Government Hill – For sale or not for sale?

November 29th, 2010 atam Posted in Building, Heritage No Comments »

Government Hill, where the current Central Government Offices are, is a heritage site: it has been the seat of the government ever since the earliest days of our city.

The administration has announced plans to sell the west half of the site to a developer for an office and retail complex after relocation of CGO to Tamar at the end of 2011. It cites the need for more office supply in Central and the land premiums it can earn to finance new infrastructure.

Others object to the demolition of West Wing and the excavation of the hill for the unnecessary waste or are concerned over traffic, conservation and public space issues. What is in the long-term interest of Hong Kong’s community?

Date: 4 December 2010 (Saturday)
Time: 10:00am-12:30pm
Place: Fringe Club, Ice House Street, Central


Ken Borthwick, conservation architect
Annelise Connell , Save Our Shorelines
Simon Chu, Former Director of Government Archives
Winston Chu, Advisor of the Society for the Protection of the Harbour
Rachel Cartland, Fellow of Community Development Initiative

To reserve a free seat email boxoffice(at) or call 2521 7251.

Musketeers to the police quarters’ rescue

November 22nd, 2010 atam Posted in Building, Heritage No Comments »

A proposal submitted by Musketeers Education & Culture Charitable Foundation Ltd for the turning the former Police Married Quarters on Hollywood Road into a “creative industries landmark” to be called “PMQ” has been selected by the government.

Musketeers Foundation, which will be offered a ten-year fixed term tenancy, renewable for another five; will run the project with the support of Hong Kong Design Centre, Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Vocational Training Council’s Hong Kong Design Institute. Work on the project is due to start in 2012 and be finished in 2014.

The project will retain the two quarters blocks and provide studios for retailing creative products, an indoor multi-function activity hall, about 2,000 sq m of outdoor open space, a resource centre, rooms for artists-in-residence, an interpretation area displaying the remains of the former Central School, a landscaped open area and commercial facilities such as food and beverage outlets. The Government will spend HK$420 million on the primary renovation of the project while the Musketeers Foundation will bear the costs incurred beyond the primary renovation, as well as the costs of interior decoration and daily operation.

Another old cha chaan teng bites the dust

October 2nd, 2010 atam Posted in Building, Food, General, Heritage No Comments »

Bye bye Hoi Wan cha chaan teng. Located near the western end of Central Market, on Gage Street, Hoi Wan was a small “ice room” that played host to quirky little exhibitions of historical Hong Kong industrial objects. Though not as famous for the cha chaan teng at the other end of the market, which is known for its “panty hose” milk tea, Hoi Wan’s milk tea was in fact smoother. It had a limited menu typical of “ice rooms”, but enjoyed a loyal clientele.

Now, another piece of Hong Kong’s heritage is gone.

Is blanket redevelopment the only option?

September 28th, 2010 atam Posted in Building, General, Heritage No Comments »

Graham Street is one of the oldest street markets in Hong Kong. Located in Central with unique low-rise buildings and rows of hawker stalls along narrow streets, the market is a good example demonstrating city vitality. Yet, Graham is now facing a complete destruction under the name of redevelopment.

The Urban Renewal Authority (URA) is planning to redevelop Graham Street and Peel Street. The proposed scheme has raised serious questions on whether redevelopment can achieve what URA claims “preserving the local physical street character and its atmosphere at Graham Street” and “preserving a variety of hawking activities at Graham Street, Peel Street and Gage Street”. Some key features of the URA scheme are summarized below,

  • Four massive towers, including two residential blocks, a hotel and an office tower, will be built on the site
  • It involves the destruction of the open street market and the surrounding heritage
  • Small businesses around will be replaced by upscale chain shops

Obviously, URA is carrying out redevelopment in a blanket approach: simply replacing old buildings with high rise buildings, filling the area with chain stores instead of allowing small businesses to survive, destroying historic neighborhoods and disrupting local communities which take decades to build up.

