EVERY Chinese person knows that there are few things as likely to get a marriage off to a bad start as the hint of death. Linking marriage with death will bring the couple bad luck. Yet thousands of Hong Kong couples have, unknowingly, put just such a blight on their nuptials by using the City Hall's Memorial Garden's shrine to the territory's war dead as the backdrop for their wedding photographs. In the past 32 years, most of the 214,147 couples registered at the City Hall used the shrine as their backdrop after saying ''I do'' in the City Hall High Block's marriage register office. It's a mistake they will no longer be able to make when the garden's revamp is completed in October. ''Too many people have forgotten its history,'' said the man overseeing the project, government architect Raymond Fung Wing-kee, pointing to the shrine that has stood at the centre of the garden since City Hall opened. ''It is the only major original structure remaining in the new garden,'' he said. The 12-sided shrine - a white brick and cement structure with a small black door facing the harbour - is opened only on war remembrance occasions, in particular Liberation Day, the last Monday in August. Inside the shrine, the 40 local fallen and the names of British and Commonwealth units which fought for the territory during World War II are honoured. It seems very few people in Hong Kong recognise the solemnity of this garden centrepiece. If they had, fewer City Hall visitors may have stood on the concrete steps that form its base to gaze through their camera view-finders as their friends pulled funny faces. ''It's very strange. They should keep away from the shrine and pay tribute to those heroes who had died for them,'' the 42-year-old project architect said. In his eyes, the beauty of the civic building lies in the shrine to the war heroes. And he has made his plans for the new-look garden with the shrine's sanctity in mind by including a stream and new planting to ensure it's no longer accessible to the happy snappers and wedding couples. In front of the shrine there will be a sunken courtyard lined by small, ground-level lights, and to its left the avenue leading to the Low Block will be decorated with black and white tiles, resembling the patterns of a piano keyboard. The shrine's concrete base will be extended as a plot planted with small, yellow flowers, preventing trespass: ''That's it. I just don't want anyone to step on the shrine so easily,'' Mr Fung said. The large pool, often dried out and unattractive in the past, will be filled in and topped with granite. Instead, a narrow water feature will be built, passing across the courtyard. Just before it ends beside the shrine, water flowing from two side channels will trickle over lotus blooms and past a tribute to the heroes, engraved in the concrete in both Chinese and English. It will read: ''These had movement and heard music; known slumber and waking; loved gone proudly friended.'' These words are also engraved inside the shrine, but it's likely few Hong Kong people are familiar with them. ''The atmosphere will be solemn and tranquil, but not as inhuman as much of the state architecture in the West,'' said Mr Fung, who has been with the Architectural Services Department for five years. He says he has been allowed great flexibility in designing the renovation since the urban councillors who decided on it had only one guiding principle - to upgrade the outdated image of the City Hall. Mr Fung, who took up the project in December 1992, the 30th anniversary of City Hall, said the renovation programme has been undertaken rather than building a new city hall. ''The Sino-British row over the Central reclamation works have delayed the removal of the City Hall. ''Instead of awaiting for removal, they [Urban Council] wanted to renovate this old-fashioned and unattractive hall.'' The revamped garden, costing $6 million, is the final and major phase of the 15-month project. The site works were started last month and the old cement paths have been dug up, ready for new granite paving. Just behind the shrine, there is to be a new grand staircase made of grey, artificial granite tiles. It will link the Marriage Registry with the garden. It will also be linked to the existing elevated walkway from which visitors can admire the garden andthe harbour view. ''It [the new staircase] will allow the couples in their wedding outfits to reach the garden directly after the ceremony without using the crowded lifts and stairs,'' Mr Fung said. But you won't have to get married to enjoy his new garden. Opposite the open area of garden planted with trees will be an L-shaped zone in the bottom right hand corner where stone benches will rest under sun shelters of bauhinias, the flower of Hong Kong. ''So many pedestrians have always disturbed the elderly and the kids resting or playing happily on the grass. So I have to divide the zones for different users,'' Mr Fung said. He has tried to retain the emphasis of the original designers ''beautiful lines and also restored the importance of the shrine''. ''For any renovation, the most important task is to preserve the cultural characteristics and the initial style. And I think I have done that,'' Mr Fung said.