In 1974, the master plan to redevelop 96 acres of Swire’s land in Quarry Bay was approved by the Hong Kong government. The proposal included converting Taikoo Sugar Refinery into the city’s second business hub that is now known as Taikoo Place (太古坊), and transforming 53 acres of former Taikoo Dockyards into Taikoo Shing (太古城). Literally translated as “Swire’s City”, Taikoo Shing contains 61 residential towers (12,698 apartment flats) and one of the island’s largest shopping and commercial complex known as Cityplaza (太古城中心). The development of Taikoo Shing led the dramatic transformation of Swire from an industrial giant into a real estate developer and business conglomerate.
After inheriting the family trading business Swire Group from his father in 1847, British businessman John Samuel Swire took the company overseas to expand his cotton and sugar trade in China. In Shanghai, he established Taikoo Sugar Refinery and later the shipping business China Navigation Company, laying the foundation for the modern Swire Group (太古集團). In 1881, John Samuel Swire selected a site at Quarry Bay (鰂魚涌) in Hong Kong, below lush green Mount Parker (柏架山) to establish his sugar refinery factory. The factory expanded rapidly to become the world’s largest sugar refinery in 1925. After John Samuel Swire died, the company further developed the adjacent land into a massive dockyard that serviced, repaired, and built vessels for their shipping business China Navigation Company. Completed in 1907, Taikoo Dockyard (太古船塢) constructed some of the world’s largest ships in early 20th century, along with its Kowloon counterpart Whampoa Dockyard (黃埔船塢). With the sugar refinery and dockyards, Quarry Bay emerged as the largest industrial district in Hong Kong before WWII. After the sugar refinery ceased production and the dockyard moved to Tsing Yi Island in early 1970’s, Swire Group looked to reinvent itself for the contemporary era, and to transform Quarry Bay into a new residential and business hub. The 1974 master plan opened up a whole new world for Swire, diversify the company’s profile with real estate, retail services, and hospitality.
Four decades have passed since Taikoo Dockyard was turned into Taikoo Shing, and Taikoo Sugar Refinery into Taikoo Place. After work, we would sometimes walk from our office to Taikoo Shing for grocery. The 20-minute walk along Quarry Bay Promenade Pet Garden (鰂魚涌寵物公園) is one of the most pleasant harbourfront walks in Eastern Hong Kong Island. Constructed in late 2012, the pet garden offers a great venue for pet dogs and people to mingle, and lookouts to enjoy the spectacular view of Victoria Harbour and East Kowloon. As the waterfront walk reaches Taikoo Shing, the decommissioned Fireboat Alexander Grantham, Hong Kong’s flagship fireboat that served the city between 1953 to 2002, was on display at the promenade. Built in early 1950’s by Hong Kong & Whampoa Dock Co. Ltd., the fireboat is a splendid reminder of the city’s shipbuilding history, the once thriving industry at the Victoria Harbour when Hong Kong has yet become a financial and business hub.
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.
On the night of 11th November 2006, some 150,000 Hongkongers showed up at Edinburgh Place Pier to bid farewell to the third generation of Star Ferry Pier in Central, before the Modernist building was dismantled to make way for land reclamation. Politicians, opposition parities, environmentalists, conservationists, activists, NGOs, professional groups and Hong Kong Institute of Architects joined force to urge the public to fight for preserving one of the iconic structure. Their noble effort failed to stop the government’s bulldozers removing Edinburgh Place Pier and, a year later, Queen’s Pier from the urban scenery of Hong Kong. The government insisted that the 49-year-old Star Ferry Pier was not “old” enough to be classified as “historical”. But the authorities greatly underestimated the public sentiment towards the Modernist landmark, not because its architectural value could rival the most iconic world heritage, but because it was a familiar urban symbol featured well in the collective memories of many Hongkongers. The extraordinary public outcry and intense media coverage have dramatically raised public awareness about heritage conservation in Hong Kong, and eventually contributed to the preservation of the Former Police Married Quarters (PMQ) and Former Central Police Station Complex (Tai Kwun) in a few years’ time. In 2007, the same year as people were protesting about the dismantling of the Queen’s Pier, the Heritage Conservation Policy was finally passed “to protect, conserve and revitalize” historical and heritage sites and buildings in Hong Kong.
