Walk in Hong Kong, a local cultural enterprise, calls on the government to make the protection of post-war historic buildings, which is also commonly referred to as “modern architecture”, a policy priority for heritage conservation in Hong Kong.
Specifically, as we have called for in submissions to the public consultations respectively for the 2018-2019 Policy Address and 2019-2020 Budget, the government should allocate sufficient resources to the Development Bureau (DevB), the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO), the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) and any other related parties to undertake a territory-wide survey of historic buildings and sites completed post-1950 to identify, assess and grade those worthy of protection.
Furthermore, we ask the authorities to approach and carry out the survey the “right way”, and that must include, among other essentials, actively involving the input of a wide range of experts and the public, particularly with regards to the creation of new criteria for the assessment and grading of modern architecture.
In terms of the latest developments, according to publicly available information, the AAB chair told a South China Morning Post report published on 14 May 2019 that the AMO was “forming a seven-member team to conduct a preliminary study of post-war buildings”. Prior to that, at the March 2019 AAB meeting, the Commissioner for Heritage (C for H) said “AMO had commenced the preparatory work to study the feasibility of grading post-1950 buildings systematically. Yet, in view of the complexity and the large number of buildings involved (over 15 000 buildings were built from 1950 to 1979), the comprehensive study on the framework would take time”. The C for H had previously made similar remarks at a Panel on Development meeting at the Legislative Council in January 2019, and also at the September 2018 AAB meeting.
While we acknowledge that the subject of post-war historic buildings is now on the AMO’s agenda, the work in this regard appears to be moving just too slowly. Since late 2017, at least nine representative examples of modern architecture in Hong Kong have been demolished, are being demolished or are at risk of demolition. Only two of these nine buildings (Union Church on Kennedy Road and Garden Building in Sham Shui Po) have been assessed and graded. The numbers represent a very worrying trend, illustrating the urgent heritage risks facing modern architecture in Hong Kong.
This is why, while we understand that the authorities might have decided to prioritise the assessment and grading of the remaining items on the ‘1,444 Historic Buildings’ list, it is eminently clear that government has to decisively step up its efforts to protect Hong Kong’s modern architecture as a heritage conservation policy priority. In other words, work in this regard has to accelerate in parallel to the ‘1,444 Historic Buildings’ list work and be given equal – if not greater – importance.
In her speech to mark the 22nd anniversary of the establishment of HKSAR on 1 July, the Chief Executive said she would “ensure that the Government’s future work will be closer and more responsive to the aspirations, sentiments and opinions of the community. The first and most basic step to take is to change the Government’s style of governance to make it more open and accommodating”.
Later in remarks she made before the Executive Council meeting on 9 July, the Chief Executive said she would “reform the existing consultative machinery” and the government “should build more open platforms to facilitate dialogues in a very frank manner, and to make sure that whoever joins the committees or these dialogues come from different backgrounds, so they are not homogeneous of one group” and that it “can really receive views from a wider spectrum of society”.
In light of several grading debates over modern architecture in recent years, most notably the grading controversy over State Theatre in 2016, we are very concerned that the authorities may not be adequately equipped for the work that is needed to strengthen the protection of post-war historic buildings. If the government is serious about practising an open, interactive “style of governance”, the DevB should, as a first step, ensure that the seven-member team that is being formed to conduct a preliminary study of post-war buildings has the requisite expertise and experience to perform what is a very important exercise.
In addition, we ask DevB to provide the public with detailed information about the scope, timeline and implications of the said study at the earliest opportunity. Most importantly, any process to create new criteria for the assessment and grading of modern architecture must actively involve the input of a wide range of experts and the public.
Our demand is anchored in the submission we made to the government during the 2018-2019 Policy Address public consultation. The four specific calls on modern architecture protections we made to the government a year ago – listed below – are now more relevant than ever:
- Carry out a thorough survey of post-war historic buildings
- Create a specific set of guidelines to assess the heritage value of post-war buildings
- Revamp the “expert panel” that grades Hong Kong’s historic buildings
- Set clear incentives scale and procedures to encourage voluntary conservation of privately-owned historic buildings
In conclusion, the government cannot afford any further delay in concretely responding to the urgent heritage risks facing modern architecture in Hong Kong. We call on the government to make the protection of modern architecture a heritage conservation priority in the upcoming Policy Address.
Thank you for your earnest attention.
Walk in Hong Kong
26 August 2019
Minutes of the Antiquities Advisory Board 183th Meeting, 6 September 2018.
Minutes of the Antiquities Advisory Board 185th Meeting, 14 March 2019.
Panel on Development meeting, Legislative Council, 22 January 2019.
Speech by CE at reception in celebration of 22nd anniversary of establishment of HKSAR (with photos/video), 1 July 2019.
Transcript of remarks by CE at media session before ExCo meeting (with video), 9 July 2019.
Walk in Hong Kong’s submission to the 2018-2019 Policy Address public consultation, 5 September 2018.
Walk in Hong Kong’s submission to the 2019-2020 Budget public consultation, 11 February 2019.
“Officials in unprecedented move to protect Hong Kong’s heritage by creating new system to save modern buildings from developers’ wrecking ball”, South China Morning Post, 14 May 2019.
 Walk in Hong Kong’s submission to the 2018-2019 Policy Address public consultation, 5 September 2018; Walk in Hong Kong’s submission to the 2019-2020 Budget public consultation, 11 February 2019.
 “Officials in unprecedented move to protect Hong Kong’s heritage by creating new system to save modern buildings from developers’ wrecking ball”, South China Morning Post, 14 May 2019.
 Minutes of the Antiquities Advisory Board 185th Meeting on 14 March 2019, p.19.
 Recording of Panel on Development meeting, Legislative Council, 22 January 2019.
 Minutes of the Antiquities Advisory Board 183 th Meeting on 6 September 2018, pp.20-22.
 These nine buildings of strong architectural/historical/social/community value are: Union Church on Kennedy Road (demolished), The Excelsior Hotel, AIA Building on Stubbs Road, Tak Shing House on Des Voeux Road Central (all under demolition), Garden Building in Sham Shui Po, General Post Office, AC Hall in Baptist University, Tsuen Wan Town Hall and Tsuen Wan Magistrates’ Courts (all at risk of demolition).
 Speech by CE at reception in celebration of 22nd anniversary of establishment of HKSAR, 1 July 2019.
 Transcript of remarks by CE at media session before ExCo meeting, 9 July 2019.