elevated Highway in 2014, and Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct in 2019.

In Hong Kong, sections of elevated expressways flank the Victoria Harbour in Western Kowloon and Eastern Hong Kong Island. The idea of building an expressway in Eastern Hong Kong Island was brought out in 1968 to tackle the traffic problems of King’s Road. It wasn’t until 1980’s that an elevated expressway, namely Island Eastern Corridor (東區走廊), was erected between Causeway Bay at the centre of Hong Kong Island and Chai Wan (柴灣) at the eastern end. The expressway includes a viaduct along the harbour between Causeway Bay (銅鑼灣) and Quarry Bay (鰂魚涌), passing by North Point (北角) along the way. East of Quarry Bay, the expressway shifts slightly inland from the coast, leaving a strip of waterfront promenade between Quarry Bay and Shau Kei Wan (筲箕灣). Designating the waterfront for public enjoyment was never the top priority in the 1980’s. From Causeway Bay to Quarry Bay, there are only a few boat landings and viaduct pillar supports where the public can walk out to have a peek of the harbour. In 2008, the authority proposed to construct a waterfront promenade between Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter and Shau Kei Wan. In the past decade, stretches of waterfront promenades have been built to connect the harbourfront from Central to Causeway Bay, up to East Coast Park Precinct. East of Causeway Bay however, the waterfront promenades remain fragmented. After years of speculations, boardwalk constructions under the expressway have finally commenced in North Point. If the works can really deliver a continuous walkway below Island Eastern Corridor, then sooner or later we can walk along the north coast of Hong Kong Island all the way from Central Pier to Aldrich Bay Promenade (愛秩序灣海濱花園) in Shau Kei Wan, via a 9.5km pedestrian path. Then the barrier that separates the harbour from Eastern Hong Kong Island would finally be broken.

Today, about 6.8km of Gardiner Expressway in Toronto is still elevated from the ground. [2013]
The wasteland beneath Gardiner Expressway remains as a barrier between downtown Toronto and the waterfront. [2013]
In Hong Kong, the Island Eastern Corridor begins from Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter at its western end. [2020]
Together with Central-Wan Chai Bypass and Connaught Road West Flyover, Island Eastern Corridor serves as the main artery road on Hong Kong Island known as Route 4. [2020]
From Causeway Bay to Quarry Bay, Island Eastern Corridor is mainly a viaduct that runs along the waterfront of Victoria Harbour. From East Coast Park Precinct to City Garden (城市花園), construction work of a waterfront promenade is still ongoing. [2022]
The majority of Island Eastern Corridor in North Point was built over the water. [2021]
Built in 1984, the monolithic Provident Centre (和富中心) is a spectacle when driving on Island Eastern Corridor. Back then, the building code has little restrictions on the facade length. The continuous facade of Provident Centre has led to a negative impact on ventilation of the local neighborhood. [2014]
In North Point, people can still enjoy the harbour view below the elevated expressway. [2021]
At the end of Tong Shui Road (糖水道), North Point Public Pier has become a public harbourfront lookout for the neighborhood. [2020]
Only a handful of boats would use the pier. For most of the day, the wharf serves as a gathering node for the local community. [2020]
The public pier is particular popular at sunset. [2021]
Many would come to the pier to enjoy the sunset after work. [2021]
Liking it or not, Island Eastern Corridor is part of the waterfront scenery of Eastern Hong Kong. [2021]
At a bend of Hoi Yu Street, an unofficial lookout beneath Island Eastern Corridor is frequented by people who come for recreational fishing. [2020]
The local community even set up their own “footbridge” to reach the outermost pillar support of the expressway. [2021]
The lookout is popular throughout the day. [2016]
While most come for fishing, some would come to the lookout just to chill out by Victoria Harbour. [2020]
The lookout offer fine views of Kowloon East, including the famous Lion Rock (獅子山). [2020]
Kowloon Peak (飛鵝山) is the most dominated feature in Kowloon East. [2021]
The causal lookout has come to an end in recent months, as the space has been boarded off as a construction site for future’s boardwalk project. [2016]
Since the closure of the lookout, people have shifted to other waterfront parks to fish, where proper railing and fixed benches are provided. While the level of safety has improved, the sense of freedom is inevitable compromised in the new setting. [2017]

