A revitalised Blue House blending old and new
Wandering around the streets and alleys of Wan Chai, you will find some buildings that still preserve the ambience of the old city. The Blue House Cluster (BHC) on Stone Nullah Lane, comprising three tenement buildings built between the 1920’s and 1950’s, namely the Blue House, the Yellow House and the Orange House, is one of the projects under Batch II of the Revitalising Historic Buildings Through Partnership Scheme (Revitalisation Scheme). I am very glad to see that thanks to the persistent efforts and participation of residents and various stakeholders, the BHC has completed its renovation and brought a new look to the community. As the first revitalisation trial in Hong Kong that adopts the “Retain House and Tenant” approach, the historic buildings of the BHC not only serve their original residential purpose, but also witness the changes in tenement buildings and community culture over time. Here, I would like to share with you my recent visit to two households of old and new residents to learn about their living conditions.
In recognition of the historical and architectural value of the BHC, the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) accorded a Grade 1 status to the Blue House in 2000 and a Grade 3 status to the Yellow House in 2010. The Blue House I visited is mainly built of bricks and timber, and is the only remaining tenement building with balconies in Hong Kong. The project and technical teams have devoted much effort, time and energy to its renovation to ensure that the original appearance and the internal key elements of the building cluster are well preserved. Apart from the unique colour of its external walls, the Blue House still retains its classic timber floor slabs, timber staircases, timber doors and window frames as well as floor tiles. The ornamental ironwork balustrades of the balconies still retain the geometric patterns of the 1920’s, which add a sense of nostalgia to this pre-war tenement building in Hong Kong.
Proper housing arrangements – a co-living model
During the entire renovation process, we have to ensure the successful implementation of the “Retain House and Tenant” concept, under which the old tenants who opted to stay will be properly housed. Besides, the operating organisation, St. James’ Settlement, also introduces the Good Neighbour Scheme for New Tenants (Good Neighbour Scheme) so as to attract new tenants who are interested in co-living and community participation to join and become “good neighbours” with the old tenants, and together build a co-living model to foster a sustainable culture of community care and integration.
Mutual help among neighbours and shared use of spaces
I earlier visited an original tenant over 80 years old named Granny Sei Mui, who now lives with her son and grandchildren. She is very happy that she can stay and live in the Blue House after its renovation with much better environment and facilities. For example, the flat now has an independent bathroom and kitchen and the building provides lift access. The bedbug problem troubling them for years has also been solved after the renovation of the Blue House. I am pleased to note that Granny Sei Mui joins community activities enthusiastically, and has even won prizes in dart competitions with her great agility. I wish her and her family great happiness living in the Blue House with more good new neighbours.
Furthermore, I visited a soon-to-be-married young couple. Ms TAM Man-yee, Monica, who had just moved into the flat for about a month, told me that as she had been living in Wan Chai all along, she had a special feeling for the district. When she and her fiancé, Pako, learned about the Good Neighbour Scheme for the BHC, they found it very meaningful and immediately applied for it. Luckily, they were chosen to be part of the BHC. Now, she has already got used to the new living environment and looks forward to starting a new life with Pako in the Blue House. They will also actively participate in community activities to promote the neighbourhood spirit.
To break down the barriers among neighbours, we can start by creating a community atmosphere. I note that there are ample public spaces in the BHC, such as the open-air space in the inner garden and the footbridges connecting the buildings within the cluster, so as to provide residents with more spaces for activities and facilitate greater interaction between them and the community. Different organisations will hold all kinds of community activities in the inner garden from time to time, such as dinner gatherings with neighbours, parent-child activities, environment days, film screenings and bazaars, to encourage active participation of residents in community life and inspire “good neighbours” to initiate their own neighbourhood activities to revitalise the community together. I have learned that, as the Mid-Autumn Festival is approaching, the BHC will host an evening gathering for old and new residents to celebrate together. The place will definitely be buzzing with excitement then.
Revitalisation of historic buildings – an on-going effort
With the passage of time and the continued advancement of our society, it does take great effort to preserve historic buildings and the nostalgic ambience of Old Hong Kong. We are willing to stay humble and will be open to different views, in the hope of striking a proper balance between development and conservation.
In fact, the Development Bureau has implemented the Revitalisation Scheme since 2008, which aims to identify proper options for the adaptive re-use of government-owned historic buildings. Currently, the scheme has entered Batch V and as many as 19 revitalisation projects have been launched so far, including the Old Tai O Police Station, Lui Seng Chun, Mei Ho House, the Former North Kowloon Magistracy, the Former Lai Chi Kok Hospital, the BHC in Wan Chai, the Old Tai Po Police Station, the Stone Houses in Kowloon City. The overall effectiveness of the scheme is good. I hope that the scheme will continue and can draw more organisations to join us in revitalising Hong Kong’s historic buildings together.
24 September, 2017