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Posts tagged “Sai Ying Pun

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]

EARLY COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE, Central & Western District (中西區), Hong Kong

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.

Almost all 19th century colonial buildings that once stood along the waterfront of Hong Kong have been demolished. [Praya along Dex Voeux Road in Central, 1868. Photo by John Thomson, Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0]
Queen’s Building (皇后行), Victorian Era, completed in 1899, demolished in 1963
Hong Kong enjoyed a dramatic economic boom in the latter half of the 20th century. Many 19th century buildings, including the magnificent Queen’s Building, were torn down during this period. [Queen’s Building and the temporary Star Ferry Pier off Ice House Street, Central, probably taken in 1900’s, public domain]
Pedder Street Clock Tower (畢打街鐘樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1862, demolished in 1913
Among all the early buildings in Central, Pedder Street Clock Tower was one the most recognizable landmarks before it was taken down in 1913. [Pedder Street Clock Tower, Central, 1868. Photo by John Thomson, Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org. Copyrighted work available]
Murray House (美利樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1844, dismantled in 1982, restored in 2001
Murray House was one of the earliest structures still standing today. It was once a part of the Murray Military Barracks in Admiralty, occupying the site where I. M. Pei’s Bank of China Tower is standing today. [Stanley Main Street (赤柱大街), Stanley, 2021]
Murray House (美利樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1844, dismantled in 1982, restored in 2001
In 1982, Murray House (美利樓) was dismantled at its original site to make way for Bank of China. Each block and architectural component were carefully tagged and stored for future’s restoration. In 2001, the building was restored in Stanley (赤柱), a sleepy seaside destination popular for its flea market and beaches. [Stanley Main Street (赤柱大街), Stanley, 2021]
Murray House (美利樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1844, dismantled in 1982, restored in 2001
Murray House (美利樓) was restored and adapted into a retail and restaurant complex in Stanley. [Stanley Main Street (赤柱大街), Stanley, 2021]
Murray House (美利樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1844, dismantled in 1982, restored in 2001
The restored Murray House (美利樓) is popular with tourists and locals for a relaxing meal right by the sea. [Stanley Main Street (赤柱大街), Stanley, 2021]
Murray House (美利樓), Victorian Era, completed in 1844, dismantled in 1982, restored in 2001
Originally a Grade 1 historical building in Admiralty, Murray House (美利樓) is no longer a listed heritage building after the move. The restored version at Stanley no long complies with the heritage building criteria of the UNESCO. [Stanley Main Street (赤柱大街), Stanley, 2021]
Old Mental Hospital (舊精神病院), Victorian Era, completed in 1892, dismantled in 1998, northern facade restored in 2001
Often referred to as the “haunted house” on High Street (高街), the Old Mental Hospital (舊精神病院) has been a well known structure in Sai Ying Pun (西營盤). Built in 1892, the building was used to house nurses and staff of the Civil Hospital before WWII. Before establishment of Castle Peak Mental Hospital in 1961, the building was the only mental facility to serve the entire city (about 1.5 million population at that time). [Junction of High Street and Eastern Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
Old Mental Hospital (舊精神病院), Victorian Era, completed in 1892, dismantled in 1998, northern facade restored in 2001
From 1970’s to 1990’s, the Old Mental Hospital (舊精神病院) was abandoned. Stories of ghost sightings during that two decades has turned the historical building to become the famous “High Street Haunted House (高街鬼屋)”. The building was demolished in the 1990’s to make way for a new community centre. Only the northern facade was preserved part of the new building. [Junction of High Street and Eastern Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
Western Market North Block (上環街市 or 西港城), Edwardian Era, completed in 1906
Western Market in Sheung Wan (上環街市) is the remaining northern addition of the former Western Market South Block. The former main market building was demolished in 1981, while the smaller North Block is preserved. [Junction of Connaught Road West and Morrison Street, Shueng Wan, 2020]
Western Market North Block (上環街市 or 西港城), Edwardian Era, completed in 1906
As one of the oldest markets in Hong Kong, Western Market was established in 1844. The former South Block was built in 1858, while the North Block was built in 1906. The building was constructed in Queen Anne Revival architectural style. [Junction of Connaught Road West and Morrison Street, Shueng Wan, 2014]
Western Market North Block (上環街市 or 西港城), Edwardian Era, completed in 1906
Today, tenants at Western Market include some curio shops, bakery, dessert shop, and a group of textile merchants. [Junction of Connaught Road West and Morrison Street, Shueng Wan, 2014]
Western Market North Block (上環街市 or 西港城), Edwardian Era, completed in 1906
