The team that reinvented 10 pre-war tenement houses as a hub for comic and animation culture are setting their sights on a Unesco award.
Comix Home Base has entered the Unesco Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation, after winning design and urban planning accolades from local bodies including the Institute of Planners, Institute of Architects and the Quality Building Award committee.
The international award, which recognises the best initiatives to conserve or restore places of heritage value in the region, has recognised other public-private projects in the past not dissimilar to Comix Home Base, such as Japan's restored Otaki Town Hall.
The Hong Kong entry features red-brick walls, chimneys, tiled pitched roofs and cantilevered balconies.
It occupies the four-storey historic Green House on Mallory Street, and preserves the façade of buildings on Burrows Street, with bridges linking the two buildings and an annex block built housing crucial amenities such as elevators and fire escapes.
The complex includes exhibition halls, a public open area and workspaces for animation artists. Downstairs, retailers sell art-related merchandise as well as food and drinks.
Dr Lee Ho-yin, director of architectural conservation programmes at the University of Hong Kong, cited a shift in the "focus of the whole world, including Hong Kong, [to] ordinary buildings, ordinary people" and social enterprise - as opposed to grand mansions and the "social elite" - as a reason for the success of the conservation project.
Another factor was the designers' adoption of modern structures necessary for the "continued use and enjoyment" of the buildings, which dated to the 1910s, Lee said.
Michael Ma, planning and design director for the project, said: "When we first came, only two people could walk the stairs at the time, they were so fragile."
Comix Home Base is a HK$200 million showcase of comics and animation set up by the Urban Renewal Authority and operated by the Hong Kong Arts Centre.
Since it opened last July, bright yellow flags featuring its logo announce its presence.
The complex represents the first conservation initiative focusing on the local creative industry, experts say.
Too often, conservationists focused only on recreating the past, resulting in projects that became wasteful and redundant, Lee, who had served two terms as a government adviser on conservation, said.
"Sometimes, changing nothing [just makes for] a useless ruin," he said.