PRESENT & FUTURE OF TYPHOON SHELTER, Causeway Bay (銅鑼灣), Hong Kong

At the east end of Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter (銅鑼灣避風塘) sits one of the hottest attractions in recent months. Officially opened on 25 September 2021, East Coast Park Precinct is one of the several projects aiming to enhance the waterfront experience along Victoria Harbour. The main feature of the park is the 100m long breakwater that marks the eastern end of Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter. Unlike most harbourfront promenades in the city, the majority of this breakwater is handrail free to avoid interruption to the seaview. At its tip stands a cylindrical structure spiraling up two to three storey high. The strange looking tower is actually a vent shaft of the Central-Wanchai Bypass East, constantly bringing fresh air into the submerged tunnel. East of the breakwater, a harbourfront promenade may not be the biggest open space in the city, but it offers an inviting and safe space for skateboarders and roller-skaters to practice their tricks and socialize with each other. Unlike most parks in the city, there aren’t that many restrictions at this space, not a piece of lawn that cannot be stepped on, or planter edges tilted to prevent people sitting down, or signs prohibiting people to eat and drink. Although not a big park, at least East Coast Park Precinct is easily accessible and welcoming in design, drawing large crowds of visitors, either for the skyline views, or for the recreation spaces.

Compared to most big cities in the world, Hong Kong is particularly problematic on the issue of public space. Worse than residents of Tokyo, Singapore or Shanghai, a 2018 study shows that urban Hongkongers have only 2.7 sq.m of open space per person, which is slightly larger than a toilet cubicle. In comparison, New Yorkers enjoy over 10 sq.m of public space per capita. Furthermore, these open spaces are not evenly distributed across the city. For some of the most vibrant and busy districts, such as Mongkok and Causeway Bay, the number drops to 0.6 to 1 sq.m per person. Many studies around the world have shown that having access to open spaces can bring great health and social benefits to people. Perhaps there is great opportunity for Hong Kong to tackle the open space issue today. As many old godowns and piers along Victoria Harbour become obsolete, expanding the extent of public promenade along the harbour is definite a good move to enhance the well-being for everyone.

For some of the busiest districts in Hong Kong such as Causeway Bay, residents has only 0.6 to 1 sq.m of open space per person.
Adjacent to Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter, construction work is still ongoing at the newly opened East Coast Park Precinct. [2022]
At tip of the 100m breakwater stands the bullet shape vent shaft structure of the submerged Central-Wanchai Bypass East. [2022]
East Coast Park Precinct has instantly became a popular spot for sunset watching. [2022]
West of East Coast Park Precinct, the 300m+ breakwater separates Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter with Victoria Harbour. [2022]
Similar to Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter, the period from sunset to dusk is the most beautiful moment to visit East Coast Park Precinct. [2022]
On a clear day, East Coast Park Precinct offers an alternative location to appreciate the city’s skyline in comparison to the more common lookouts in Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui. [2022]
As darkness falls upon, the LED signs and facade lighting of the distant skyline appears to be more vivid and outstanding. [2022]
Beyond the vent shaft structure stands a small light tower at the tip of the breakwater. [2022]
The breakwater tip allows visitors to take in the urban scenery of both sides of the harbour. [2022]
Compared to the commercial skyline of Wan Chai and Central in a distance, the lights from Tin Hau and Tai Hang beyond Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter is much more subtle and coherent. [2022]
Composed of plastic bottle caps of different colours, the sunshade near the vent shaft structure echoes well with the undulating water. [2022]
Though not for everyone’s taste, the vent shaft structure has become a unique new feature at Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter. [2022]
At the newly opened East Coast Park Precinct, Victoria Harbour is definitely the main draw for visitors. [2022]
The Victoria Harbour installation is quite eye-catching in the evening. [2022]
The waterfront promenade is perfect to walk the dog. [2022]
Apart from visitors coming after the sunset and night scenery, the promenade is highly popular with skateboarders. [2022]
Many skateboard beginners comes to the promenade to sharpen their skills. [2022]
Tracks on the floor also encourage skateboarders and roller-skaters to have fun at the promenade. [2022]
The promenade welcomes skaters of all ages. [2022]
Fixed furniture are also present for the non active users. [2022]
Some advance skateboarders prefer to practice their skills at the curbside at the edge of the park. [2022]

***

Foggy Night at East Coast Park Precinct

Foggy night at East Coast Park Precinct. [2022]

VICTORIA HARBOUR (維多利亞港), Hong Kong

Before the pandemic, Hong Kong was a highly popular tourist destination in Asia, ranked among the top cities in the world for the number of international visitors. Just like many tourist cities around the globe, tourism in Hong Kong has suffered enormously during the pandemic. The numbers of foreign visitors have plummeted, and the once crowded sights across the city have been largely tourist free. Despite the loss of tourist activities, this situation is prompting the return of Hongkongers to places they would normally avoid before the pandemic. Apart from popular museums, beaches, amusement parks, and shopping centres, waterfront promenades along Victoria Harbour, especially in Tsim Sha Tsui at the tip of Kowloon Peninsula, has always been packed with tourists before the Covid. Just like our childhood years, today we can once again wander freely on the Avenue of Stars or linger in the shadow of the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower without bumping into aggressive tourist groups. At night, the undulating reflections of neon lights, LED billboards, and glittering building facades in the water provides the perfect foreground for the skyline of Central, backed upon the silhouette of Victoria Peak. For decades, this postcard perfect Harbour panorama has served as the impeccable visual representation of Hong Kong’s prosperity and vibrancy, illuminating the legend of a city that never sleeps. Beyond the charming skyline on both sides of the water, the busy Victoria Harbour has much more to offer than just its visual glamour.