Sometimes referred to as “blood and bandages”, the exterior facades of the Western Market are decorated with banded brick masonry. [Junction of Connaught Road West and Morrison Street, Shueng Wan, 2021]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), completed in 1912, and The Cenotaph (和平紀念碑), erected in 1923
Old Supreme Court Building is probably the most recognizable old colonial buildings in Central. The building was the former Supreme Court, then Legislative Council, and now, the Court of Final Appeal. Erected as a war memorial, the Cenotaph stands as a focal point between the Old Supreme Court, Statue Square, City Hall and Hong Kong Club. [Junction of Jackson Road and Connaught Road Central, Central, 2021]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), completed in 1912, and The Cenotaph (和平紀念碑), erected in 1923
The Cenotaph is a replica of the Cenotaph on Whitehall in London. [Statue Square, Central, 2021]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1912
Before WWII, Statue Square contained the Cenotaph, statue of Queen Victoria (commemoration of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 1887), Thomas Jackson (1st Baronet, chief manager of HSBC), Prince Albert, Duke of Connaught, Edward VII, Prince of Wales (later King George V), Queen Alexandra, Mary of Teck (future Queen Mary), Sir Henry May (Hong Kong Governor), etc. [The Supreme Court, Statue of Queen Victora (now at Victoria Park) and Hong Kong Club (left), photo by Denis H. Hazell in 1924. Source: ‘Picturesque Hong Kong’ (Ye Olde Printerie Ltd., Hong Kong), c.1925. CC BY_NC_ND 4.0, University of Bristol Library (www.hpcbristol.net]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1912
The 2.7m blindfolded staue of Justice, the Greek Goddess Themis, has been the icon of justice in Hong Kong for a century. Below the statue is the pediment with the inscription “Erected AD MDCCCCX (1910), and British Royal Coat of Arms: the three lions of England, lion of Scotland and harp of Ireland on the shield, supported by the English lion and Scottish unicorn. [Junction of Jackson Road and Chater Road, Central, 2020]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1912
The Neo-Classical building was designed by Aston Webb and Ingress Bell, who were also involved in the facade design of Buckingham Palace and Victoria and Albert Museum in London. [Junction of Jackson Road and Chater Road, Central, 2020]
Old Supreme Court Building (終審法院大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1912
The colonnade of the Old Supreme Court Building is a popular spot for selfies. [Junction of Jackson Road and Chater Road, Central, 2020]
Former French Mission Building (前法國外方傳道會大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1917
The Former French Mission Building is located on Government Hill above Queen’s Road Central. Altered from a mansion called Johnston House, the current building was opened in 1917 after a major renovation. The original structure was used as the residence of the Governor, home of the Legislative Council, HSBC, Russian Consulate, government offices, before it was acquired by the Paris Foreign Missions Society in 1915. [Queen’s Road Central, Central, 2021]
Former French Mission Building (前法國外方傳道會大樓), Edwardian Era, completed in 1917
In 1953, the building was sold back to the government of Hong Kong. It was used as the Court of Final Appeal from 1997 to 2015. [Battery Path, Central, 2021]
The Helena May main building (梅夫人婦女會主樓), Edwardian Era, Completed in 1916
Helena May main building was opened in 1916 by Lady May, the wife of Sir Francis Henry May, the Governor of Hong Kong. The three-storey Neo-classical building has 24 rooms, a library, reading room, classrooms, etc. It was home to Helena May Institute for Women. [Junction of Upper Albert Road and Garden Road, Central, 2021]
Pedder Building (畢打行), Pre-war Period, completed in 1923
Designed by P&T, the Pedder Building at No. 12 Pedder Street is the last remaining pre-war commercial building in Central. Built in Beaux-Arts style, the building is listed as Grade I historical building. The building is consisted of nine storeys, one mezzanine floor and one basement level. It stands at 35m above street level. [Pedder Street, Central, 2020]
Pedder Building (畢打行), Pre-war Period, completed in 1923
Due to very high rent, most of Pedder Building has been vacant. [Pedder Street, Central, 2020]
Pedder Building (畢打行), Pre-war Period, completed in 1923
Some say the building is worth about HKD 3.2 billion (USD 412 million) nowadays. [Pedder Street, Central, 2020]
Blake Pier (卜公碼頭), Edwardian Era, pavilion completed in 1909, dismantled and relocated to Morse Park in 1965, restored in Stanley in 2007
Constructed in 1900 as an open pier, Blake Pier was originally located at the end of Pedder Street in Central. In 1909, a pavilion canopy was added. In 1965, the pier pavilion was dismantled and restored at Morse Park in Wong Tai Sin. It was dismantled and relocated to its current Stanley location in 2007. [Blake Pier (卜公碼頭), Stanley, 2021]
Blake Pier (卜公碼頭), pavilion completed in 1909, dismantled and relocated to Morse Park in 1965, restored in Stanley in 2007
In Stanley, the pier is popular with young couples and local retirees who come regularly for leisure fishing. [Blake Pier (卜公碼頭), Stanley, 2018]

ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE AT RISK? Churches in the Mid-Levels (半山區), Hong Kong

In 2017, the 4th generation Union Church (佑寧堂) at 22A Kennedy Road, a 68-year Grade III listed historical building, was brutally torn down for a highly controversial real estate redevelopment. Despite efforts from conservation groups, architects, politicians, church members, media, and local community groups, the government refused to list the church as a Grade I historical building, and the Union Church refuses to back down from the project. The upcoming 22-storey mixed use building, which includes a new worshiping space and 45 luxurious apartments split between real estate developer Henderson Land Development (恒基兆業地產) and Union Church, exemplifies another bitter defeat of architectural heritage conservation in Hong Kong. Perhaps no government in 1890 (the time when Union Church acquired the site) could predict how insanely expensive land prices would become in a hundred years’ time, especially in the affluent Mid-Levels district. The original reasoning for letting missionaries to acquire land at relatively low cost may no longer be justified. Today, this has become a convenient tool for any religious institution to secure commercial profit by selling its own properties. Union Church is not the first such case and certainly won’t be the last either.

The scene of a lonely Gothic Revival church encircled by highrise apartments or commercial towers ten times its height is not uncommon in Hong Kong. Well known for its high urban density, many neighborhoods in Hong Kong appear like monotonous forests of highrise buildings. Engulfed in glittering reflections of curtain wall glazing, old churches in the city have become precious features. Each architectural detail is full of history, collective memories, and a melancholic beauty. Well worth checking out, several churches in the Mid-Levels represent some of the oldest surviving structures in Hong Kong. Churches were some of the first permanent buildings constructed after the British arrived in 1841. The 180-year heritage of church architecture tells the story of Christianity in Hong Kong, which is as old as the city itself. Early missionaries, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, built churches and used Hong Kong as their base to spread the gospel in China and beyond. They also set up local charity networks, schools and hospitals, at a time when the colonial government had little interest in lives of the locals. Today, about 1.2 million Hongkongers or roughly 16% of the population are Christians. While churches and their affiliated institutions continue to thrive, some churches, like the Union on Kennedy Road, have reached the dilemma on how to compete and expand in the era of tremendous commercialism and sky-high property value. Each big decision a church makes may lead to the daunting risk of losing a part of Hong Kong’s architectural heritage. Every time a historical church is being torn down and moved into one of the city’s 9000+ highrise buildings, it represents one irreplaceable loss for not just today’s Hongkongers, but for the next generations to come.

