ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “stone wall trees

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]

TEMPLE • SCHOOL • RESIDENCE • DESIGN CENTRE – REINCARNATION OF THE PMQ (元創方), Sheung Wan (上環), Hong Kong

Between Sheung Wan and Central lies a tranquil stepped alleyway known as Shing Wong Street (城皇街). In Chinese tradition, “Shing Wong” is the guardian deity of city wall, or in a broader sense, the patron saint of the neighbourhood. Shing Wong Street reminds us that there was once a Shing Wong Temple (城皇廟) stood at the site bounded by Shing Wong Street (城皇街), Staunton Street (士丹頓街), Aberdeen Street (鴨巴甸街), and Hollywood Road (荷李活道), a relatively large plot of land in the old Victoria City. Probably built in 1843 or earlier, some consider the former Shing Wong Temple the oldest temple in colonial Hong Kong. Its importance was soon overtaken by Man Mo Temple (文武廟) further down Hollywood Road. In 1870’s, Shing Wong Temple was temporarily converted into a mental health asylum. And then in the 1880’s the government bought the temple and redeveloped it into the new campus of Central School (中央書院), the city’s first upper primary and secondary school to provide modern education. The school was later renamed as Victoria College (維多利亞書院) in 1889 and later the Queen’s College (皇仁書院). Merchant tycoon Sir Robert Ho Tung, and Sun Yatsen, the Father of Modern China were some of the well known graduates from the college’s early years. The Neo-Classical college building was one of the most expensive construction projects in 19th century Hong Kong.

For half a century the splendid Queen’s College building stood proudly in Upper Sheung Wan, until 1941 when the school was forced to close down due to WWII. The building suffered devastating destruction during the war and became nothing more than ruins and rubble when the city was liberated from Japanese occupation. In 1948, the ruins were cleared to make way for a new era. In 1951, a functionalist building was erected for a completely different purpose: residential compound for the police force. Sitting on four levels of platforms, the Police Married Quarters offered about 170 dwelling units. The functionalist compound served its intended purpose for another half a century, until the last residents moved out in 2000. Subsequently the government rezoned the site for private residential development. The heritage site was at risk to be lost forever.

“Save the Trees” was the first slogan local resident Katty Law put up in 2005 to protest against the felling of the Hollywood Road “stone wall trees” of the Police Married Quarters. Among a few other residents from the local neighborhood, Law found a NGO known as Central and Western Concern Group (中西區關注組). The neighborhood group successfully persuaded the government to consider removing the site from residential redevelopment and engaging in archaeological examination of the site. The government agreed to study the site. This eventually led to discovering the historical foundation of the former Queen’s College. In 2009, the government finally announced preserving the former Police Married Quarters and revitalizing it into a hub for art and design that is known as PMQ today. In 2014, the PMQ reincarnated one more time. A glass canopy was constructed over the central court, where public events would now be held. The former residential units were retrofitted into studio spaces for selective tenants including designers, artists, galleries, fashion designers, jewellery designers, lifestyle shops, vintage stores, cultural institutions, cafes, bakeries, and restaurants. A new hub for tourists and art lovers has been reborn upon the legacies of a temple, school and police residence.