Yet, if redevelopment is an unavoidable process of city, is blanket approach the only option? Facing the expansion of shopping malls, how can we preserve our vulnerable street markets? Come and share your views in our “Is Blanket Redevelopment the Only Option? –The Story of Graham”

Date: 4 October 2010 (Monday)
Time: 7:00-9:00 pm
Venue: CDI Engagement Room – Room 2102, 21/F, 148 Electric Road,Tin Hau, Hong Kong

Sharing Guest:
Katty Law, Convener of Central and Western Concern Group
Peter Cookson Smith, Chairman, Public Affairs Committee, The Hong Kong Institute of Planners
Paul Zimmerman, CEO of Designing Hong Kong
Sujata Govada, Managing Director of Urban Design & Planning Consultants Limited
Oren Tatcher, Architect

Reservation: Send your name and contact number to event(at)

Different degrees of cheating

May 13th, 2010 atam Posted in General, Greenwash, Heritage No Comments »

The gentleman was right and I was wrong.

Hearing that I’d just alerted the police to a fake monk defrauding tourists near the Peak Tram, he sniffed at the inconsequential act. Why did I begrudge the fake monk his little scam, when one on a much larger scale is perpetrated on tourists every day?

Look at all the fake attractions. Sun Yat Sen had nothing to do with Sun Yat Sen Museum; it was originally the residence of a Eurasian family, and the whole “Sun Yat Sen trail” leading up to the museum has none of the original places where Dr Sun had lived, learnt or conferred with fellow revolutionaries. But of course, tourists can follow the spanking new retro-looking railings and plaques all the way up the hill.

Look at the old Marine Police headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui. Hey, the heritage structure has been ‘revitalised’! Signal Hill couldn’t signal its distress as the Cheung Kong bulldozers levelled it to make way for its till-ringing shoppers’ paradise, and now nothing but a handful of banyans the developer was forced to keep remained, looking lonesome and grasping for breath.

Or how ’bout Murray House, once taking pride of place in Central with the waters of Victoria Harbour lapping at its base. The stones that made up the original facade were taken to Stanley for such a ‘restoration’ that even the ghosts of those tortured inside by the Japanese during the war must be scared to go on haunting it.

The fake monk promises nirvana; the government promises a visitors’ paradise. In both cases, the tourists just go home with lungs full of foul air.

No vision, no progress

April 18th, 2010 Mar Posted in Articles, Building, Heritage No Comments »

The April 2010 issue of  architecture and design magazine Perspective Monthly contains a transcript of its annual Green Roundtable, which brought together five local professionals to discuss Hong Kong’s progress towards becoming a sustainable city.  There are different views on the roles of the government, the private sector, and consumers in creating the movement towards a sustainable community.  This is surely an important debate, but one that will be in vain unless we can agree on what the goal is.

The roundtable pointed out that one of the glaring absences in Hong Kong is the lack of a master, integrated plan for a sustainable city.  For a city of this size and wealth, Hong Kong’s lack of a strategic vision in sustainability may be exceptional. Not only do we lose the opportunity to openly discuss what we want as a community going forward – thereby clearing space for bureaucrats to create their own visions together with their various friends and interest groups—but we also lose the chance to question whether the current institutions are sufficient to get us there. Singapore, KL, Seoul and most of the major metropolises in China have it — where does that leave Hong Kong?

More about the magazine and a preview of the current issue is available here

The right to be a critic – and the responsibility

March 10th, 2010 Mar Posted in Building, Heritage No Comments »

From time to time, authors of a blog or any occasional commentator may ask or be asked: what gives you the right to criticism? One response (or rationalization) is that good criticism is actually a contribution to the development of the idea, or artwork, or subject.

Following the end of the HK Shenzhen Biennale and in the run up to Artwalk and the MAN Literary Festival, questions about the role of criticism in the development of arts and audiences are rightly also in the air. A panel discussion last night, co-organized by Muse Magazine and HKU’s Department of Journalism and Media Studies, shed some light on the issues. (more about the panel here)

On the question of “who can be a critic,” Christian Caryl (currently at HKU) suggested that critics must have two prerequisites: knowledge and passion. Common sense, we might think —no one appreciates a purported critic who bears only opinion or only facts. Unwritten is the third prerequisite of criticism:  sincerity. Any critic who comes at a topic with “ulterior motives” may be vilified even more than one who is ignorant.