Union Church (佑寧堂) was founded by Reverend James Legge (理雅各), a Scottish member of the London Missionary Society, who was also the founder of Ying Wa College (英華書院), and suggested the government to set up Queen’s College (皇仁書院) in Hong Kong. Union Church began with a English chapel on Hollywood Road, then moved to the intersection of Staunton Street and Peel Street, before relocated to 22A Kennedy Road (堅尼地道). [Photograph of the second generation Union Church at Staunton Street and Peel Street in Central, by John Thomson Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Union chapel, Hong Kong. Photograph by John Thomson, 1868/1871. 1868 By: J. ThomsonPublished: 1868/1871. CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0%5D
The 4th generation Union Church was considered as a unique example of Modernist architecture from mid-20th century. After 68 years of service, the building was demolished for luxurious real estate development. [Photographed by Ceeseven, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]
Opened in 1849, St John’s Cathedral (聖約翰座堂) at Garden Road (花園道) was one of the first permanent buildings erected in the city. As an Anglican place of worship, the cathedral is the only building in Hong Kong granted with a freehold land ownership by the British colonial government. [Photograph by William Pryor Floyd, Public Domain, 1873]
Being the seat of Archbishop of Hong Kong, St John’s Cathedral is the oldest Anglican cathedral in the Far East. The bell tower is decorated with a VR motif at the west face to commemorate the reign of Queen Victoria during which the church was founded. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
The timber roof structure of the cathedral is a rarity in Hong Kong. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
Behind the Altar stands the Bishop throne, choir stalls, High Altar and East Window. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
The font in the north transept dates back to 1890. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
St John’s Cathedral features stained glass windows created by William Morris from England. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
Today, St John’s Cathedral is nestled in the midst of government and commercial buildings of Central. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
Swiss priest Theodore Joset established a parish in 1842, and established the first Catholic church at the intersection of Pottinger Street and Wellington Street. The church was named Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (聖母無原罪主教座堂). After the church was destroyed by fire, a new cathedral with twin steeples was rebuilt at the same spot. [Second generation of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at the upper left with its twin steeples. [Photograph by John Thomson, 1868/1871, Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org, CC BY 4.0]
The third Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (聖母無原罪主教座堂) was completed in 1888 at a site above Caine Road (堅道). [Photograph of Henry Rue Collection. Image courtesy of Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library, University of London (www.hpcbristol.net), (CC BY_NC_ND 4.0), 1910’s]
Instead of a grand plaza or lush green lawn, the city’s main Catholic church, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is now tightly surrounded by luxurious apartments, as well as the Caritas complex (明愛), a Catholic social welfare group, and Raimondi College (高主教書院), a Catholic school. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2021]
The church was consecrated in 1938, 50 years after it was opened when the cathedral was free from debt of its US$15,400 construction cost. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2021]
The cathedral was spared from plunder and serve damages in WWII. The Japanese treated the Prefecture Apostolic as under the sovereignty of Italy, with whom Japan was not at war with. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2021]
The shrine of Virgin Mary Mount behind the cathedral is a popular spot for Catholics to stop by. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2014]
The cathedral interior is designed in the cruciform form of the Latin cross. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2014]
Defined as the main focal point in the cathedral, the Grand Altar represents the memory for Jesus Christ. Relics of Chinese Martyrs, Pope John Paul II and Blessed Gabriele Allegra (first translator of Chinese Catholic Bible) are some of the treasures kept in the cathedral. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2014]
The first organ in the cathedral was built by William George Trice in 1889. It was extensively rebuilt by W.C. Blackett in 1921 and 1938. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2014]
In the evening, the cathedral is lit up with beautiful flood lights. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2020]
St. Joseph’s Church at Garden Road stands out from the residential apartments of the Mid Levels further above. This Catholic church is the third structure on the site, where Rev. Timoleon Raimondi founded the first St. Joseph’s Church in 1872. [St. Joseph Church, intersection of Garden and Kennedy Road, Mid Levels, 2021]
Design by architect Peter K. Ng in 1966, St. Joseph’s Church exhibits interesting modernist features on its facades. [St. Joseph Church, intersection of Garden and Kennedy Road, Mid Levels, 2021]
St. Joseph’s Church is one of the busiest Catholic church in Hong Kong with 10 masses on every Sunday. [St. Joseph Church, intersection of Garden and Kennedy Road, Mid Levels, 2017]
Reverend James Legge (理雅各) of London Missionary Society founded the English church Union Church, and also Hong Kong’s Ying Wa College (英華書院) in 1843, a school where local Chinese could come for Christian services. This led to the founding of To Tsai Church (道濟會堂), the first independent Chinese church on Hollywood Road. In 1921, To Tsai Church moved to Bonham Road (般咸道) and renamed as Hop Yat Church (合一堂). [Hop Yat Church, Bonham Road, Mid Levels, 2021]
Construction of Hop Yat Church (合一堂) took several years and went along with the expansion of the adjacent Nethersole Hospital (那打素醫院), also owned by London Missionary Society. [Hop Yat Church, Bonham Road, Mid Levels, 2021]
Hop Yat Church stands prominently as a Gothic structure decorated with bands of bricks. [Hop Yat Church, Bonham Road, Mid Levels, 2021]
Completed in 1932, Kau Yan Church (救恩堂) of Lutheran Christianity is another historical church worth preservation. Theodore Hamberg and Rudolph Lechler of Basel Mission based themselves in Sai Ying Pun to spread the gospel in Hakka and Chiu Zhou in China. Theodore Hamberg founded a Hakka church in 1851, and acquired a piece of Sai Ying Pun land in 1852. In 1860’s Rudolf Lechler urged the government to settle Hakka people in the area, and the Hakka people became the basis of the church. In 1927, the local Tsung Tsin Mission of Hong Kong (基督教香港崇真會) was founded at the church. A new church was built in 1932 known as Kau Yan Church. [Kau Yan Church, Intersection of High Street (高街), Third Street (第三街), and Western Street (西邊街), Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
Gothic details of the outer wall reflect the trend of the 1930’s. [Kau Yan Church, Intersection of High and Western Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
Designed by Palmer & Turner Group (公和洋行), Kau Yan Church has become a prominent monument in Sai Ying Pun. [Kau Yan Church, Intersection of High and Western Street, Sai Ying Pun, 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]