In Feng Shui, the traditional Chinese practice that harnesses the energy of surrounding environment, the element “water” is often associated with wealth and fortune. For Hong Kong, this water element can be definitely identified as the Victoria Harbour. From founding of the trading port, to the establishment of Far East’s finance and servicing hub, Victoria Harbour, the 41.88 km2 stretch of sea between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula, has always played a vital role. The Harbour is indeed where the story of Hong Kong begins. Known for its deep and sheltered water, the natural landform of the Harbour was one of the main reasons why Hong Kong was chosen by the British in 1841. Since the mid-19th century, the British put a great deal of effort to establish Hong Kong as their subtropical metropolis in the Far East and commercial gateway into China. The Harbour and its waterfront developments have been at the centre stage of Hong Kong’s evolution every since. To sustain population and economic growth, major land reclamation projects have never ceased to transform the urban extent of the city ever since 1840’s. More office towers, residential complexes, hotels, shopping centres, government buildings, museums, convention centre, stadiums, cruise terminals, promenades, piers, etc. would be erected after each reclamation scheme, redrawing the urban coastline at least once in every generation.

For many neighborhoods in the city, Victoria Harbour is always just a few blocks away. Exploring the everchanging waterfront areas is an interesting way to understand the past, present and future of Hong Kong. Our next series of posts will do exactly that.