For generations before the demolition of Star Ferry Pier and Queen’s Pier, not much tears were shed in the city when old buildings were torn down to make way for new developments. To the government and real estate developers, land sales and redevelopment of old neighborhoods are often the most efficient way to make money. As the former British colony entered its post colonial era, the search of a collective identity and preservation of the collective memories have gained significant ground among the general public. Hongkongers became much more aware of how their familiar urban scenery were disappearing fast. Losing a cultural heritage is like losing a piece of precious memory in the collective psyche. In the process of strengthening a sense of belonging and self reflection of collective identity, heritage architecture plays a crucial role as tangible mediums connecting to the past. These buildings are evidences of the creativity, prosperity and memories of a bygone era, and a unique East-meet-West culture that has defined the urban diversity and architectural beauty of the city.
As the heart of the former Victoria City (維多利亞城), it is unsurprisingly that Central (中環) hosts a relatively high concentration of heritage buildings in Hong Kong. Due to limited land resources, high population density and sky high property prices, incentives for property owners to preserve historical buildings is often low in face of the lucrative rewards from redevelopment projects. In Central, however, one may notice that the surviving historical structures often serve as pleasant breathing pockets in the midst of glassy skyscrapers. These heritage buildings would introduce an exquisite character to the streetscape, and in return push up land value of the surrounding area. At the same time, successful adaptive reuse projects such as Tai Kwun, PMQ, Asia Society and Hong Kong Park, all have proven to be magnificent urban magnets and popular tourist destinations. These projects consolidate Central and surrounding areas as the historical, political and commercial heart of Hong Kong, just like how it always was since the Mid-19th Century.
Similar to the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri, the Agra Fort has been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List since the 1980s, making it one of the three must-see attractions in Agra. Known as the Red Fort of Agra, the Agra Fort served as the royal residence of the early Mughal emperors until 1638 when the capital was moved to Delhi. It was constructed during the golden age of the Mughal Empire under two prolific builders: Emperor Akbar the Great and his grandson Shah Jahan. While Akbar is well known for founding the short lived capital Fatehpur Sikri, Shah Jahan is perhaps best known for erecting the most perfect Mughal architecture ever, the Taj Mahal. On the ruins of an earlier fort, Akbar rebuilt the Agra Fort with red sandstone. Akbar’s Agra Fort was completed in 1573 but was later transformed by Shah Jahan into its current mix of red sandstone and white marble buildings.
After visiting the Taj, we dropped by Joney’s Place, the local eatery where we had dinner the night before for breakfast. We had a few hours to spare before our walking tour at 2:30pm. Agra Fort was the obvious choice for us. An auto rickshaw brought us to the busy fort entrance in no time. Just like the Red Fort in Delhi, Agra Fort was very popular with local tourists.
Despite served as the royal residence, the Agra Fort appeared like a heavily fortified complex from its exterior.
Inside Agra Fort, Diwan-i-am was the main audience hall in the complex.
Built between 1631 to 1640, the 201′ by 67′ Diwan-i-am was the hall where Emperor Shah Jehan addressed the general public and his guests.
Constructed by Shah Jahan in 1637, the Anguri Bagh (Grape Garden) was used as a vineyard to make wine for the emperor.
Stone colonnade flanked three sides of the Anguri Bagh.
Khas Mahal was built by Shah Jahan for his daughter Jahanara and Roshanara.
Adjacent to the Khas Mahal, covered verandahs and the marble terraces offered visitors a fantastic view of the Yamuna River.
The Musamman Burj is one of the most splendidly crafted buildings in the complex.
While Akbar built his buildings with sandstone, his grandson Shah Jahan preferred white marble just like another of his other project, the Taj Mahal.
Musamman Burj, an octagonal tower with great views of the Yamuna River, was built by Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Together with his daughter Jahanara Begum, It was here that Shah Jahan spent his last few years as a captive of his son Aurangzeb.
From here, Shah Jahan spent his final moments on his death bed facing the Taj Mahal, the tomb of his beloved wife.
