Heritage rules 'narrow-minded'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2006, 12:00am

Architecture reflecting the spirit of different generations should be considered to have heritage value even if it is less than 50 years old, says a cultural critic.

The comment comes in the light of the controversy caused by the decision to demolish the Star Ferry pier in Central, which celebrated its 49th anniversary last week. The 50-year rule meant the iconic pier did not qualify for heritage status.

Mathias Woo Yan-wai, a cultural commentator and director of the theatre group Zuni Icosahedron, said the government had been too narrow-minded, resulting in the loss of many structures important to the city's history, such as the pier.

'A building's age cannot be the only element to reflect its cultural and historical importance,' Mr Woo said. 'In every city there should be some buildings that exemplify the characteristics of an era, to be passed down to later generations.'

He said some unique places - including the Wan Chai market and Tiger Balm Gardens in Tai Hang, the latter sold for housing in 1998 - could have been saved if heritage was understood in broader terms.

Ada Wong Ying-kay, chairwoman and founder of the Institute of Contemporary Culture, said the government should learn from the pier incident and begin to engage the public in heritage discussions at an earlier stage.

'One can see that the people who spoke out at the pier are not regular protesters. They are writers, urban planning consultants, lecturers and university students. All of them want to talk to the government rationally on the issue,' she said. 'But the government seldom engages them at the initial stage of planning. They only inform the public when there is a proposal on how to redevelop a building or a site.'

Mirana Szeto May, assistant professor of comparative literature at the University of Hong Kong who was among those protesting at the pier's demolition, said the government must adopt new thinking to accommodate civil awareness.

'The government still adheres to a colonial mentality - perhaps unconsciously - that local culture is less important. But the public has already taken a more advanced step in appreciating and protecting it,' she said.