A White Box

Un Chau Street Sham Shui Po

Hong Kong’s prewar buildings number in the hundreds, yet the few of them that remain continue to be knocked down for mediocre new development. This photo compilation by Lee Chi-man is one of the clearest examples I’ve seen. Just a few years ago (the top photo appears to have been taken in 2003, during the SARS crisis), the northwest corner of Un Chau and Pei Ho streets in Sham Shui Po was occupied by a ramshackle but typically elegant example of early twentieth century Hong Kong architecture. Like many buildings built before World War II, it was in poor condition, but it stood its ground with remarkable grace. It had enormous potential for restoration.

The building that replaced it, a skinny apartment tower with a three-storey podium, is abysmally bland. More than that, it looks cheap; it was clearly a cash grab. If Hong Kong wasn’t so willing to sacrifice itself to developers looking for a quick buck, the local council or urban planning board could have insisted that the developer incorporate the old building into the podium of the new tower. It would have been entirely feasible, though expensive — an added cost that might have been considered had this been a luxury development in a more high-profile location, but not in a marginal neighbourhood like Sham Shui Po.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Monday August 31 2009at 05:08 am , filed under Architecture, Asia Pacific, Heritage and Preservation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

2 Responses to “A White Box”

  • Karie says:

    That is such a shame.
    Is anybody doing anything to encourage restoration?

  • Christopher DeWolf says:

    Yes, there are organizations and advocacy groups that promote preservation and restoration. They’ve succeeded in raising awareness, to an extent. A number of historically significant buildings are currently being restored for community use, like a cinema that was abandoned for many years that is now being converted into a government-funded Cantonese opera house.

    But many so-called “restoration” projects end up stripping away much of the historic value of the buildings they’re supposed to save. One example is the Wan Chai Market, a streamline moderne building from the 1930s that was originally slated to be demolished, then saved; in the end its façade will be preserved and incorporated into the podium of a luxury apartment tower. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with the market — it was structurally sound, well-ventilated and quite large. But the government is hungry for money and it’s always willing to sell off any property it has in prime locations.

    The Conservancy Association and Designing Hong Kong are two of the most vocal advocacy groups. Gwulo is a good site with photos and other resources on HK’s built heritage.