Tourists love to take pictures against the beautiful marble lattice work. This woman didn’t even notice the approach monkey as she posed for photo.
Known as the Gem Mosque, the Nagina Masjid is a small marble mosque built by Shah Jahan.
Built by Emperor Akbar, the Jahangiri Mahal Palace was the primary zenana to house his Rajput wives. Compared to his grandson Shah Jahan’s buildings, Akbar’s buildings were mainly built with red sandstone.
Jahangiri Mahal Palace is one of the oldest surviving building in Agra Fort and also the largest part in the compound.
A beautiful dome ceiling at the Jahangiri Mahal Palace.
Only 30 out of 500 buildings of the Jahangir Mahal Palace survive to the present. Many had been destroyed by Shah Jahan and later the British.
After the visit, we returned to the main entrance and hopped on an auto rickshaw to return our hotel.
Standing at the edge of the City Palace of Jaipur, the Hawa Mahal was part of the women’s chambers of the former royal palace. Built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, the sandstone facade with a honeycomb of latticed bay windows is the most recognizable building in Jaipur. The splendid facade is actually the back side of the palace building, where royal ladies were able to watch the activities and occasional festival events on the street through one of the 953 small windows. Today, the five-storey palace building is open to visitors. With narrow stairways and passageways and shallow rooms, the top three floors can get a little crowded during the tourist high season.
All tourists in Jaipur would take pictures of the famous facade from the main street, while not every one would actually visit the building interior. We were curious to experience how it might feel to peek back at the main street through one the small windows, and thus decided to pay a brief visit of the palace. Finding the entrance of Hawa Mahal required a bit of research. Entered through a retail side street, we arrived at a back lane where the real entrance and ticket office of Hawa Mahal were located.
The splendid facade of Hawa Mahal is the most recognizable building in Jaipur.
To enter the building, visitors must find their way into the back alleyway where the main entrance is located.
Through a series of doors and gateways, we arrived at the primary courtyard of Hawa Mahal.
A feature water fountain dominated the primary courtyard of Hawa Mahal.
We had little interest on the water feature. Instead, our primary aim was to check out the small windows and the views from the top two levels of the palace.
We walked up a level at a time. Colourful stained glass windows were everywhere, providing a pleasant visual effects for the interiors.
While many small windows were locked up, some were opened for visitors to check out the street views.
It wasn’t difficult for visitors to imagine the elusive lives of the royal ladies behind the small windows.
The ramp tower led us to the top floor. From the top floor, we could enjoy the view back into the royal palace.
The pink facade of Hawa Mahal matches perfectly with shops across the street.
There was another courtyard complex connected to the Hawa Mahal on the ground level.
Looking straight down the iconic facade was a little frightening.
Across the street, restaurant patios lined up on the roof and top terraces for anyone who might have the time and mood to sit down with a drink, and take in views of the romantic sunset and iconic facade.
Stairs and hallways on the top floors were really narrow.
By the time we reached the top level it was almost sunset time.
Before leaving Hawa Mahal, we found our way to check out a corner pavilion at the terrace level.
We stopped by a rooftop cafe across the street to enjoy the sunset scenery of the iconic Hawa Mahal.
Before the sun disappeared below the horizon, flood lights at the base of Hawa Mahal were turned on for the night view. We bid farewell to Hawa Mahal and returned to the Peacock Restaurant for our final dinner in Jaipur.
Over to the left below the archway, we paid the admission and stepped into the other haveli that was open to public. Known as Kothari’s Patwa Haveli, this beautiful mansion was restored and converted into a museum by the government. Despite all five havelis look similar, distinctive arches, gateways, mirror works, wall paintings, and architectural carvings differentiate each haveli from one another. To our surprise and slight disappointment, the restored interiors of Kothari’s Patwa Haveli actually looked quite new and polished. Much of the haveli had became a museum with artefact and antique furniture displays.
Kothari’s Patwa Haveli is located at the beginning of the lane where the building bridges across to form an archway.
Admission tickets were sold by a staff sitting across the lane from the entrance of Kothari’s Patwa Haveli.
After a flight of stair, we reached the level right above the lane archway. From there, we came close to see the ornate carvings of the balcony.