British, American and Dutch ships and Chinese junks sailed through the calm waters of Victoria Harbour in 1855, under the shadow of the majestic Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island. [Painting by unknown painter, Public Domain]
165 years later, Victoria Peak has been dwarfed by the skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island. [Photo taken at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Throughout history, Hong Kong has always been a gateway of the Far East for the West. In the past 180 years, uncounted vessels have passed through Victoria Harbour. [Photo of Victoria Harbour and Kowloon Peninsula beyond, taken by Felice Beato, 1860, Public Domain]
Taking in the business district of Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsular across Victoria Harbour from Victoria Peak (太平山) has always been one of the most popular panoramic views for tourists. [Photograph by Denis H. Hazell, 1925, University of Bristol – Historical Photographs of China reference number: Bk09-05, CC BY_NC_ND 4.0]
Today, the iconic panorama from Victoria Peak (太平山) is dominated by the closely packed skyscrapers and the splendid bend of Victoria harbour. The serenity of the Harbour during the pandemic was a rarity in the city’s 180 years of history. [Photo taken from Lugard Road, Victoria Peak, 2020]
After several rounds of land reclamation, the coastline of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon have gone through dramatic transformations. The width of Victoria Harbour has been drastically reduced in the past century and a half. [Display about land reclamation of Hong Kong Island since 1842. Photo taken at Wanchai (灣仔) waterfront promenade, 2021]
In the mid 19th century, the extent of the city’s commercial district was limited to Central (中環) on Hong Kong Island. [Photography by John Thomson, 1868/1871, Public Domain]
While Central (中環) and Sheung Wan (上環) continue to serve as the city’s central business district, the panoramic skyline of Hong Kong has dramatically expanded along the north shore of Hong Kong Island, and the waterfront of Kowloon Peninsula across the Harbour. [Skyline of Central taken in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
The northwestern limit of Victoria Harbour is dominated by Kwai Tsing Container Terminals (葵青貨櫃碼頭), once the world’s busiest container port between 1992 to 2004. Serving as the biggest intermediary trading hub between China, Southeast Asia and the West, international logistics means big business in Hong Kong ever since the 19th century. [Kwai Tsing Container Terminals taken at the waterfront of Sheung Wan, 2021]
Before WWII, the Triangular Pier (三角碼頭) at Victoria Harbour in Sheung Wan (上環) was one of the busiest trading ports in Asia. The pier has long disappeared after land reclamation, but the century-old trading companies and shops selling all kinds of imported dried seafood, spices, herbs, and food merchandises survive to the present day. [Photo taken at intersection of Eastern Street and Des Voeux Road West, 2021]
From West District to North Point, a 5.5km promenade along the north coast of Hong Kong Island is set to open at the end of 2021. [Photo taken at Admiralty Waterfront, 2021]
The western end of Victoria Harbour is marked by the District of Kennedy Town (堅尼地城) on Hong Kong Island (left). Beyond the Kennedy Town and the small islands of Green Island (青洲), Kau Yi Chau (交椅州), and Peng Chau (坪洲), the ridges on Lantau Island (大嶼山) form a distant backdrop for the Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
The reclamation land of West Kowloon is split between the 17-venue West Kowloon Cultural District (西九文化區), the high-end residential and commercial development of Union Square and the High Speed Railway Station. [Photo taken at Sai Ying Pun Waterfront, 2021]
Since 2014, the 60m Ferris wheel known as Hong Kong Observation Wheel in Central offers visitors a new vantage point to enjoy the scenery of Victoria Harbour. [Central Piers and HKOW as seen from Admiralty Waterfront, 2021]
The parabola gesture of the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui (尖沙咀) marks the southern tip of Kowloon Peninsula. [Photo taken at Wanchai Waterfront, 2021]
The Ocean Terminal Deck offers the perfect place to take in the iconic skyline of Hong Kong, especially after dusk. [Photo taken at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
For a fare less than 0.50 USD, the Star Ferry offer the most pleasant way to enjoy Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken at Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
The 88-storey, 415m International Finance Centre (IFC) on Hong Kong Island (left), and the 108-storey, 484m International Commercial Centre (ICC) in Kowloon (right) tower above the tranquil water of the Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken at Wanchai waterfront, 2020]
A number of typhoon shelters dot around Victoria Harbour, offering safe refuges for fishing boats and yachts during typhoons. [Causeway Bay (銅鑼灣) Typhoon Shelter with skyline of Central beyond, 2020]
The West Kowloon Cultural District (西九文化區) is finally taking shape after 20 years of planning and construction delays. In a few year’s time, a few more cultural venues would be constructed below the 108-storey ICC. [Photo taken from Tai Hang, 2018]
The northeastern waterfront of Hong Kong Island is dominated by the vehicular expressway Island Eastern Corridor (東區走廊). [Photo taken from Hung Hom Waterfront, 2020]
The waterfront of Eastern Kowloon stand the new business districts of Kowloon Bay (九龍灣) and Kwun Tong (觀塘), and the former airport runway of Kai Tak (啟德). [Photo taken from North Point Ferry Pier, 2021]
Between Lei Yue Mun (鯉魚門) and Shau Kei Wan (筲箕灣), the narrow passage of Lei Yue Mun marks the eastern gateway of Victoria Harbour. [Photo taken from Devil’s Peak in Lei Yue Mun, 2020]
The best moment to appreciate the panoramic view of Victoria Harbour is the magic moment at dusk. [Photo taken from Red Incense Burner Summit, 2020]

HONG KONG’S MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE: Not Old Enough For Conservation?

18th June 2021 was the deadline for developers to bid for the latest waterfront site in Central, between Jardine House and Central Ferry Pier.  With an estimated value at around USD 5 – 7.1 billion, the 47,970 sq.m site encompasses a piece of reclaimed land and the iconic General Post Office at Connaught Place.  Completed in 1976, the fourth generation postal headquarters has been a prominent fixture in the city’s evolving skyline for 45 years. Despite efforts from conservationists, the building would inevitably be replaced by another glassy skyscraper in the near future.  While few people see the modernist post office as an architectural masterpiece, many Hongkongers have expressed their resentment about the potential loss in the business district.  With its horizontal features, modular brise soleil, and concrete vaults, the General Post Office is a decent example of modernist architecture in Hong Kong, the design movement that first emerged in the West between the World Wars. Using modern construction methods and materials like steel, reinforced concrete and glass, Modernism rose to become the dominant architectural style after WWII.  In Hong Kong, the Modernist style in the city is often referred to as the “Bauhaus style”. 

Founded by German architect Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus was probably the most famous and avant-garde design and art school between the world wars (1919 – 1933). From art to graphic design, architecture to interiors, typography to industrial design, influences of the Bauhaus have been an omnipresence in our lives.  Commonly known as International Style, the minimalist and rationalist approach of the Bauhaus reflect the rapid modernization of the 20th century.  To envision Modernism, architectural masters like Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, or Mies van de Rohe might be looking for a novel design methodology and architectural tectonics that define the functionalism and aesthetics of the Modern Age.  By the time Modernism has arrived to Postwar Hong Kong, the style was quickly adopted due to pragmatic reasons such as construction speed, design modularity, minimal detailing, and versatile functionality.  Modernist apartment blocks, office towers, factories, schools, sport centres, parking garages, market complexes, and government buildings flourished across the city to cope with the population and economic boom, replacing earlier colonial structures and pre-war tenement buildings.

