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Posts tagged “City Hall

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]

DAY 1 (4/9): COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.12.23

After the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852, the East India Company’s annexation of Pegu province put Yangon into British hands.  In 1885, the Third Anglo-Burmese War resulted in Britain’s complete annexation of Burma, and Rangoon (now Yangon) was named as the capital of Burma (now Yangon).  From 1852 until Burma gaining independence in 1948, Rangoon saw major urban transformation under the British, with splendid colonial structures constructed all over the downtown.  After independence, political and military turmoil among ethnic groups threatened the survival of the new nation, and then in 1962, a coup d’etat brought the nation into a 48-year military dictatorship until the first civilian elected president came to power in 2010.  During the period of political turmoil and authoritarian rule, Yangon, together with much of Myanmar, was largely isolated from the outside world.  Many colonial buildings from the British era were neglected and left for natural decay.  Ironically, Yangon’s decades of lack of development led to the successful preservation of Southeast Asia’s largest concentration of colonial architecture.  Recently, international investment began to pour in as the country gradually opened up.  Some historical buildings had since then became redevelopment targets for foreign developers.   Before heading north to visit Shwedagon Pagoda, we spent a brief time wandering around the lower downtown of Yangon to admire its awesome but fading colonial architecture.

DSC_2652Yangon City Hall, one the most prominent colonial building in the city, stands across the street from Sule Pagoda.  Designed by Burmese architect U Tin and completed in 1940, the City Hall is a fine example of Burmese colonial architecture where local influence (in this case the multi-tiered pyatthat roof) has been incorporated into the otherwise largely Western design.  The City Hall building exemplifies nationalist Burmese architecture at the twilight stage of colonial rule.

DSC_2754Across the street from the City Hall, the Ayeyarwady Bank occupies the former Rowe & Co. Department Store building.  Completed in 1910, the Rowe & Co. Department Store was the most splendid shopping venue in Rangoon.  This century-old building featured a innovative steel structural frame, electric lifts and ceiling fans over a century ago.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAcross the street from the City Hall, the Mahandoola Garden (Maha Bandula Park) has long been a public park at the heart of Yangon since 1868.  While we were there, audience seating and a stage were set up for an upcoming event.

DSC_2773Also designed by Burmese architect U Tin, the Independent Monument at Mahandoola Garden (Maha Bandula Park) was erected at the centre of the park in 1948 to commemorate the nation’s independence, replacing the former statue of Queen Victoria at the same location.

DSC_2775Flanking the east side of Mahandoola Garden (Maha Bandula Park), the former High Court is one of the most iconic buildings in Yangon.  It was also one of the first in Yangon to have toilet and plumbing facilities as well as electricity.  During the military rule, the Supreme Court was replaced by the socialist Council of People’s Justices controlled by the General.  Today, Myanmar’s Supreme Court has been relocated to the new capital Naypyidaw.

DSC_2776Further south from Mahandoola Garden, at the intersection of Sule Pagoda Road and Strand Road stands the baby blue and white Myanmar Economic Bank building (formerly Bank of Bengal and then Imperial Bank of India).  The Imperial Bank of India was the most prominent bank in colonial Burma, serving like the central bank for the nation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe former Accountant-General’s Office and Currency Department were housed in a magnificent building with three octagonal towers.  These former colonial departments oversaw taxes and trade customs for British Burma, which was belonged to the Government of British India.

DSC_2792Today, the building is in poor condition, especially for the wings along Bank Street and Mahabandoola Garden Street.  Overgrown weeds took over parts of the building facade.

DSC_2796The building hasn’t changed much since the Japanese bombing in 1942.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis former Accountant-General’s Office and Currency Department building was partially occupied by Yangon Divisional Court and Department of Pensions nowadays.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEach of the octagonal towers houses a ornate spiral staircase.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe red-brick Customs House is one of the few historical buildings still serving its original functions today.

DSC_2804Since 1916, the two-faced clock has been the iconic feature of the Custom House.

DSC_2810Further down Strand Road, we arrived at Myanmar Port Authority (former Port Trust Office).  The corner tower is an iconic landmark for the city, both for today and back in 1920s, when the new building was erected to reflect Rangoon as one of the busiest port in the British Empire.

DSC_2815Myanmar National Airlines occupies the 1920s building of the former Bombay-Burmah Trading Corporation, whose diverse business included exporting teak wood.  Right next door stood the splendid Strand Hotel, the 1901 glamorous hotel for affluent visitors in the early 20th century.  In 1993, the hotel was fully renovated with a budget of USD 10 million.

DSC_2819The former National Bank of India building (now Myanma Agricultural Development Bank) was built in 1930.  Designed by Thomas Oliphant Foster and Basil Ward, the same architects who had done the Myanmar Port Authority building, the beautiful entrance canopy and the golden entrance door remain as special features of Pansodan Road.

DSC_2829Written with “A Scott & Co” and “erected 1902” on the triangular pediment of today’s YCDC (Yangon City Development Committee) building, this colonial architecture had witnessed the era when Rangoon had a strong trading connections with Scotland.

DSC_2846Wandering in Downtown Yangon offered us a chance to see a number of the city’s finest colonial buildings in just a short walk.  Throughout the walk, we passed by many anonymous buildings from the British era.

DSC_2864We planned to visit Secretariat (Ministers’ Building), the former administrative centre of British Burma and Yangon’s most important colonial building.  On our way, we passed by several more interesting historical buildings.  Unfortunately the Secretariat complex was not open to the public.  We could barely see it from outside the fence, and decided to move on to Shwedagon Pagoda.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR