Prospects and Policies
for Hong Kong’s signboard streetscapes
Ken Fung 馮達煒 / Kevin Mak 麥憬淮
Hong Kong’s streetscapes are known for their layers of signboards. Maintaining them requires a sustainable development plan that is balanced with safety needs.
Before signboards were included in the Buildings Ordinance in 2004 and then in the implementation of Minor Works Control Systems in 2010, they were unregulated. Even today, with their rich cultural, historical, design and aesthetic values, they are controlled by a regulation that only focuses on the technical aspects of their dimensions and structure. As a result, most signboards before 2010 are technically illegal, and many have had to be taken down. Therefore, Hong Kong’s iconic streetscapes are rapidly disappearing.
Having reviewed the history of signboard-related regulations and policies and examined various forward-thinking policies from other parts of the world, we hope to explore how signboard streetscapes can be recognised as part of Hong Kong’s important urban heritage and a building element, once overlooked by our profession, that could play an integral role in telling the history and culture of Hong Kong’s architectural and urban environment. Parts of our current regulation and conservation system could be improved to incorporate ideas allowing for the preservation of signboards. We hope the recommendations we make can prompt not only public discussion of this issue but also an overall policy review leading to amendments in regulations and guidelines in the design and construction industry that will allow for valuable existing signboards to be kept and exciting new ones to be put up.
Policy recommendations from the study we are preparing include the separation of control for shop-signs and advertisement boards, the inclusion of historical, cultural or artistic evaluation in a ‘Signboard Validation Scheme’ and the creation of an assessment system that will allow for the preservation of historic signboards and funding for the conservation of signboards deemed to have significant value.
In 2017, we set up a signboard heritage concern platform dedicated to signboard preservation works with a website at streetsign.hk, an Instagram account at @streetsignhk and the Twitter handle @streetsignhk.
In addition to research on building regulations, the group also promotes signboard preservation by telling signboard owners about the current control system, rescuing and archiving signboards, and educating the public through social media and exhibitions.
* This research is supported and funded by the HKIA CPD Research Fund.
Tai Nan Street, photos taken in Dec 2015 vs Feb 2016 (Photo by Kevin Mak)