As Hong Kong further developed into one of Asia’s most prominent financial hubs in the 1980’s, the architectural world has already entered the age of Post-Modernism.  Some notable Modernist buildings such as Gropius’ Bauhaus in Dessau, Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa’s City of Brasilia, Le Corbusier’s various projects in Europe, Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House, etc. have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, but many more Modernist buildings have become subjects of demolition and redevelopment.  Modernist architecture has yet been widely recognized as a precious heritage, nor have them been well loved by the public.  Many have already been torn down in Hong Kong in the past three decades.  In recent years, this attitude has finally come to a twist.  The potential demolition of buildings like the General Post Office have raised public awareness of the modern heritage.  This is a realization of what heritage and cultural legacy really are in the making of a diverse urban culture and defining the zeitgeist of an era.

Not all Modernist buildings are designated for demolition in Hong Kong. Some have been preserved and revitalized with new uses and appearances, such as the Murray Building (美利大廈) on Cotton Tree Road.  The 1969 government office tower was recently converted into a 5-star hotel by architect Norman Foster.  Such adaptive reuse of the Modernist building is a convincing way to preserve memories and manage urban changes while retaining the essence of the original architecture.

Modernist buildings once dotted around Hong Kong, from residential blocks, office towers to all kinds of public buildings. Mei Ho House (美荷樓), formerly part of Shek Kip Mei Estate, is the sole survivor of a “H” shape apartment building. Built in 1954, the Modernist building has been preserved and converted into a youth hostel and a small public housing museum in 2013. [Mei Ho House, Junction of Castle Peak Road and Tai Po Road, Sham Shui Po, 2021]
Completed in 1960, the existing Garden Centre (嘉頓中心) at Castle Peak Road in Sham Shui Po has gained approval for redevelopment. Designed by famous Chinese architect Chu Pin (朱彬), the Modernist building has all the reasons to be preserved as a modern heritage. Unfortunately, the building is likely to be gone soon. Chu Pin was one of the first generation of US educated Chinese architects. Obtained his master degree at University of Pennsylvania in 1923, Chu Pin moved to Hong Kong in 1949 and established himself as a successful Chinese architect in the city. His other works included the first generation of Man Yee Building (萬宜大廈), home to Hong Kong’s first escalators, and Takshing House (德成大廈), the demolished office tower where curtain walls where first used in Hong Kong 60+ years ago. [Garden Centre as seen from Garden Hill, Sham Shui Po, 2021]
News on the fate of former State Theatre (皇都戲院) in North Point captured the hearts of Hongkongers in the past few years. Built in 1959, the former cinema was one of the last surviving large scale theatre in Hong Kong. In 2020, developer New World Development agreed to preserve the building and revitalize it into a new cultural and heritage facility. [State Theatre, King’s Road, North Point, 2017]
In Central, Modernist style Public Bank Centre (大眾銀行中心) from 1977 and The Center (中環中心) from 1998 stand as representatives from two different eras. [Public Bank Building, Des Voeux Road Central, Central, 2020]
At the junction of Des Voeux Road Central and Pedder Street, the third generation General Post Office (erected 1911) was demolished in 1976. [Photo: Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection, Library of Congress, public domain, 1923]
The current General Post Office at Connaught Place is the fourth generation in Hong Kong. Built in 1976, it was once located adjacent to the former Star Ferry Pier and the old waterfront. [General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
Constructed on reclaimed land, the 5-storey building was designed by architect K. M. Tseng. [General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
Despite there is urge from conservationists and the public to preserve the modernist building, Antiquities Advisory Board refuses to list any structure constructed after 1970. The building is scheduled to be demolished after the land sale tender was closed in June 2021. [General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
The modernist General Post Office and its surrounding open space will certainly be missed. [Back side of General Post Office, Lung Wo Road, Central, 2021]
The mailing counters on the ground floor are some of the busiest in the city. [Interior of General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
Over 69,000 stamps from 98 countries were put together by the staff to create a large wall mural displayed at the entrance of the General Post Office. [Interior of General Post Office, Connaught Place, Central, 2021]
Next to the iconic General Post Office once stood the Star Ferry Pier. The pier was demolished in 2006 as part of the latest land reclamation project. The 1957 Modernist Star Ferry Pier Car Park (天星碼頭多層停車場) survived 2006, but is included in the demolition zone together with the post office as part of the land sale package. [Star Ferry Car Park, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
