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‘Have you done any design with a heritage building?’ ‘… Well… I am from Hong Kong’

There are times, as we meet with prospective clients and operators to keep them in the loop with our portfolio, when the conversation leads to exchanging insights about design and vision.

I recall an interesting occasion a few years ago when we met with a renowned Hong Kong-based hotel operator, and the first question was “Great projects! … but have you done any design within a heritage building?” My brain must have paused for a second and the words that slipped out of my mouth were, “Well, I am from Hong Kong… It is quite unfortunate that we have never had such honour to work on a heritage building before.”

If we jog back into history and take a glance at old photos of Hong Kong’s Central district, any buildings, if they still exist today, have definitely become landmarks. Having been under British rule (1841-1997) for over a century, beautiful buildings in the British Colonial style were being erected all over Hong Kong.

But by the time I finished my design education in the ’90s, over 90% of those buildings had been torn down and redeveloped into concrete curtain wall buildings for high efficiency of land use – a very prevalent idea even today. The awareness of conservation in Hong Kong only strengthened in the past two decades, so now we have no choice but to treasure the 10% that still exist and live in the memory via photographs for the rest.

Not one single colonial building pictured here, let alone the waterfront, exists anymore, as buildings were replaced with concrete curtain wall buildings and land reclamation had extended the space in Hong Kong.
Not one single colonial building pictured here, let alone the waterfront, exists anymore, as buildings were replaced with concrete curtain wall buildings and land reclamation had extended the space in Hong Kong.

Perhaps destiny overheard that question and felt it was time for us to take on some challenges. For the past couple of years we have had one project at the old Port of London Authority (today’s Four Seasons at Ten Trinity Square), another in the heart of Milan on Via Montenapoleone, and a third in one of the few remaining colonial buildings in Hong Kong, the former Central Police Station.

These projects are such novelties and eye-opening experiences for us where we continuously develop skills as we design, one step at a time. From learning to respect the original heritage whilst lacing it with our visions to create a fresh touch to antiquities, to challenging us with tasks and constraints that we would never encounter in new buildings.

These are hurdles that must sound extremely common for European designers because heritage buildings have been continuously well preserved. Terence and I have mixed feelings about our hometown because as a whole, we had such a wonderful opportunity to create an eclectic cityscape of classical and modern structures, but we missed the opportunity by tearing down most of the heritage. 

For us, the experience of working on a heritage project is far beyond anything we normally do. The satisfaction of our efforts in restoring even just a portion of the site that’s been serving the city for centuries to its original glory with an added fresh season of life and style is indescribable. 

With great pleasure, our answer to the same question can now be rewritten to… “Surprisingly, yes! We are one of the few blessed designers in my home town with such honour.”

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