SDEV visits Yau Tsim Mong District to see some revitalised projects
While most of us must have visited the Flower Market in Mong Kok to shop for plants and flowers, I wonder how many of you have ever noticed the unique architectural style of the tenement buildings in the area? Do you know that most of these buildings have their own stories to tell? Earlier on, I visited the Yau Tsim Mong District to see the preservation and revitalisation project of the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) at Prince Edward Road West and Yuen Ngai Street. Showcasing the unique architectural style of the 1930s, these tenement buildings make up one of the longest remaining rows of pre-war verandah-type shophouses in Hong Kong. After revitalisation, the shophouses have taken on a refreshing look. URA has strived to preserve and reflect the local character and history of the area in the process of urban renewal planning, blending in new and old elements and injecting new vibrancy into the district.
No. 190-220 Prince Edward Road West was originally a row of 16 pre-war buildings. Constructed in the art deco style trending in the 1930's, these shophouses were among the first generation of concrete-steel buildings in Hong Kong. Also known as the "Modern Flats", the buildings attracted many middle-class family buyers at the time. After the Second World War, the buildings were put under fragmented ownership. Some of these buildings were demolished for redevelopment in the late 1960’s and only ten have remained till today.
Preserving the architectural style of the early 20th Century
In 2008, URA submitted a development plan in accordance with the Urban Renewal Authority Ordinance to kick off preservation and revitalisation of the pre-war building cluster for commercial and cultural uses. The project was implemented in phases with URA adopting a “minimal intervention” approach to preserve the buildings. The works carried out was confined to refurbishment, restoration, and provision of modern building facilities; and the original architectural style and main architectural features were preserved.
I was briefed by Mr Lawrence MAK, URA’s General Manager (Planning and Design), on the key preserved architectural features in and outside these shophouses, including the façade of the building cluster, the original floor tiles, staircases and windows. An interesting feature was the “roof-cover” of these tenement buildings which was built only an inch or so above the ceiling, leaving gaps around the four sides. As the “roof-cover” is larger than the ceiling, it provides shelter from the rain while maximising ventilation and natural light. This demonstrates the wisdom of architecture in those days.
Sustaining and enriching the Flower Market’s unique local characteristics
Now, the restoration works have been completed and the buildings have been fully rented out. The ground floor shops are predominantly florist and horticulture supply premises while the upper units accommodate various commercial and cultural uses. Apart from the original business tenants, there are now new tenants such as non-profit making organisations and shops complementary to the floral business, including tea-tasting, pottery workshops, and youth art workshops. One of the tenement buildings is managed and operated by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service after refurbishment. It has been revitalised into a social enterprise-run lifestyle hub featuring a wide range of community arts and cultural activities, as well as interest classes for the elderly. After preservation and revitalisation, the building style of the shophouse cluster has been preserved. It also ties in with the role of the Flower Market as a hub of floral and horticulture businesses since the last century. It is a blend of old and new elements which has retained the unique community identities and injected vibrancy into the district.
Priceless history cultivates strong community bonding
Mrs Lonna KWAN, one of the social enterprise tenants I visited, told me that she rented two units since late last year to sell lingerie for breast cancer survivors and offer psychological counselling to them. They regularly hold a wide range of events with different organisations to let people of different races, ages and educational backgrounds come together. The reason they chose this place was that they were attracted by the unique ambience of this tenement building. The indoor partitions and spacious environment make people feel comfortable and enable them to open up and speak freely. I appreciate how Mrs KWAN made full use of this small place and shared it with the community to cultivate a strong bonding in the neighbourhood.
Another tenant, Mr LEUNG Koon-ming, owner of the JL Ceramics Concept Shop is one of the first tenants. His shop holds various kinds of art workshops such as tea ceremony classes and seminars on art collection. Nanyin singing masters are invited to perform so that fans of Nanyin singing may listen to the music while enjoying snacks. Most of the special features of the building were preserved in their original form in the shop unit, such as the high ceilings and the original floor tiles and wooden double doors leading to the balcony. Stepping into his shop, one feels the ambience of elegance, peacefulness and nostalgia.
Exchanging views with District Council members
After visiting the preservation and revitalisation project at Prince Edward Road West and Yuen Ngai Street, I met with Mr Chris IP, Chairman of the Yau Tsim Mong District Council, and other District Council members to listen to their views and suggestions on the work of the Government. Encompassing Yau Ma Tei, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok districts, the Yau Tsim Mong District is one of the most densely populated areas in Hong Kong accommodating many relatively old buildings. We exchanged views on an array of issues such as urban renewal, building restoration, public space, community facilities. We will, as in the past, listen to the community’s views in a sincere manner and maintain close communications with them. Together, we will solve various livelihood problems step by step.
17 December, 2017