Urban planning

Urban Renewal Authority pledges to consider preserving remains of 100-year-old buildings site

Concern group welcomes decision on cluster in Central built in 1879

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 March, 2017, 8:05pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 March, 2017, 7:13pm

The Urban Renewal Authority has promised to consider an in-situ preservation of the remains of a buildings cluster that is more than a century old, instead of dismantling and reassembling it on site.

Sandwiched between Cochrane Street and Gutzlaff Street near the Mid-Levels escalator, the remains are said to be those of 10 tenement houses, or tong lau, built in 1879.

“The URA has taken a further step in adding one more viable option to preserve the site after taking into consideration the multitude of historic information and conservation proposals provided by concern groups, as well as based on our own data on structural safety,” URA managing director Wai Chi-sing wrote in his blog on Sunday.

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Some 20 metres of the structures, which measure 34 metres long and four metres high, could be preserved as they are.

The other option would be to dismantle them and reassemble with salvaged bricks on the original site, but in a smaller area.

Wai said an “integrated preservation approach” would be able to highlight the structures’ historical significance and could be transformed into a “walking museum” when residents walk past the area.

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The site is being redeveloped into an open space as part of a URA plan unveiled in 2007 for ­surrounding residential and commercial use.

A concern group welcomed the URA’s decision, calling it a “step in the right direction”.

Now we’ve seen an initial improvement and a positive change
Katty Law Ngar-ning, Central and Western Concern Group

“If they were to dismantle it and rebuild it, it would be completely meaningless,” Central and Western Concern Group convenor Katty Law Ngar-ning said. “Now we’ve seen an initial improvement and a positive change. We hope the URA can submit a proposal for further discussion.”

Law said she hoped as much of the structure would be preserved as possible, including a pre-war shophouse nearby not mentioned in Wai’s blog entry.

Built back-to-back, the tenement houses are the city’s only surviving remains of that specific construction method from the late 19th century, she added.

Following an outbreak of the plague in 1894, legislation on new buildings was passed in 1903 forbidding the construction of back-to-back houses. Since 1903, houses must be separated by lanes to ensure proper hygiene and ventilation.

The Antiquities Advisory Board decided not to assess the heritage value of the 138-year-old remains for an official grading.