The proposition becomes more relevant when one realises how close arts criticism is to social (or political) criticism in Hong Kong. This stems at least partly from the fact that the government, for all its “free market” rhetoric , is highly involved as benefactor, regulator and participant in any number of markets which influence the development of arts, culture and society.  Recent discussions about preserving heritage, reclamation and the Harbourfront, redevelopment of old buildings, and the funding for the West Kowloon Cultural District are just a few cases in which the government has taken sides.

Due to the sums involved and the profit potential of contracts and grants, there will be many commentators, including those backed by position, money and institutions. Certainly they will have many opinions.  We should ask whether they also meet the other two criteria :  sincerity and knowledge.

On the other side, and in view of the government’s track record in taking public opinion and public consultations into account in policymaking, we members of the public should ask ourselves : in issues where we may be knowledgeable, passionate, and sincere, are we doing our best to make our views heard and to have an impact? Forums such as this one are a start. What else will make a difference?

Conserving Murray Building? Aha, gotcha!

March 3rd, 2010 atam Posted in Building, Heritage 1 Comment »

We are familiar with our government’s inventive forecasting, be it the future traffic flow of new roads or expected revenue of theme parks, but there’s one trick we may have only just woken up to.

Here’s how it works: under the section titled “Conserving Central” in his 2009 policy address, Chief Executive Sir Donald Tsang said the government would, “taking into account the special style of this building and its premium location, .. recommend converting [Murray Building] into a hotel through open tender”.

Hey presto. Conservationists and greenies hailed its inclusion on the list and the plan to retain this 40-year old building, the design of which provides natural sunshading and has garnered it an energy efficiency award. With the Development Bureau providing artist’s impressions of what the converted interior would look like, the illusion was complete: this was to be a project to be cared for by the government or its agencies, though operated by the private sector.

So not a few people, including members of the Town Planning Board, got rather a bit of a surprise when the announcement came that Murray Building will in fact be sold to a private developer, along with the adjacent 370-square-metre plot of land.

Apparently the tender and “land lease” – yes, the government really is getting rid of it – will require the successful bidder to preserve the building’s exterior design and the trees on site – but the developer will not be required to submit its master layout for TPB approval nor will the government bother to monitor its maintenance.

Can it be called bait-and-switch, or simply being economical with the truth? Is it good governance, to deliberately muddy the waters with such an ambiguous choice of words and inclusion in a section on conservation?

Fancy the private, informal meetings in which officials assured their developer friends: “Don’t worry, we’ll put it up for sale.”

Oh to be a fly on the wall of these meetings.

Going, going, gone

February 24th, 2010 atam Posted in Building, Heritage 1 Comment »

You don’t find too many Art Deco buildings in Hong Kong, but these fine examples on On Lan Street in Central are set to be demolished, to make way for yet another shopping mall, courtesy of Henderson Land – the developer which is preparing to hike the price of its latest offering some more.

The wreckers are in, as the photo indicates. The buildings are boarded up or scrawled with blessings builders typically use at the start of a project. Hong Kong Magazine said the street was under threat; no it’s not, because it’s already a done deed. How much money is enough for Hong Kong’s developers?


Street Culture: Art + Design + Activism

January 19th, 2010 DesigningHK Posted in General, Heritage No Comments »

The facts: Since 1997, Chinese people are no longer leaving Hong Kong in droves; since SARS in 2003, people are more conscious about their environment; in 2006 the government introduced the 5-day work week; in Hong Kong today the average living space is only 12 square metres
per person, and by 2030 one in four people will be aged 65 or over. So people’s attitudes to public space are changing; the demand for high-quality outdoor experiences is increasing, and the city’s street culture is set to be transformed from transport to recreation.

Join this forum with designers, planners, artists and academics to discuss art, design, activism and the forces that are shaping Hong
Kong’s street culture.

Place: Fringe Theatre
Date: 23 January 2010
Time: 10:00am-12:30pm

Join a debate on Saturday with Henry Steiner (Designer), Benny Chia (Arts administrator), Law Man-lok (Artist), Mirana May Szeto (Literature), Tony Lam (Architect) and Oscar Ho (Curator). Call 2521 7251 to reserve your free seat.