STONE WALL TREES (石牆樹), Central-Western District (中西區), Hong Kong

Entangling roots stretch across the surface of granite walls might remind people of the Ta Prohm Temple at Angkor Wat instead of the city of Hong Kong. Commonly known as “Stone Wall Trees” (石牆樹), the urban scenery of Chinese Banyan (Ficus microcarpa 細葉榕) enrooted on historical granite walls is a unique scene in Hong Kong, especially in Central-Western District where the heart of the old Victoria City was located. In 1841 when the British first landed in Hong Kong, the bare, rocky and hilly terrain of the island posed a huge challenge for establishing a settlement. Apart from land reclamation along the coast, the British also create habitable land by constructing flat terraces on the slope of Victoria Peak (Tai Ping Shan 太平山). From the mid 19th century onwards, local granite was used to construct retaining walls for the terrace constructions. To make the relatively bare island more habitable, trees were planted across the city to provide shade and visual interest. Many foreign tree species from other British colonies such as India and Australia were brought to Hong Kong. Due to its suitability to the local climate and ability to grow rapidly, Chinese Banyan (細葉榕) were widely planted. From these banyan trees, birds and bats ate the figs and spread the seeds all over the city, and into stone joints of the retaining walls. This led to the birth of the stone wall trees.

In 1996, scholar C.Y. Jim found 1275 trees with 30 or so species on about 505 stone walls. Ficus Microcarpa or Chinese Banyan is the most common type of stone wall trees. With hardly any soil to clinch into, these banyans take the wall as their host and spread their intertwining roots on the stone surfaces. After 50 to 100 years, these banyans gradually mature into shading crowns that we see today. Many of these old stone wall trees have survived to the present day, especially in Central – Western District which contains the city’s largest concentration of stone wall trees. The emergence of stone wall trees in Hong Kong, however, was no coincidence. Perfect climate conditions, suitable stone wall surface, and some good fortune of surviving the WWII when many old trees were cut down by the Japanese for timber, all played a part in the story of stone wall trees. After WWII, stone was soon replaced by concrete for retaining wall construction. Concrete walls left little room for new trees to enroot themselves by chance. After a few generations, the resilient stone wall trees have become iconic features for various old neighbourhoods.

Despite over a century serving to improve the micro-climate of the city, cultural and ecological significance of the stone wall trees have gone unnoticed until the recent two decades. In light of the government’s intention to demolish the former Police Married Quarters (PMQ) and its iconic stone wall trees in 2005, the local resident group “Central and Western Concern Group” was formed to fight for preserving the stone wall trees as well as the heritage building. Not only has their effort succeeded in convincing the government to preserve the PMQ, they have also increased the public awareness of the stone wall trees. In 2007, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) decided to relocate a proposed exit for the new Kennedy Town Station in order to preserve the stone wall trees at Forbes Street. The admirable effort decisively preserved the largest concentration of stone wall trees in Hong Kong. Though not all cases were success stories. In 2015, five 150-year old stone wall banyans at Bonham Road were fell sneakily overnight, just because one of their neighbouring trees toppled some time ago due to heavy rain. In name of public safety, the five healthy trees were cut down before the arrival of a potential typhoon. No detailed study was made before the decision, and that particular typhoon didn’t even come close enough to pose any thread. The hasty action of the government led to a huge loss for the community and sparked public outcry. More and more people become aware that there is an urgent need to develop a strategic plan for protecting these unique urban stone wall trees before it is too late.