Perhaps the most famous Modernist building in the city is Hong Kong City Hall (香港大會堂) at Edinburgh Place. Designed by Ron Phillips and Alan Fitch in the 1950’s, the 1962 completed City Hall is comprised of a low block, a concert hall, a theatre, a 12-storey high block and a memorial garden. The high block houses Hong Kong’s first public library, while the low block was the main venue of Hong Kong’s major festivals of art, film, and music from late 1950’s to 1980’s. The City Hall was considered the city’s first major cultural venue that welcomed everyone. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
At the centre of the memorial garden, a 12-sided memorial shrine stands in memory of the soldiers who fought during WWII. An elevated walkway encloses the memorial garden. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
From the elevated walkway, a spiral stair leads visitors back down to the ground level drop off area. Before 2008, the spiral and the drop off area stood directly opposite the now demolished Queen’s Pier. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
The City Hall still contains a few remnants from the previous colonial times. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
Unlike previous stone and decorative architecture, the Modernist City Hall promotes clean lines, large windows, simple geometry, etc. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
In comparison to International Financial Centre (IFC), the Modernist City Hall stands to represent a totally different era. [City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central, 2021]
While the City Hall flanks one side of Statue Square, the 21-storey Hong Kong Club building stands to the east side of the square. [The Cenotaph, Connaught Road Central, Central, 2021]
Designed by Australian architect Harry Seidler, the current building is the third generation of Hong Kong Club. [Hong Kong Club, Junction of Connaught Road Central and Jackson Road, Central, 2021]
Being demolished and replaced by a newer structure is an inevitable fate for most buildings in Hong Kong. Demolished in 1981, the second generation Hong Kong Club was replaced by architect Harry Seidler’s Modernist version. [Hong Kong Club, photo credit: Arnold Wright, public domain, 1908]
Built in 1953, the former Bridges Street Market was one of the first Modernist market buildings constructed after WWII, replacing old markets that were destroyed during the war. It contained 26 fish and poultry stalls on lower level and 33 butcher, vegetable and fruit stalls on the upper level. In 2018, the building was reopened as a news museum. [Former Bridges Street Market, Junction of Bridges Street and Shing Wong Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
In 1969, the upper level of Bridges Street Market was converted into a children’s playground. [Former Street Market, Junction of Bridges Street and Shing Wong Street, Sheung Wan, 2016]
Horizontal shading fins are some of the typical features of a Modernist building. [Former Street Market, Junction of Bridges Street and Shing Wong Street, Sheung Wan, 2016]
Sai Ying Pun Jockey Club Polyclinic (西營盤賽馬會分科診所) was redeveloped from Government Civic Hospital, the first public hospital in Hong Kong operated since 1874. [Sai Ying Pun Polyclinic, Junction of Queen’s Road West and Sutherland Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
Built in 1960, Sai Ying Pun Jockey Club Polyclinic is designed by the local architectural firm Leigh & Orange. [Sai Ying Pun Polyclinic, Junction of Queen’s Road West and Sutherland Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The concrete barrel vaults on the roof of the clinic is a recognizable feature on Queen’s Road West. [Sai Ying Pun Polyclinic, Junction of Queen’s Road West and Sutherland Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The 27-storey Murray Building (美利大廈) on Cotton Tree Road was a government office building completed in 1969. After the government moved out in 2012, the modernist building was revitalized into a 5-star hotel. [Murray Hotel, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, 2021]
Architect Norman Foster was hired for the adaptive reuse project. Decorative stainless steel were used as design features in the project, offering the 5-star hotel an elegant touch. Murray Hotel opened for business in 2018. [Murray Hotel, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, 2021]
The former car ramp connected to Cotton Tree Drive is now a popular spot for selfies. [Murray Hotel, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, 2021]
The windows were oriented to avoid glare and direct sunlight. [Murray Hotel, Cotton Tree Drive, Central, 2021]

FELINE SHOPKEEPERS (貓店長) 2, Hong Kong

A few years ago, Dutch photographer Marcel Heijnen published a beautiful photo book Hong Kong Shop Cats. The book was an instant hit and captured the heart of people both in Hong Kong and abroad. Lovely images of cats and shop owners with backdrops of traditional shops in Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun manifest a certain universal charm even for non cat lovers. It is the affection between shop cats and their owners that truly touch people, revealing a kind of human-animal bonding enrooted in the old shopping streets of Hong Kong. In the old neighborhoods, shop cats that linger at shopfront often become magnets that draw people from close and afar. Thanks to the social media, some celebrated shop cats (and owners) are even appear in foreign magazines or websites. While the need of mouse catching fades, the role of shop cats have shifted to sunbathing at shopfront, napping on cashier counter, patrolling the back alleys, and serving as social ambassadors to promote the business.

Other than old dried seafood or herbal medicine shops, cats also fit in well with all sort of businesses in the younger generation. Recent TV shows “Cat Shopkeepers” reveal that shops cats have become quite a phenomenon spreading to many businesses: bookstores, cafes, gyms, music schools, nail polishers, design shops, dance studios, musical instrument workshops, you name it. The cool yet lovely character of cats somehow become a perfect compliment to the warm-hearted and neighbourhood friendly identity of local small business. For returning customers or chance pedestrians, surprised encounters of shop cats may feel like discovering some sort of momentary antidotes to their otherwise stressful and monotonous daily life.

Tin Yin Coconut Co. (天然椰子號) has been around in North Point (北角) since 1964, from just a coconut supplier to selling all sort of Indonesian spices, condiments and snacks. Three cats (“Black Pepper”, “Turmeric”, “Satay”) accompany Amy, the lady shop-owner daily in the shop. But only “Black Pepper” would linger at the front desk to greet customers. [Marble Road (馬寶道), North Point (北角), 2020]
Tin Yin Coconut Co. (天然椰子號) has moved to a new store on the same street recently. “Black Pepper” still sleeps through most of the day while customers picking spices and snacks around him. [Marble Road (馬寶道), North Point (北角), 2021]
Ming Kee Southern Goods (銘記南貨店) at Sai Ying Pun is a traditional condiment store that we frequently visited. This is where we get our local cooking wine, soy sauce, oyster sauce, fermented bean curd, etc. Another reason is to check out the their big and friendly cat. [Third Street (第三街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
A bowl of grass is often available as a special snacks for the cat to clear its stomach. [Third Street (第三街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
As a “southern goods” store (南貨店), Ming Kee sells all sort of traditional condiments and food products that are originated from south of Yangtze River. The cat is guarding one of the most popular seasonal merchandises: the Chinese Mitten Crabs (大閘蟹) from Shanghai that are available in the autumn. [Third Street (第三街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun are known for the dried seafood shops that have been around for decades, when the Triangular Pier (三角碼頭) served as a main trading port in Hong Kong. Hundreds of trading companies were situated around the pier, including many dried seafood shops. Today this area is known as the Dried Seafood Street (海味街). Dried Seafood Street (海味街) has become a popular place to spot some of the more well known shop cats whose images have gone viral on the Internet. [Ko Shing Street (高陞街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
In many occasions, visitors would find a rather sleepy shop cat at the Dried Seafood Street (海味街). [Des Voeux Road (德輔道西), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
Near the junction of Sutherland Street and Des Voeux Road West, Dai Lee Hong (大利行) dried seafood shop also has its celebrity cat known as “Fat Boy” (肥仔). [Sutherland Street (修打蘭街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
Apart from Apart from dried seafood, herbal medicine, nuts, spices and condiments are also popular in the Dried Seafood Street (海味街), such as Wing Shun Lei (永順利) dried herb shop. The beautiful cat Gum Gum (金金) of Wing Shun Lei is one of the many neighbours of “Fat Boy” (肥仔). [Sutherland Street (修打蘭街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
Another cat Ting Ting (丁丁) sometimes takes the night shift to “guard” the back door of Wing Shun Lei (永順利). [Sutherland Street (修打蘭街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
The cat at Guang Chong Hong (廣昌行), another herbal medicine in the area, loves to nap at the shopfront no matter how busy the street gets. [Queen’s Road West (皇后大道西), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
Sometimes, it would be waken by curious pedestrians who couldn’t resist petting its head. [Queen’s Road West (皇后大道西), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
A little further uphill from Sheung Wan, a beautiful cat is waiting for its owner at a hair salon window. [Po Hing Fong (普慶坊), Sheung Wan (上環)]
The top of Ladder Street is home to a shy shop cat belonged to the street eatery Glorious Fast Food (輝煌快餐店). [Junction of Caine Road (堅道) and Ladder Street (樓梯街), Sheung Wan (上環), 2020]
Old restaurants and eateries are also good places to find shop cats, whose mice catching instinct is a big asset for the business. [Luen Wah Cafe (聯華茶餐廳), Centre Street (正街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2021]
Even household hardware shops are cat friendly these days. [Lockhart Road (駱克道), Wanchai (灣仔), 2020]
And so as household appliance shop… [Marble Road (馬寶道), North Point (北角), 2021]
Sam Kee Bookstore (森記圖書) at Fortress Hill (炮台山) is a peaceful bookstore at the basement of a small shopping arcade. Apart from its good selection of books, Sam Kee is also well known as a sanctuary for a dozen or so stray cats. [King’s Road (英皇道), Fortress Hill (炮台山), 2020]
The lady shop owner adopted the cats one by one simply because they have no where to go. [King’s Road (英皇道), Fortress Hill (炮台山), 2020]
These cats are used to be left alone. A sign saying “Sorry, please don’t play with cats” remind customers not to play with the cats. [King’s Road (英皇道), Fortress Hill (炮台山), 2020]

