For Public and Culture
3 July 2021
10:15am – 1:45pm
Edited by Dacy Chow, Mavis Lee,
Weijen Wang 王維仁 (WW)
Professor, HKU Architecture
Thomas Chung 鍾宏亮 (TC)
Associate Professor, CUHK Architecture
Session 1: Reuse for Public
Alice Yeung 楊麗芳 (AY)
Assistant Director, Architectural Services Department
Brian Anderson (BA)
Director of Cultural Heritage, Purcell
Ray Zee 徐莊德(RZ)
Chef Designer & General Manager,
Nan Fung Group
Lesley Lau 劉鳳霞(LL)
Head of Art Promotion Office
Tony Lam 林中偉(TL)
Founding Director, AGC
Donald Choi 蔡宏興 (DC)
Session 2: Reuse for Culture
Nicky Wong 黃洪銓 (NW)
Chair, HKIA Heritage & Conservation
Humphrey Wong 黃德明 (HW)
Meta4 Design Forum Ltd
Billy Tam 譚漢華 (BT)
Director, Thomas Chow Architects
Roger Wu 胡燦森 (RW)
Executive Director, Project Development, Haw Par Music Foundation
Lawrence Mak 麥中傑 (LM)
General Manager, Urban Renewal Authority
Edward Leung 梁以華 (EL)
Former Chair, HKIA Heritage and Conservation
Using the Bishop Hill underground reservoir incident as a point of departure, the symposium focused on the theme of “Re-use” to call attention to timely issues of adaptive reuse, heritage conservation and redesign emerging in Hong Kong. The symposium was separated into two sessions, one on Re-use for Public, the other on Re-use for Culture. In the first session, projects including Tai Kwun, Central Market, PMQ, Oi! and The Mills were presented and discussed. In the second session, the panellists presented Green Hub, Jao Tsung-I Academy, Haw Par Music and 618 Shanghai Street. Both parts were also held on Zoom to allow members of the public to join the general discussion and interact with the panellists through Q&A sessions. The following pages present a thematic summary of the discussions following the presentations.
In recent years, interest in restoring and conserving historical buildings has become more prominent in both the government and the private sector with the introduction of the Revitalisation Partnership scheme. Tai Kwun, The Mills and Central Market are all fine examples of how buildings from the past can be restored for contemporary purposes. Through presenting different projects, panellists discussed the value of conservation and asked questions such as what is the value of ‘re-use’ in architecture, what difficulties did these projects face and how were their forms of ‘re-use’ negotiated and played out in a city that itself is always undergoing continual change.
Hong Kong has always been known for its rapid development. We tear down buildings without hesitation. We build our city with its global outlook for a future that emphasises efficiency and connectivity. But at what cost to its sense of aura, materiality, intimacy and daily life events? In this context, how can heritage buildings become part of the urban public space through adaptive re-use? How do we see the potential of its architecture for the city and the public? How important is authenticity in heritage preservation? How much of this past authenticity should be preserved for the present and future? How is the spatial experience of a neighborhood changed through development? How can musealization of historic buildings be avoided? WW
With the rediscovery of Bishop Hill Underground Cistern by citizens, ‘re-use’ once again became a topic for debate in Hong Kong. At a time when the city is facing dramatic change, re-use brings up the discussion of important values in terms of the built environment and heritage. Regarding the issue of what to do with old buildings, Rem Koolhaas from OMA curated an exhibition at the 2010 Venice Biennale in which he put forward provocative ideas on modern preservation that went beyond the two opposing positions – John Ruskin’s theory of authenticity and Viollet-le-Duc’s ideal of restoration. Koolhaas spoke about the importance of treating preservation as part of development in the future. Continuing such a discourse on preservation, we would like to explore the issues of reuse with respect to its benefits for the city and community in terms of public space and culture. TC
I would like to make this provocative because if everybody say it is correct, there is nothing to talk about. I agree that we all do this for people, but who do we do it for? That is an issue. How can architecture do better to facilitate? These projects presented are all great, but I would also like panellists to share the struggle and considerations that you went through or things you regretted or even concerns you think you might face in future. Finally, you do not have to answer my questions because I would also like you to provoke questions from others. For example, Alice mentioned some views and criteria of diverse ways of handling conservation projects. WW
Architecture has four ways of handling adaptive re-use. As ‘archaeology’ in which you do not disturb what exists except for updating a building to meet statutory requirements. Green Hub by Thomas Chow Architects is a successful example of this. Another approach is ‘minimal intervention’, which is common among modern alterations. This method often involves the enhancement of building interiors. PMQ is an example of this. Tate Modern and even the Mills are also minimal interventions because the historical building has not been radically affected. The third principal is the ‘modern approach’, which ‘rebirths’ an old building. Herzog and de Meuron’s Elbphilharmonie Hamburg or Kolumba Museum by Peter Zumthor are such modern solutions applied to historical buildings. Lastly, we have ‘historical plus new structure’, which is popular with all architects, as we have seen. AY
For me, I do not see there being a single solution or a standard solution for adaptive reuse for historical buildings. Some historical buildings in the urban context contain high historical value. I don’t think we should touch these. But for other buildings with less historical value, new alterations should be encouraged.