With a crown stretching over 28m, the Rubber Fig at Lugard Road on the peak of Tai Ping Shan is a popular attraction for selfies. Origin from India and Malaysia, Rubber Fig (Ficus elastica, 印度榕) were planted in Hong Kong to provide shade during the colonial era. [Lugard Road (盧吉道), The Peak (太平山), 2021]
The aerial roots of Chinese Banyan may look out of place in the city. [Caine Road (堅道), Mid-Levels (半山), 2020]
An old Chinese Banyan is a great shade provider. [Hollywood Road Park, (荷李活道公園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2020]
The old Chinese Banyans in Blake Garden define the tranquil character of Po Hing Fong in PoHo, Sheung Wan. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2020]
The odd gesture of the Chinese Banyan in Blake Garden is said to be resulted from a typhoon. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
With a crown spread of 28m, the enormous Chinese Banyan in Blake Garden stands like a giant. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
Chinese Banyan is native in China, tropical Asia and Australia. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
Chinese Banyan is very versatile and can enroot in a wide range of urban setting, including manmade slopes in the city. [Victoria Road, Kennedy Town (堅尼地城), 2020]
Quite a number of Chinese Banyans have become stone wall trees. [Tank Lane (水池巷), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
Stone wall trees form a unique urban scenery in the Central Western District in Hong Kong. [Between Bonham (般咸道) and Hospital Road (醫院道), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
All residents in the Central Western District are used to having the stone wall trees around. [High Street (高街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
Stone wall trees are great to provide shade along narrow sidewalk where there is absolutely no room for tree planting. [Caine Road (堅道), Mid-Levels (半山), 2020]
The entangling roots is part of the urban scenery. [Caine Road (堅道), Mid-Levels (半山), 2020]
Wherever there is retaining wall and terraced alleyway, there would be stone wall trees. [Tai Pak Terrace (太白臺), Kennedy Town (堅尼地城), 2020]
In many occasions, the stone wall tree is inseparable with the history and heritage of the stone wall itself. Built in 1850, this stone wall has supported the terrace for the Anglican Bishop’s House and the old St. Paul’s College for 170 years. [Ficus virens (大葉榕) at the Bishop House and St. Paul College, Lower Albert Road (下亞厘畢道), Central, 2021]
Local efforts to save the stone wall trees at the former Police Married Quarters (PMQ) in 2005 have raised public awareness on preservation of heritage buildings and old trees. [Stone wall trees and retaining wall of the PMQ along Hollywood Road (荷李活道), Central, 2020]
In 2015, five 155-year old stone wall trees at Bonham Road (般咸道) were sneakily cut down by the government in midnight. The move has sparked public outcry, especially from the immediately neighborhood. Since then, new branches have emerged from the tree stumps, once again providing shade for the bus stop below. [Junction of Centre Street and Bonham Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
Inflected by fungus Phellinus noxius, a prominent stone wall tree over Hospital Road (醫院道) has been diagnosed with Brown Root Rot Disease. The tree is now at risk of structural deterioration and failure. [Near the junction of Hospital Road and Bonham Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
Manmade structural supports have been installed recently to secure the inflected stone wall tree. [Near the junction of Hospital Road and Bonham Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
The 27 banyan trees at Forbes Street (科士街) is one the largest groups of stone wall trees in Hong Kong. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
In 2007, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) decided to relocate a proposed station exit in order to preserve the stone wall trees at Forbes Street. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
The penetrating ability of their roots make Chinese Banyans the perfect species to thrive on stone walls. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
Built in the 1890’s, some say the Chinese Banyans at Forbes Street were planted intentionally to strengthen the stone retaining wall. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
Another well known cluster of stone wall trees is found at King George V Memorial Park (佐治五世紀念公園) in Sai Ying Pun (西營盤). [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
King George V Memorial Park is located across the street from Tsan Yuk Hospital The park’s retaining walls is famous for the stone wall trees. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
Built in 1936, King George V Memorial Park was built following the death of King George V of Britain. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
35 stone wall trees lined along the retaining walls of King George V Memorial Park. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
With a football pitch, childcare centre and seating areas, the park is a popular destination in Sai Ying Pun. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The atmospheric park entrance is a popular spot for film shooting. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The Chinese Banyans provide pleasant shade for the exercise terraces along Hospital Road. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
After 85 years, the metal plaque is almost covered by the banyan roots at King George V Memorial Park. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]