Hong Kong Rooftops: The Pawn

Above, 1980s. Below, 2010. Compilation by Lee Chi-man

The fact that a row of prewar shophouses still stands on Johnston Road suggests we’ve entered a new chapter in Hong Kong’s history of urban development. Originally housing the century-old Woo Cheong Pawn Shop and other neighbourhood businesses, the shophouses were bought by the Urban Renewal Authority and incorporated into a property development that included the construction of a luxury apartment tower.

Now the buildings contain a high-end restaurant and café known as The Pawn, which takes its name from the Woo Cheong Pawn Shop, one of the building’s former tenants. Designed by Stanley Wong, its interior is a British colonial mash-up, with a menu to match (think English ale and fried pig’s ears).

Over the past year, I’ve interviewed dozens of people about things related to heritage, and The Pawn keeps cropping up as an example of how buildings shouldn’t be preserved. It’s historic preservation for the highest bidder — the shell of an old building maintained and converted into something with the veneer of history. The ultimate irony is that the Woo Cheong Pawn Shop is still around; it was forced to move down the street to make way for The Pawn.

There is one concession to those unable or unwilling to pay HK$180 for a plate of fish and chips. When the block was renovated, the shophouses’ fourth floor was converted into a rooftop terrace. In theory, it’s open to the public, but last year, the South China Morning Post revealed that The Pawn was discouraging public access, which prompted the URA to station an attendant there to greet visitors and explain the site’s history.

The roof is designed primarily to host parties and other private functions, but it’s a pleasant space with a lot of greenery and a nice view of the trams cling-clanging down Johnston Road. There are benches near the edge of the roof; they make for good places to sit and contemplate such weighty questions as heritage, urban renewal and gentrification.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Friday July 02 2010at 10:07 pm , filed under Architecture, Asia Pacific, Heritage and Preservation, Interior Space, Public Space, Society and Culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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