MULTIFACETED URBAN LIVING, North Point (北角), Hong Kong

Thanks to various influxes of immigrants from Mainland China in the 20th century, North Point (北角) was listed on the Guinness Book of Records as the most densely populated place in the world at the end of the 1960’s .  Today this may not be the case anymore, but this old neighborhood in northeast Hong Kong Island remains complex and bustling with life.  While many urban spaces in the area have gone through dramatic transformations in recent years, a number of vintage buildings and old streets remain.  From the foot of Braemar Hill (寶馬山) to the Island Eastern Corridor (東區走廊) along Victoria Harbour, and from the 100-feet-wide thoroughfare of King’s Road (英皇道) to the narrow market street of Chun Yeung Street (春秧街), North Point is always teeming with life.  Take a stroll through its old neighborhoods is like meandering through traces of Hong Kong’s urban and social evolution from the early 20th century to the contemporary moment.

DSC_6683The Island Eastern Corridor (東區走廊) marks the northern boundary of North Point along the waterfront of Victoria Harbour.  Opened in various phases during the 1980’s, the Island Eastern Corridor is a viaduct expressway built along the Victoria Harbour from Causeway Bay to Chai Wan.

DSC_6682Many dislike the idea of having an elevated expressway along the waterfront.  Proposals are being made to enhance the pedestrian experience along the harbour by introducing a seaside promenade.

DSC_6664Many people walk out to the pile caps of Island Eastern Corridor to take in the panoramic view of Victoria Harbour, Kai Tak Cruise Terminal and Kowloon Bay.

IMG_0447Quite often during the week, the pile caps of Island Eastern Corridor serve as ideal platforms for leisure fishing.

DSC_6686Perched above the sloped street of Kai Yuen Street (繼園街) is a peaceful neighborhood of old tenement houses, or tong lau (唐樓).

DSC_6691Isolated from the bustling life of North Point below, the tranquility of the Kai Yuen Street neighborhood is a rarity in the area.  Like most of Hong Kong, this hidden neighborhood is changing fast with several 30+ storey apartments are under construction at lower Kai Yuen Street.

DSC_6693Throughout the years, the peaceful ambience of Kai Yuen Street has attracted a number of celebrities, including author Eileen Chang (張愛玲) and painter Zhang Daqian (張大千).

DSC_6697Down at King’s Road (英皇道) in the heart of North Point, the Sunbeam Theatre (新光戲院) has been around since 1972 as the primary venue for Cantonese opera.  It was established by the Shanghainese emigrants who came to Hong Kong after the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

DSC_6702The protruding signage of the Sunbeam Theatre (新光戲院) is an iconic feature on the King’s Road (英皇道), a 100 ft wide vehicular road built in honour of  the Silver Jubilee of King George V of Britain in 1935.  Another feature on the King’s Road is undoubtedly the Hong Kong tramway, one of the earliest public transportation in the city since 1904.

DSC_6748A few blocks away from Sunbeam stands another historical building, the State Theatre (皇都戲院).  Its original functions are long gone.  In recent months, the State Theater is caught between the controversy of demolition/ preservation.

DSC_6750Converted from a former Clubhouse of the Royal Yacht Club, the Oil Art Space (油街實現) is a community art centre.

DSC_6751Built in 1908, the building served as the Clubhouse of Royal Yacht Club until 1938, when the building lost its waterfront location after numerous land reclamation.

DSC_6709There are a number of street markets remain in Hong Kong.  The one in North Point stretches along two narrow streets: stalls selling dry merchandises on Marble Road Market (馬寶道), and fresh produces, meat and seafood on Chun Yeung Street (春秧街).

DSC_6885Chun Yeung Street Market (春秧街) is the most interesting street in North Point.  Also known as Little Shanghai and Little Fujian, the street market has a high concentration of immigrants from the Mainland since the mid 20th century.

DSC_6889In late afternoon and early evening, Chun Yeung Street is full of life.

DSC_6891DSC_6897There is so much going on on Chun Yeung Street. While one side of the street is busy with grocery shoppers, the other side is packed with stalls selling clothing and toys.

DSC_6912The most iconic scenery of Chun Yeung Street Market is the moving tram along the street centre.  Since 1953, trams have been running through the Chun Yeung Street Market.  To remind pedestrians of the approaching tram, the tram drivers often make the iconic “ding ding” horn whiling driving through the market.

DSC_6926The tram terminus “North Point” is located at the end of the Chun Yeung Street Market.  Despite slower than other means of transportation, taking the tram remains one of the best ways to explore North Point.