The name Shing Wong Street (城皇街) is the only reminder of the former Shing Wong Temple that once occupied the site of the PMQ in the mid-19th century. [Shing Wong Street as seen from the side platform of the PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Retaining walls surrounding the PMQ date back to the era of the former Queen’s College. [Stone wall trees at PMQ’s retaining wall along Shing Wong Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Protecting the stone wall trees on the retaining wall along Hollywood Road was the spark that inspired Katty Law to found Central and Western Concern Group, a NGO that focuses on protecting the neighbourhood heritage of Central and Western District. PMQ’s retaining wall is the most obvious remnant from the era of the former Queen’s College. [Stone wall trees on PMQ’s retaining wall along Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Bounded by Hollywood Road, Aberdeen Street, Shing Wong Street and Staunton Street, the former Queen’s College was one of the most important construction project in the city during the 1880’s. [Queen’s College along Hollywood Road with the sloped Aberdeen Street on the left, photograph by Arnold Wright, 1908, Public Domain]
A block further uphill from Hollywood Road, the PMQ is also accessible from Staunton Street in SOHO. The functionalist architecture from 1951 reflects a pragmatic and efficient living culture in the postwar era. [PMQ along Staunton Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
In contrast to the functionalist approach of the PMQ, the Neo-Classical architecture of the former Queen’s College (also named Victoria College) represented a distant era of the bygone Victoria City. [Junction of Staunton and Shing Wong Street, photograph published by Robert Crisp Hurley in 1897. Image courtesy of “Sixty Diamond Jubilee Pictures of Hong Kong”, University of Bristol (www.hpcbristol.net). (CC BY_NC_ND 4.0)]
To deal with the change of levels of the site, the PMQ is situated on a series of platforms defined by stone retaining walls. [The terracing PMQ complex as seen from Aberdeen Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Built in 1918, the underground public toilet at the junction of Aberdeen and Staunton Street was the only female underground public toilet in Hong Kong. Listed as an historical building, the facility is no longer in use. [Junction of Aberdeen and Staunton Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Serving as the main entrance and event space, the courtyard of the PMQ is accessible from the sloped Aberdeen Street. [The PMQ as seen from Aberdeen Street, Sheung Wan, 2019]
Before the Covid 19 pandemic, the PMQ courtyard often hosts large scale art installations, outdoor exhibitions or handicraft market. Inspired by the Chinese proverb “MAKE HAPPY THOSE WHO ARE NEAR AND THOSE WHO ARE FAR WILL COME,” the Gather for Gifts of Love Pavilion by British designer Morag Myerscough defined the entrance of the 2019 Christmas Bazaar. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2019]
During the Covid 19 pandemic, Littleurbanmountain Design (小市山設計) kept their rotating Christmas Trees in a “social distancing arrangement”. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Often, the courtyard features an introductory display for the main exhibit housed in the Qube exhibition block on the 2nd floor behind the courtyard. [Installation of the Hanzi Exhibition (漢字展), PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2018]
Under the glass canopy, large installation can reach up to about four storey high. Kaws, a famous American artist and designer, captured everyone’s attention with his enormous Mickey Mouse like clown figures in 2019. KAWS: Along the Way [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2019]
Further into the courtyard, two columns are enhanced with mosaic artwork by French street artist Invader and figure wall painting by local artist Little Thunder (門小雷). [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Historical foundations of the former Queen’s College can be visited by tour. Visitors can also have a peek of the foundations from the glass floor at the courtyard. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The cover area of the courtyard often hosts handicraft markets or live performances. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Chairs designed by Prouve, Wegner, Eames, etc. are on display near the main courtyard. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2020]
One level lower than the courtyard, the former Central Junior Police Call Clubhouse is now home to a fancy French restaurant managed by renowned Chef Julien Royer. [Central Junior Police Call Clubhouse, PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The recreational clubhouse of the former residence was converted into the Hollywood Road Police Primary School in the 1950’s, and then into the Central Junior Police Call Clubhouse in 1981. [Louise restaurant, PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Several cool looking concrete seats are placed on the lower platform of PMQ. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The stone retaining wall and its adjacent granite steps at the lower platform have been around since 1889. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Step art has been popular with selfies of visitors. The event “Hong Kong on Steps: Tales of Our City” regularly transform the 20 or so staircases into painting canvases. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
A handful of new features have been added during the conversion of PMQ into a public building, including signage. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Above the Qube exhibition block, a lush green roof garden on the 4th floor offers a pleasant resting area for visitors. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2014]
After a few years, a number of shop have moved out, complaining the lack of visitors at PMQ during weekdays. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Snacks and drinks are always the most popular way to engage visitors during festivals and events. [PMQ courtyard, Sheung Wan, 2018]
Striking the balance between an NGO and a retail complex has proven to be difficult. Many shops continues to seek for the right business model. Handicraft workshops or children art classes are some of the most popular way for the tenants to generate income. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Many old features, including the window frames and handles, are carefully preserved at PMQ. [PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2014]
We regularly go to Levain Bakery for their artisan sourdough bread. Sometimes, we would sit down at their balcony for breakfast. [Levain Bakery, PMQ, Sheung Wan, 2020]
SOHOFAMA promotes healthy eating and happy living, emphasizing on chemical-free, and local organic food. [PMQ at Staunton Street, Sheung Wan, 2014]
Sake Central has everything about sake, from the handmade cups to the sake products from all over Japan. [PMQ at Staunton Street, Sheung Wan, 2020]