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Our Forgotten History

Tessa Yung finds an exhibition of our old and lost buildings well worth visiting.
Mar 29, 2007

If you are reading this magazine, chances are you love Hong Kong, but how much do you really know about our city?

Or maybe the question should be, how much do you really care? A recent exhibition on the history of buildings in Hong Kong might give you a hint or two. Organized by the Conservation Association Centre for Heritage (CACHe), the “Hong Kong 100 Years of Historic Buildings” exhibition has been at the CACHe office in Sai Ying Pun since early March. It features drawings and old photographs of more than 100 buildings in Hong Kong – most of them demolished long ago – including the old Post Office, Queen’s College and the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception on Caine Road (more commonly known as simply “The Cathedral”).

It’s a sad fact that this exhibition has remained pretty much unknown to most people in Hong Kong. Admittedly, a collection of old drawings, photographs and blurbs doesn’t sound too exciting, but if you take a closer look you might start to appreciate the intricacy of the sketches and the beauty of the architecture. You might even marvel at the fact that these Gothic, Edwardian and Victorian buildings once existed in Hong Kong.

By presenting modern photographs beside the older architectural drawings and pictures, you can see how the buildings have changed, which raises an important question about what we should do with the few lucky structures the government has deigned to preserve.

This exhibition would have never happened if not for Richard Wong Tai-choi, a notable historian in town who has been doing drawings of historical buildings. All of his drawings are based on photographs obtained from the libraries of Chinese University and his own personal research over the past decade, driven by a desire to document the historic buildings that have already been demolished and their architectural records lost. “I wanted to reconstruct the buildings before they were lost forever,” he says. “[I believe we need to] preserve what I feel was important to me and to future generations.”

According to the organizer Roger Ho, conservation shouldn’t solely depend on a building’s age and previous use. He also claims that the government has been spending too much time debating the actual building and not its significance to society.

But when asked what we can do to improve our conservation efforts, a resigned Ho admits that Hong Kong people just don’t have the time to think of such matters as we are all too busy with our own lives. Sounds like a good old case of you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

And it’s like the other classic case of the government not giving a damn unless you demand something. A good way to start is to take 30 minutes off your hectic schedule, visit this exhibition and be amazed by the architectural beauty we once possessed.

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