Twist in fight for Wan Chai Market

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 October, 2004, 12:00am

Architects say the building is not Bauhaus style, but a rarer Streamlined Moderne

Controversy over the planned demolition of Wan Chai Market has deepened with the discovery that the building has more architectural significance than previously thought.

Two University of Hong Kong architecture professors have revealed the building is not of the Bauhaus style, as commonly believed, but is in fact of the rarer Streamlined Moderne genre.

Lee Ho-yin and Lynne DiStefano, of the university's architectural conservation programme, said the market building may be one of a kind not only in Hong Kong, but throughout the mainland.

Streamlined Moderne took its inspiration from the designs of ocean liners, aircraft and trains in the 1930s. It was also partly inspired by science fiction comic strips.

After being commissioned to study the 67-year-old structure on Queen's Road East, the academics urged the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) to consider the market building's 'enormous architectural significance'.

The pair called for a review of plans by real-estate developer Chinese Estates Holdings to demolish the market next year to make way for a 40-storey residential block, a move that was approved by the government in 1996.

The academics also stressed that architectural significance should not be the only factor under consideration, saying a more constructive dialogue between the government and those who would be affected by the planned demolition was urgently required.

'The use of [a] confrontational approach does not solve problems,' Dr Lee said.

'Rather than architects and politicians saying what should or should not be done, more attention should be paid to the needs of stall operators and regular visitors to the market.'

A late variation of the Art Deco style, Streamlined Moderne emerged in the west and remained popular in Asian cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore until the early 1950s.

The genre is characterised by a simple symmetrical design, rounded corners, curved wall surfaces and cantilever shades. The academics said these features were clearly visible in the Wan Chai Market building.

In contrast, Bauhaus architecture, which also became popular in the 1930s, is distinguished by an asymmetrical form, square edges and an extensive use of glass. Dr Lee said there were at least two examples of Bauhaus markets in Hong Kong - Central Market and the little-known Bridges Street Market near Soho, which will be demolished to make way for a memorial square commemorating the founder of modern China, Sun Yat-sen.

Meanwhile, the URA maintains that the demolition of the Wan Chai Market building will go ahead unless the developer changes its plans.

A spokesman said the redevelopment of the site had been agreed upon after years of consultations with stakeholders in the market and district councillors.