In my opinion, the ultimate long-term goal of adaptive design is to reuse an existing structure to provide an opportunity for sustainable development.
For the community and the city, to recognise a reused building as urban design is also very important. A successful example does not only regenerate the historical structure itself but will also form a magnet and regenerate an urban environment to benefit the overall community. It should also allow the local community to understand local culture and historical values so it can demonstrate the continuity of history.
I think historical revitalisation projects should be expected to achieve an effect of dialogue between old and new, physically, spatially, cultural and spiritually.
I believe revitalisation is a community wish. But it also has several other features, such as emphasising historical and archaeological research, urban design strategy, connectivity to a district’s overall masterplan and allowing professionals to jointly formulate alternative plans that can show how to preserve historical elements and adapt for re-use as well. AY
Thank you. I consider PMQ successful because it has become a catalyst and trigger for all the changes around Central rather than just regenerating the existing structure itself. PMQ is one of our favourites because it is so authentic in the way the corridor and the kitchen area have been preserved and reused. The promotion of semi-indoor and outdoor spaces with cross ventilation instead of air-conditioning every space. The bridge connecting the two blocks could have been higher, which is my only concern. Still, it is acceptable. I think the ego of the architect was very carefully moderated in this project. I wonder if that was the intelligence of Alice or was it from Thomas Chow? Or was it about the public? Because if was the people, then we have hope. WW
Continuity in curating space
Carrying on the issue of public engagement, we are lucky to have Lesley with us today, since she is an art curator and the end-user of the reused building, Oil Street Art depot (Oi!). Lesley, can you tell us about what your team thinks about the space? Oi! is my favourite project in my favourite place in Hong Kong. The reason for this is that it hasn’t been ‘museumised’ – its authenticity has been kept. The building retains its daily life feeling and is now being reused for art for the local community. Someone from the government must have been intelligent or sensible to keep it and put it to this best use. WW
As an art curator, my main duty with the team in Oi! is to organise art projects in our facilities every year. Our team is not working in a museum like the Hong Kong Museum of Art whose facilities are mainly white cube galleries. We act differently from the common practice of art curators because of our very interesting space. We have only 20 percent indoor facilities – 80 percent are outdoors. So over time, we started to do things differently, even altering the existing fitouts, interior design and external design of our art spaces. We are grateful to our architects from the Architectural Service Department (ArchSD) for designing a very beautiful environment. However, over time, you may see a different appearance in Oi! as my team and working partners change things. For the second phase of Oi!, we conducted a series of public engagements with architects. In the end, we came up with an idea of a large outdoor space. Our proposal was to have a curator for this open public space. He/she would not necessarily to have an art background, but perhaps could be an architect, a designer or anyone who lives nearby. LL
Challenges in adaptive reuse
For me, the revitalisation of Central Market could have been done better. I wonder if people remember the original design with a sky garden and one additional storey above the existing market planned as community spaces. The idea was a juxtaposition of the old and new. However, due to financial constraints, the sky garden and communal space were dropped, resulting in a basic renovation of the market. Another problem we faced concerned building regulations. For example, we proposed to use the 24-hour passageway as an exit route, so reducing the number of staircases. As you know, the form of Central Market is a ring of open spaces surrounding a central atrium. In the end, new fireman’s staircases and building services were required. We would have had more usable space if we had been able to make use of the 24-hour passageway as a fire escape, but the Building Department refused our proposal. It was also very disappointing to have to add railings to the famous staircase as seen in Fan Ho’s photos. In conservation projects, building regulations are one of the factors that intervene in the design. However, the public may not notice or appreciate this. As Ray mentioned, people should be educated to appreciate these things. Even the building’s officers do not appreciate what we have been trying to do. Building regulations are essential for high-rise buildings, but can they be less strict for low-rise ones? Why do we have to provide excessive building services and facilities? TL
I observed that in Taiwan, conservation projects are managed better because building owners don’t have to over-provide. In Hong Kong, we must over-provide a lot of building services. That costs a lot of money, leading to unsustainable business plans because capital costs are too high. This discourages many owners of heritage buildings, especially those without support, making them decide to sell to developers. TL
