Old halls of residence at HKU declared monuments
Last year, the Government announced that the exteriors of three historic buildings – Fung Ping Shan Building, Eliot Hall and May Hall – at The University of Hong Kong (HKU) as monuments. May Hall is my hall of residence when I studied in the university. This time, I have invited a colleague of Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO) to return to this familiar place for a visit and introduce the architectural features and histories of these three historic buildings.
After walking up the stairs adjacent to the Meng Wah Complex at the university, we saw two historic and elegant buildings – Eliot Hall and May Hall. They stand one after the other and look very alike. But, you can tell the difference when seeing the number of the year carved above the doors. The Eliot Hall was opened in 1914 and named after HKU’s first Vice-Chancellor Charles Eliot while May Hall was opened in 1915 and named after the second Chancellor of the university and the 15th Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Francis Henry May.
The Eliot Hall and May Hall were respectively the second and third student resident halls under the direct management of the HKU while Lugard Hall, the first one, was opened in 1913. In June 1966, an inexhaustible torrential rain caused a large-scale landslide at the slope adjacent to the Eliot Hall and May Hall, which led to extensive repairs of the two halls. The HKU took this opportunity to combine the Lugard Hall, Eliot Hall and May Hall into one large residential unit named Old Halls which was opened in 1969. The Lugard Hall was subsequently demolished in 1992.
Architecture adopted in the Edwardian period
The Executive Secretary of the AMO, Ms SIU Lai-kuen, Susanna, said the two old residential halls are three-storey structures. Red brick is the main material and the bricks were laid in “Flemish Bond”. The elegant façades feature a rich variety of architectural elements, including curved pediments (hoods) over the entrance doorways, rusticated columns, a Neo-classical façade of Doric capitals, colonial window chills, cornices and balustrades. This richness of architecture was widely adopted in the Edwardian period in England.
Both of the buildings were built in Western style and blended with Chinese architectural details, for example: Chinese-style ceramic grilles are found on the façade to contrast with the red brick wall. The pitched and double-tiled roofs are a local adaption.
Over the years, the internal layouts of the Eliot Hall and May Hall have undergone successive renovations. The former residential halls have been turned into a lecture hall and offices, but some of the fireplaces and original decorative details to the walls and ceilings, such as the mouldings and cornices, as well as the coloured floor tiles of the open verandas are basically intact.
Memorable residence life
During the visit, memories of my three-year residence life in the May Hall have been brought back to me, particularly the Chinese couplet attached on the Old Halls still being on my mind, which describes the beautiful views of the sea admired from the hall and students’ aspiring visions, passion and open-heartedness just like the enormous legendary bird soaring into the sky. At that time, many hall mates of the Old Halls coming from relatively remote areas in the New Territories were very friendly. We developed a close rapport with each other inside and outside classroom, so the atmosphere of the halls was very harmonious.
The garden behind the May Hall, now grown with flowers, was a non-standard basketball court where hall mates once played basketball or red and white plastic balls (watermelon balls). We took the matches seriously and the balconies of the hall were like a spectator stand where other hall mates would cheer on with great applaud, creating a festive air.
Fung Ping Shan Building reopened at the end of March
Fung Ping Shan Building, the exterior of which has also been declared as a monument, is temporarily closed due to renovation, so we did not visit the building. The Fung Ping Shan Building, originally named Fung Ping Shan Library, was opened in 1932, as a library for Chinese books of the university thanks to the generous donation by the late Mr FUNG Ping-shan. During the Second World War, over 240 000 valuable books from private individuals, schools and government organisations were stored in the building. In 1962, the collection of Fung Ping Shan Library was transferred to the newly constructed Main Library of the university. The original library building was then converted into Fung Ping Shan Museum and was renamed University Museum and Art Gallery in 1994.
Fung Ping Shan Building is a three-storey building. The symmetrically constructed building has a fan-shaped floor plan with a rounded central section. It has a prominent glass dome on the roof and the overall design reflects distinctive architectural features. The renovation of the building is expected to be completed in March. By then, we will further introduce its architectural features.
There are seven monuments with a rich variety of architectural features on the university campus, including the exteriors of the May Hall, Eliot Hall, Fung Ping Shan Building, Main Building, University Hall, Hung Hing Ying Building and Tang Chi Ngong Building. The AMO and HKU are studying and designing a visiting route introducing the historical compound on the campus. Heritage gives us amazing insights into the territory’s unique past, which is characterised by a sophisticated fusion of Eastern and Western cultures. We will continue to strive to preserve and conserve our heritage and promote heritage education to pass on to the future generations.
20 January, 2019