In Hong Kong, where land for construction is scarce and commerce has long ruled, preservation has usually given way to a tide of urban development. Few of the British expatriates and Chinese immigrants who came to the city with the moniker “borrowed place, borrowed time” saw it as a permanent home. But since the territory was returned to Chinese rule from Britain in 1997, its local identity has come to the forefront and heritage conservation has taken on the overtones of a populist struggle.
Rendering of the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s proposal for the Central Police Station (inset) and Victoria Prison
Recently battles have been waged over buildings that in most cities would have little historical appeal. In the past year, the demolition of two 1950s ferry terminals to make way for a highway and commercial property developments spurred demonstrations, hunger strikes and arrests.
“These recent heritage battles represent a desperate search for a cultural anchor,” says Lee Ho Yin, director of the architectural conservation program at the University of Hong Kong. “It’s part of Hong Kong people seeking their own identity and roots.”