The Building Ordinance is always there, so whatever we propose for historical buildings will also have to take into account means of escape, discharge numbers, loading, etc. Additional structures and building services are always required to satisfy the ordinance, affecting the potential of the intended scheme. The ordinance does not have enough flexibility for adaptive re-use projects, which means architects must spend more and more time on meetings and applications. There has been enough time for the system to mature, so now maybe we can initiate a conversation with the government about these difficulties instead of once again reviewing the same ordinance or practice notes. BT
What are the things that need addressing? Building regulations, or conservation regulations? MM
There are no conservation regulations in Hong Kong. TL
Adaptive re-use for buildings is complicated. On the heritage aspect, the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) will always have advice and comments, telling you that you need to retain existing fabric or structures, that you cannot change that door or this window. However, at the same time, when we go to the Building Department, we are told to follow the codes. It would be better if these two approval authorities could work together and provide an agreed set of comments that are consistent so as not to waste time for everyone. BT
Identity and association
We have been talking about building regulations, fire services, about building fabric and architectural character. Personally, I consider these aspects as being like the planks of the Ship of Theseus. To ask whether we alter a building’s services is like asking which plank to change? This might be the wrong question. My view is that we need to retain the association between a historical building and people. The values of a building are more important than its physical fabric. Future generations will interpret things and feel differently than we do, but they will still acknowledge the same values. TL
Tai Kwun was conceived and sponsored by the British. It was founded soon after the colonisation of Hong Kong, and it was clearly used to assert authority through its architecture, mass and operation. So I asked some Chinese friends of mine: ‘What do you make of this place? Do you see this site as a symbol of colonial oppression?’ You could see it that way. I am clear what the situation would be if our roles are revised. Thinking about it is embarrassing for me as a Brit. However, my Chinese friends said ‘No, we don’t see it like that. But even if we did, the fact is that it is part of our history and therefore it is part of our identity, and so it matters.’ I thought that was quite profound because it shows a generosity of spirit if nothing else. I’m not sure the English would possess the same quality. When we look at heritage revitalisation, we need to have our feet firmly on the ground and understand use and safety performance. These things are paramount. That is not to say we should presume to have a free rein for what we do with Hong Kong heritage.
We need to manage change sensibly because you need to have a sense of the past when you look into the future.
If you only look at one and not the other, you are missing out. That I think is really important. BA
Who do we do conservation for? Now we have this set of knowledge, these tools and the permission to keep something, are we building in order to be mercenary? Are we going to do whatever the person who pays us the highest fee wants or do we have our own ethical standards? I think this is the more important question, especially if we care about our community. We want to leave a better living environment for future generations. Obviously in the commercial world, there are a lot of pressure and economic incentives for us to sell our expertise. But now it is up to each of us to be true to our beliefs. Albert Speer was a great architect. He had all the skills, but he ended up working for an extreme dictatorship.
We need to be aware that our work is not just about architecture, but how we think architecture should contribute to humanity and our civilization. DC
How to re-use
When it comes to the re-use of a building, it has to be more about ‘how’ than ‘why’, especially ‘how to make it happen’. We need to approach every project with an attitude of sensitivity. I’m reminded of the continuity embodied by the Ise Jingu in Japan. Locals replace the timber and rebuild the shrine every 20 years. Thus tradition is preserved and continued, but not the actual material. Do we have a road map we can apply to all projects, or is every project different? How much can architects do? Working with people and users, do we have to find our limits and get others involved? TC
Haw Par was built in a time when there were a lot of buildings of a similar style. Its design reflected the growing Chinese population in the British colonial environment, creating an interesting chemistry of the two. To a certain extent, it suggests how all cultures could come together. PMQ has a similar background. It was the first police quarters provided by the British colonial government that included homes for Chinese officers. Its spirit reflects this. By analysing values, you pave the way to the future and how you interpret it. While we all talk about how we built PMQ to be fit for purpose, taking into account fire safety, kitchens and whatever, I think how we programme is as important. As well as physical functions, it is the function of the soul that matters.
