Towards a value-driven discourse of Heritage Conservation


Joshua Lam 林偉瀚 (Shortlisted)

Research and design can provide an alternative methodology to the current heritage conservation framework in Hong Kong, offering a structured assessment that recognises arrays of tangible and intangible value for discussion in the public realm and for the basis of design.

Adding value

According to the internationally recognised Guidelines on Education and Training in the Conservation of Monuments, Ensembles and Sites (1993), conservation requires the ability to observe, analyse and synthesise. 1 Having a systematic approach and a framework identifying the opportunity and threat of a heritage site are the foremost priorities. The current heritage conservation framework of the Antiques and Monuments Office (AMO) has six criteria: historical interest, architectural merit, group value, social value and local interest, authenticity and rarity. 2 This framework provides a means for generating a general assessment. But we also need the opportunities to identify any detailed correlation between tangible elements and intangible values in ways that can allow for the timely preservation of relevant intangible values and for comparisons across heritage projects.

A ‘value assessment matrix’ offers a way of forming a structured consideration of physical heritage at different scales, from urban, architecture, services and artifacts, against series of intangible values. 3 As well as social values, commemorative values and various intangible values, the matrix for Bishop Hill also recognises the conflict value formed by the inherited tension of a heritage site. The site’s conflict value arises from the public sentiment generated by the destruction that took place, which paid a role in strengthening the significance of the heritage. The damaged vault represents the moment when public awareness of the need to save the heritage arose that is not accounted under other frameworks. The value assessment matrix matches physical architecture with latent value and stories for curation of heritage experience thereafter.

Intangible values reflect the relative rather than the absolute and objective metrics such as age. Derived from present-day perceptions and contemporary public concerns, such intangible values can be fluid and contested. They also reflect the idea that heritage should be remain a living monument (lebendig) of our time and opinion. 4

Changing times, changing needs

Establishing the value of Bishop Hill underground cistern through a value assessment matrix leads to a concrete premise for architectural invention and the narration of its heritage story. Respecting the context of the water retaining structure, the proposal preserves water as an indispensable value of the cistern and reiterates for contemporary recreational needs of the community as a scaled-back pool, referring to the vibrant communal recreation space network on the Bishop Hill. The historical context of water is authentically preserved, while a piece of obsolete infrastructure is adapted to the changing needs of changing times. With the watery context of the cistern retained, it becomes a communal genre and living monument. An organic pathway swiftly characterises pools of different ambiences: a pool where visitors can appreciate the waterworks’ heritage; communal steps where people can move and chat under monumental archways; crescent architecture on the ground signifying the scale of this previously hidden gem.

Architecture as the archaeology of the future

Building upon the valued and spirit of the Bishop Hill Cistern, a value assessment matrix can point towards finding value-adding conservation methods instead of a passive restoration of an as-found heritage site. Architecture becomes an act of conservation and adaptive-reuse: ‘konservieren, nicht restaurieren’. In another century, when the cistern is again rediscovered by future archaeologists, traces of habitation would layer the site, first in the infrastructure of the waterworks cistern, then in the overlayers of communal adaptation, reflecting the site’s story over time.

Joshua Lam is an architect at HOK.
林偉瀚在 HOK 擔任建築師。

¹ ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), Guidelines on Education and Training in the Conservation of Monuments, Ensembles and Sites, ICOMOS, Paris,1993.
² Antiques and Monuments Office, Historic Buildings in Hong Kong [website], <>, accessed on 25 September 2021.

³ Marieke Kuipers & Wessel de Jonge, Designing from Heritage: Strategies for Conservation and Conversion. TU Delft – Heritage & Architecture, Delft, 2017.

⁴ Miles Glendinning, The conservation movement: a history of architectural preservation: antiquity to modernity. Routledge, London, 2013.

With the watery context of the cistern remained,
it becomes both a communal genre and living monument.

Destructed vault celebrated for its conflict value as identified in the Value Assessment Matrix,
commemorating the public effort in preserving the heritage.