Academic questions Repulse Bay hotel plan

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 September, 2008, 12:00am

Beachfront site's architectural value disputed

A conservation expert has questioned the government's judgment about the architectural merits of a beachfront building on Repulse Bay which may be redeveloped.

The Planning Department has proposed rezoning the site occupied by the government-owned Seaview Building for hotel and commercial use. A proposed redevelopment includes a slightly higher building which would expand into an adjoining car park and occupy one-third of the beachfront.

Built during the 1940s and 1950s, the Seaview Building was a restaurant which closed in 2005 due to poor business. It is now largely empty.

The Town Planning Board is to discuss the rezoning proposal today.

Residents have suggested preserving the building and object to the plan. But the Antiquities and Monuments Office said that the building was of low heritage value and it did not object to redevelopment.

'The building does not have any distinctive architectural style,' the office said, and 'is not related to any historical event or figure'. Its authenticity had been destroyed by alterations and additions, such as the classical balustrading and pediments. It said it would not consider grading the building.

Southern District Council member Chai Man-hon said that the government could not decide when it was first built but produced some archive photos showing the building was 'ordinary looking' in the 1960s, and features like the arch door and rails were added in the 1970s.

But Lee Ho-yin, director of the University of Hong Kong's architectural conservation programme, was doubtful. 'Now different versions have emerged as to the history, the AMO should be more transparent and release the study report to seek a second opinion from an independent expert.'

He said the three-storey building could have been designed in the Chinese Renaissance style, a hybrid mode created in Shanghai about 60 years ago. 'The upturn of the end of roof eaves, and the circular patterns on the main entrance walls and the pediment are typical of the style,' Dr Lee said.

The style combined modern concrete construction and decorative details derived from traditional Chinese architecture in a simplified, abstract manner.

A handful of local buildings shared similar features, he added - the declared monument, King Yin Lei mansion, the grade 2 historic building St Mary's Church in Causeway Bay, and the ungraded Holy Spirit Seminary in Aberdeen. Alterations had not affected the building's architectural integrity, Dr Lee said.

Repulse Bay residents and some district councillors suggested the building be preserved.

'The building blends in with the surroundings so well,' Southern District councillor Tsui Yuen-wa said. 'This is what Repulse Bay should be - a classy atmosphere. Some residents told me they wouldn't want to see a modern hotel here. It would make them feel like they were in Central.'

Mr Tsui said he was also concerned that rezoning would mean existing public space would be privatised.

Councillor Chu Hing-hong said: 'The building is beautiful and has been a photo-shooting spot, especially for Chinese tourists.'