For architects, we need to move beyond our comfort zone and familiar challenges about regulations and what they are all about. RW
I notice that nowadays more private developers and the government as well as the public do not only care about economic values. They are also aware of the needs of heritage projects and concerned about their social and historical value and the benefits they bring for the future. In the case of Bishop Hill, the public were overwhelmingly keen to know about the site’s prospects, which led to a lot of debate.
Bishop Hill offers an opportunity for the government and architects to consider how to make good use of the space but at the same time ensure that building regulations, requirements for fire safety and new additions will not destroy the space. DC
On the subject of ‘how’, do we have any news about how the Bishop Hill underground cistern will be conserved? TC
We had a chat with the Commissioner for Heritage about this recently. The government is convening a working party to look at the various issues. It should reach its conclusions around the end of this year. I suppose you might call this a development brief. What do we do with this structure? Do we simply conserve it as we find it and allow people to wander around this century-old structure? I think they will be looking for beneficial uses of the site. What form that might take depends largely on the views of different parties. This marks a change in attitude of the government in that it seems to be looking at things positively. BA
My sense is the government particularly was rather afraid of heritage in the past. It saw lots of risks and potentials for things happening. I get the sense that it is more relaxed now than it was. That’s a really encouraging sign. Mistakes are inevitable. We made lots of mistakes in the UK. But we learned from those mistakes, though it took some decades to do so. Obviously, people want to minimise the mistakes. However, by having an open and honest discussion about them across Hong Kong, everybody can contribute, including the public, stakeholders from this group and the government. Bishop Hill was one of those mistakes. It was being demolished before the public outcry stopped things. In the long term, how we manage episodes like those associated with Bishop Hill will be improved, even though they were learned in an unfortunate way. BA
Tsang Tai Uk, one of my favorite historical buildings in Hong Kong, is not a listed building. It hasn’t been renovated by the ArchSD or planned to be re-used. In the past 25 years, I have visited the place multiple times. What I experience and see gradually is the decaying of the building fabric because no one is managing the site. I also see many more buildings in Lai Chi Wo area which have been lucky enough to be kept in good condition as if time was frozen. What is next? Is there a way that some kind of lightweight conservation measures can be applied to these local village buildings? WW
Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme
The approach to heritage conservation in Hong Kong has been quite passive.
Architects and other relevant parties deal with a case whenever it comes up. For example, most of our projects are under the Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme (‘R’ scheme), in which suitable government-owned historic buildings are targeted and NPOs are invited to propose a use. Some developers these days have more incentives for heritage conservation, as we are seeing with the State Theatre, which is helping to preserve the city’s cultural icons and have them serve the community. TL
On the subject of ‘how’, do we have any news about how the Bishop Hill underground cistern will be conserved? TC
Sometimes the fatigue that comes from winning an ‘R’ scheme is problematic, such as happens when a non-government organisation (NGO) approaches you saying it would like your help to apply to take care of a certain site or historical building. However, as an architect, you are always under the drastic constraint of being unable to choose your client. Those who approach you might not propose the most ideal or ‘correct’ programme for a site or building. So even if you end up with the applicant who wins a project, you essentially might feel uncertain through the design stage to what you end up creating for the client and whether you should have continued doing it or not. HW
It is important to be aspirational. But, as Humphrey says, when that phone rings or you get an email from a potential client saying ‘I want to do X’, you know the extent of your choice is whether to say yes or no. It’s not easy. We always take the view that the buildings should decide what we do, not the business plan. But it is a brave soul who can stand up and say ‘Your idea is great, but not for this building. Maybe for another one.’ That would be a very hard conversation. BA
For any ‘R’ scheme, the architect’s role might not just be eing an architect. It could be for one of the directors, or one of the persons in charge of the project to set out the roadmap for the project. Architects doing this may face a conflict of interest. But Brian is right, we need to come out of our comfort zone and challenge existing practices. To a certain degree, we are most comfortable trying to resolve the problems of fire services, public access, handrails and so on, because that is what we are trained to do. Personally, I think we should get out and do something more engaged with other people’s needs. RW
Architect as champion or public as champion?