From the window above the archway, we gained a unique view of all five mansions of the Patwon Ki Haveli.
No matter how many times we had seen the splendid craftsmanship of sandstone carvings in Rajasthan, we were still overwhelmed by the sandstone carvings of Kothari’s Patwa Haveli.
The multi-level Kothari’s Patwa Haveli centers around a internal courtyard.
Today, the internal courtyard is occupied by a textile and embroidery shop.
The staff carefully laid out the blankets and textiles for their customers.
The museum displays occupy the upper levels of the haveli. We basically circled around the internal courtyard through a series of interconnected rooms.
One of the first room that we encountered was set up as a dining room.
The living room was one of the best restored spaces at Kothari’s Patwa Haveli, with colourful murals and fine pieces of furniture.
Antique furniture, music instruments, and clocks were on displayed in the living room.
Each important room in the haveli has a unique ceiling design.
The colourful and gold murals of Jivan Vilas was one of the highlights of the haveli. Again the restorations looked fresh and vivid that the sense of history was completely gone.
An antique Chaupar/ Chopat game was on display on a vintage rug. This game had been played in India since the 4th century.
From the roof terrace, we had some good views of the surrounding neighborhood.
As well as the lane that lined in front of the mansions of Patwon Ki Haveli.
After touring Patwon Ki Haveli, we exited the lane through the archway and found our way to the Saffron Restaurant for lunch.
Below the Golden Fort of Jaisalmer, the town flourished in the Medieval times as merchants and desert caravans brought considerable amount of activities and wealth into this remote city at the heart of the Thar Desert. Nowhere else is more convincing than Patwon Ki Haveli to see the legacy of these wealthy merchants. Built in the first half of the 19th century, Patwon Ki Haveli was the oldest and largest haveli (grand mansion) in Jaisalmer. Guman Chand Patwa, a renowned trader of his time, commissioned the construction of five multi-storey townhouses for his five sons. Splendid wall paintings, mirror mosaic, and most ostentatious of all, the amazing sandstone carving on the building facade, have made the haveli an icon for the city comparable to the Golden Fort. One operated by the government and the other privately owned, two out of five havelis are open for the public today. The first haveli we visited was the privately owned mansion located at the right side of the row.
The Patwon Ki Haveli occupies a narrow lane which can be entered at either end. We entered the lane through a beautiful archway.
Upon entering the archway, we were in awe of the intriguing stone carving on the haveli facade over our heads.
Above the archway, the Patwon Ki Haveli extends over to the opposite side of the pedestrian lane.
Along the lane, there were two open spaces across from the Patwon Ki Haveli for us to stand back and admire the beautiful sandstone facade.
Moving closer to the haveli, the balconies and facade details looked stunning.
If we looked closer, we could see the slight differences between each house.
We walked by a house with its doors opened for visitors. It turned out that this was the privately owned haveli opened to the public.
Once stepped into the entrance vestibule, we were immediately overwhelmed by the richly decorated interiors.
At the core, we could look up the lightwell to appreciate the height of the building.
Walking up the haveli, one of the first rooms we encountered was the fascinating private Hindu temple. Though small, the intriguing details of the temple interiors revealed the beautiful craftsmanship of the old Rajasthan.
Across from the small temple facing the street, another small chamber was ornately decorated with paintings and carvings.
Singing from a child musician mingled with laughter from tourists could be heard through the balcony windows.
Another level up were a series of vacant rooms. Small windows for communication and tiny wall niches for candles allowed us to imagine what the space would be like a century ago. Despite there were no furniture and paint restoration, we highly appreciated the vintage and authentic feel of the interiors.
Occasional wall paintings gave a touch of vivid colours to the generally yellowish sandstone building.
At the top level we reached what looked like to be the master bedroom with large windows facing the Jaisalmer Fort on one side.
And balconies looking down to the lightwell on the other side.
A door from the master bedroom led us to a small chamber with an attic and another small room.
We reached the roof terrace near the end of the visit. The view of Jaisalmer Fort was quite amazing.
After a fruitful tour of the old mansion, we walked downstairs and returned to the entrance vestibule, where a beautiful peacock feature guarded the house for decades, welcoming and bidding farewell to visitors.