Every project needs a ‘champion’. It is very rare for the architect to be the champion. When you watch a television programme that features some heritage revitalisation project, rarely is it the architect who is being interviewed, though the architect is the creative engine of that process. We need to try to ensure that we are the ones advocating the value of conservation or adaptive reuse. We are all articulate people and care passionately about this. BA
I would like to elaborate more on the idea of a project ‘champion’. Nowadays, from the conservation standpoint, we need a wider variety of champions, not just politicians. For example, another recent conservation project was Lai Chi Wo Hakka Village. That wasn’t initiated by a politician or government department, but by young people and people from overseas who enjoyed an alternative way of living. We couldn’t have imagined that kind of champion 10 years ago. I expect we will see a wider variety of champions with different possibilities. HW
For Bishop Hill, it wasn’t the government who initiated conservation but people from the neighbourhood. I think this is very beautiful. There are so many beautiful things in our city. Architects and ordinary people have a sensitivity to keep them. Arcade streets, like the 618 Shanghai Street project, from an urban design perspective, form collective, urban spaces that can be preserved in some way. We are entering a different phase, I hope, of not just wanting to have a museum. WW
Champions can be from the project sector; they can from the government or be politicians. Carrie Lam was the champion for Tai Kwun. She was persuasive and in a strong political position – being Secretary for Development at that time. But what’s happening increasingly – and which coincidentally is also happening in the UK, is that the public are becoming the champions of conservation projects. When you get a groundswell of support for something, politicians tend to follow and so does private money. We all need to look to the public as stakeholders because ultimately they will make the biggest difference of all. This is because of their ability, simply because of their sheer numbers, to draw in the principal decision makers, be they political or from the private realm. BA
We have had very little hope for these projects until now because if more money could be made through redevelopment our chances of saving heritage buildings has been very limited. That is not our fault. Because Hong Kong is a very small place, it needs to be efficient. I have hope, though, because of projects like PMQ. If you look at some of the people who go to those places, they care. You need to travel 40 minutes to The Mills, through heat, pollution and noise. Once you get there you need to walk for 15 minutes along elevated walkways. The people you see there I will say are slightly alternative. They don’t have babies, but they have dogs. They might not eat at a three-star Michelin restaurant, but they are willing to spend $45 on a cup of coffee. They aren’t stereotypical, but they are surely unique. RZ
I think we were talking about the architects and the public being champions. How about the Urban Renewal Authority (URA)? Is 618 Shanghai Street a breakthrough for you? Or is there more room for improvement? TC
I would like to use two URA projects as examples to show that the URA has taken the initiative in the conservation of historical buildings. We commenced 618 Shanghai street and the Flower Market Cluster at the same time. Before starting, URA undertook a study and identified these two clusters area possibly the last remaining clusters of shophouses built before World War II in Hong Kong. Then, instead of asking the government to re-zone the cluster, the URA took out two parcels of land from the Outline Zoning Plan (OZP) and commenced our own project under the URA ordinance and development scheme. Probably, the government could do more to initiate development schemes under their inventory of historical buildings. At the same time, there should be opportunities to allow a more bottomup approach for more public involvement. LM
Responding to Lawrence’s bottom-up approach, I always like to propose that that local people create a map of the historical buildings in their own districts, identifying their location and the buildings’ value, and then inform the government and planning department to see if there is a chance of preserving them. I think we should go for a more pro-active approach that is more inclusive. TL
Questions from the audience
First, reusing the old gives an excellent opportunity to revitalise and explore old ways of building, going beyond the conservation of materials to enable the conservation of skills. Are there any interesting examples of skill interventions?
Second, as re-use projects are obviously about preserving history and heritage, how can we make them the norm? How can we make more people care? Are there roadmaps for change?
Third, can we justify cheap conservation adaptive reuse projects? TC
I would like to attempt to answer the third question. Green Hub was coordinated by Billy and me. When we started the layout and conservation design, we tried to do a better matchmaking of functions, that being the way to minimise the alterations and avoid any unnecessary new elements. We tried to stick with the original historical building fragments and see what functions were required by the user, Kadoorie Farm. How could the functional requirements match the building fragments? In the case of Green Hub, there was a quite proper matching of the proposed function to the original fragments. Such an approach can reduce the budget required for conservation projects. HW
Cost is sometimes about mentality. Some conservation projects tend to have a greater scale of refurbishment in order to restore buildings to their original look. Others prefer to reveal the original material and leave things such as tile cracks exposed. For some of our private clients, stone is usually preferred over tiles due to its better appearance. So it’s often the mentality that results in a higher cost. TL